Michigan fans have endured at least a seven year itch to shed partnership with football coaches whose football teams could not notably compete in the Big Ten, and an Athletic Director who did the impossible by bringing policies that alienated some fans and diminished fan interest.
While he did many good things for M’s myriad of athletic programs, ex AD David Brandon lost the PR battle. His replacement, interim AD Hackett has done the opposite. He addressed the coaching search with skill, intelligence, and finesse, not to mention success.
As you know, Jim Harbaugh, discarded Head Coach of the San Francisco Forty Niners, was hired without a murmur of a leak. Hackett did an outstanding job, and it seems his term as AD will lengthen. He knows his business, and has proved it by landing the coach everyone wanted. One who fits the so-called “Michigan mold” perfectly, and brings impeccable coaching credentials at multiple levels.
Ex-Michigan Quarterback Jim Harbaugh has assumed center stage under an unprecedented blanket of favorable national publicity. Even that greatest of Michigan football icons, Bo Schembechler himself, did not assume the mantle of the Maize and Blue under such auspicious circumstances. Remember Bo Who?
The miasma of dissatisfaction rising from the swamp of two previous coaching regimes has been damped. While those coaches were well intentioned, fine people, and good football coaches, one could not field a decent defensive team, and the other could not field an effective offense.
And neither presented effective special teams units outside of some punters, and FG kickers The current coaching staff is not looking back, but forward, and they are not pointing any fingers. They are treating Brady Hoke with all due respect, indicating he did not leave the program a mess, but left a talented team.
A demoralized fandom has mightily rebounded to an unfamiliar and maybe unprecedented degree of pre- season enthusiasm. They are under the impression that Coach Harbaugh will provide player development, an offense that will not have stretches of no TDs in many consecutive quarters, and will be well coached l on the field. It is thought that he will teach and train his charges well, and with intensity. So far all signs point in that direction. Practices are 4 hours long and intense.
He has chosen an outstanding corps of assistants. From pro ranks came DC BJ Durkin, and others have pro experience, including Greg Mattison, now DL Coach. OC Tim Drevno, and the other assistants, appear to be outstanding hires. If there is a weak link anywhere it is hard to determine where it might be now. If there is a weak link the season will reveal it, and perfectionist Harbaugh will correct it.
On its face, at this time, this staff appears to be as good as the best of any I have watched in my sixty years of following M football. They have good credentials, but like the players, they have to show the results of their work on the field.
Last Tuesday night after practice, John Baxter, Special Teams Coordinator, explained his special teams philosophy. He deploys a unique learning system. Additionally, among other things, he indicated that KO returns are never practiced live.
He indicated that this spring, kickers will never see the ball sail though the up-rights as they kick into nets all the time, paying intense attention to technique, while not distracted by the flight of the ball. Somewhat similar to teaching a golf swing. He has produced good special teams at Arizona and USC, and I was impressed by his presentation.
This week Tyrone Wheatley in a presser indicated that he is not here for nostalgia, but as a Coach, and his entire focus is in that area. The competition there is intense. RB Ty Isaac is currently slowed by a pulled hamstring.
Secondary Coach Greg Jackson said Thursday that Jabrill Pepper fits the safety position, but he can play a number of positions, and he is an intelligent and hyper enthusiastic football player. He had become a team leader. Special Teams Coach Baxter indicated he is one of ten or so they are looking at for the return teams.
Friday, the media got a glimpse of practice for 20 minutes. It consisted of drills by position groups. It was noted that Derrick Green is noticeably larger than last year. Some have said that some of Green’s former fat has been replaced by muscle. Coach Harbaugh was working with the QBs through the energetic session. Several offensive linemen were slamming the sleds quick and hard.
The team will be on full display April 4th, in Michigan Stadium, for its annual spring game. They will hold a “draft” in order to choose sides. It should be competitive, and therefore will be an entertaining experience.
Harbaugh is trying to bring M football administration into the modern age, with several new support staff hires, Chris Finotti most recently. The Recruiting Operations Director is Chris Partridge, the Senior Offensive Analyst is T.J. Weist, and the Director of Player Development is Gwendolyn Bush. Last, but certainly not least, Jim Minnick is a former Marine officer, who is now Associate AD for Football.
This is a step in the right direction, something that Nick Saban, and others have done for a while. These hires will facilitate recruiting, among other things, even though they cannot directly recruit themselves.
A position of aggravated concern still the center position as Jack Miller has chosen to forgo playing football, and Graham Glasgow has carelessly broken his probation according to press reports. Last year a DUI sat him down for the first game, so he seems to start each season under a cloud. This provides understudy Patrick Kugler a splendid opportunity to establish himself.
The news regarding the QB position varies. It has been announced that they all are not getting an equal number of snaps now, but they did not name a leader. Additional competitors at the position will show up in August, including a possible transfer from Iowa.
Linebacker Brady Pallante, 276 lbs. has switched to fullback, as has Chase Winovich at 230 lbs.
So far there is little or nothing to diminish Wolverine fan’s enthusiasm for the new Sheriff in town and his charges. It looks like everything is going the way any fan would want it to go. Coach Harbaugh even did a Good Samaritan deed in stopping to assist a victim of a car crash.
Still, it should be remembered that Coach Harbaugh, as good as he is, can only walk on water sometimes, and only in the winter, but these new coaches are going to inspire their players to cure The Seven Year Itch.