Book Review – Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football


Who has it better than us? NOBODY.

Once again, John Bacon has delivered a riveting, detail-rich, insider view of the Michigan football program under head coach Jim Harbaugh.

One can imagine future historians struggling to make sense of how college football has become such an integral part of our culture.

Hopefully, the collected works of John Bacon will survive to help explain why players spend 8,760 hours a year in preparation to play games representing institutions of higher education and why millions of fans cheer them on.

“Overtime” is aptly named; indeed after the Bacon’s previous book on Michigan football, “Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football,” it seemed that the Wolverine trilogy was complete. Feckless Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon had been cast out, Michigan’s hometown hero Jim Harbaugh had returned, and all was well in the kingdom.

Surely Big Ten Championships and College Football Play-off berths were right around corner.

Bo- The book that started it all.

Bacon’s first Michigan football book “Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership,” was a primer on how to lead organizations while instilling values, was a huge hit. Perhaps its only defect was the inclusion a relatively minor former player named David Brandon who would later threaten the very culture that Schembechler helped build.

Bacon returned with “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football” the story of a bungled coaching search which could have been subtitled, “how Michigan tried to force a round peg in a square hole powered by egomania of David Brandon”. “Endzone” was the fallout of the Brandon era and the triumphant return of Harbaugh to Ann Arbor.

The dark days- Think The Empire Strikes Back

While all of Bacon’s Michigan football books are great, “Overtime” may be his finest work on the subject.

While football fans have known the name Jim Harbaugh since his time playing QB in college, he is perhaps the most enigmatic character in the history of Michigan football. With no misunderstood outsider (Rodriguez) or clueless administrator (Brandon) to play foil to the glory of Wolverine football, “Overtime” dedicates 400+ pages to a deep dive on Jim Harbaugh as his team competes during the 2018 season.

Football is a religion for Harbaugh, the every day work to drill and prepare for games is a reward unto itself. While outsiders may roll their eyes at a coach making millions of dollars a year espousing such fundamental values, Bacon makes a compelling case that this who Harbaugh is.

Brandon exiled, Harbaugh returns to Ann Arbor

Schembechler is adored but he never won a national championship. The college football world today is much more difficult than the one Schembechler faced during his career. The Big Ten is no longer the big two and the little eight; Michigan faces a much harder gauntlet to win a Big Ten Championship since the conference has expanded.

Nationally, it competes against SEC schools fueled by home field recruiting advantage, a tolerance for gray shirting practices, and a willingness to bend NCAA rules to compensate their players for living expenses more than other conferences.

“Overtime” poses some difficult questions for Michigan football fans.

Harbaugh hasn’t yet delivered a victory over Ohio State or a Big Ten Championship. Are the advantages allowed to other schools by the NCAA (and blatant rule breaking) too much for Michigan to overcome?

Much has been made of Harbaugh’s quote, “It’s hard to beat the cheaters,” but taken in context readers understand that he is not resigned to taking a backseat to these programs, but rather relishes the opportunity to win the right way while not compromising his values.

The individual stories of Michigan players are a running thread throughout the book. One player has his post football career derailed due to a lingering injury. It comes as a punch to the gut after a disappointing senior football season.

It’s not fair.

And that’s the ultimate lesson of “Overtime.” Harbaugh turned down NFL jobs to return to Michigan but beating Ohio State isn’t guaranteed. The players may spend 8,760 hours every year preparing for a dozen or so football games but NFL jobs are a long shot.

The competitive landscape of college football is tilted towards the cheaters and the NCAA (No Common sense At All) is a joke.

Some of these 400+ pages will be difficult for Michigan fans but they will be proud of their coach and the young men who play for their team.

The best of the lot- what Michigan football is really about.

Note – I’m not counting 4th and Long as a Michigan football title since it also covers Northwestern and Penn State.