Chasing Ghosts: Harbaugh’s Legacy Will Be Defined in Year 5

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Entering his fifth season as University of Michigan Head Football Coach, the pressure facing Jim Harbaugh to finally live up to the hype and the salary, and ultimately restore the once-proud program’s tradition as a college football power are building up to the point of explosion. Despite a preseason ranking in both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls as the number seven team in the nation, Harbaugh and the Michigan football program are at a crossroads. 

With mammoth-sized contracts come insurmountable expectations. In Harbaugh’s case, there are millions of  reasons why he is expected to beat rival programs, as well as win Big Ten and National Championships. That’s right, the Wolverine’s coach is currently the second highest-paid coach in college football behind University of Alabama’s Nick Saban. According to, Jim has an annual salary of $7.5 million that also pays him $2 million in life insurance premium advances, and he is set to receive a 10% bump in each category by the end of 2019. That is, if he makes it long enough to see those raises. 

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Harbaugh’s salary eclipses Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney, who has won 2 of the past 3 National Championships.

Boosters, fans and the university brass have been patient long enough. Thus far, Harbaugh’s time in Ann Arbor has been met with mixed reviews. He has proved to be an improvement over the likes of Brady Hoke, and the infamous Rich Rodriguez. Yet, it seems that the former UM quarterback turned signal-caller is chasing ghosts. Former legendary Coach Bo Shembechler set the standard by which all future Wolverine’s coaches would be measured. He amassed 194 wins while at Michigan, as well as capturing 13 Big Ten Conference Championships. Lloyd Carr followed him up with some winning of his own, by leading the team to an undefeated season in 1997, which led the school to claim it’s stake as Co-National Champions along with Tom Osborne’s Nebraska Cornhuskers.

At this point, Harbaugh’s first four years (38-14, 1-3 Bowls) are actually close to Bo (38-6) and Lloyd’s (39-11) starts to the program. Jim is implementing dominating defenses while re-establishing the program. However, his shortcomings with an old-fashioned run-heavy offensive scheme have led him to a losing record (2-6) against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. Urban Meyer’s dominance of Harbaugh is the foundation of his critics’ arguments against the Michigan coach. Failing to win a game against the recently retired legend once again proves he is chasing football-ghosts.

Harbaugh recently went public in an attempt to defend his lack of accomplishment while at Michigan, in a new book titled Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football,  saying, “It’s hard to beat the cheaters.”, and further added, “Name another school that competes with the bluebloods athletically – we’re talking Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson – while competing with the bluebloods academically: Stanford, Northwestern, Princeton. Most of the players we recruit are good enough to play for Alabama or Clemson and smart enough to play for Ivy League schools. If you don’t win in the classroom on Monday, you won’t be here for many Saturdays.”

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Harbaugh at Big Ten Media Day in August

Although his points are made with strong conviction, they are simply speculation. Instead, it seems that Harbaugh is making excuses. After all, “cheating” accusations have tainted successful recruiting-campaigns and program excellence for years at numerous schools. Why now after four seasons of mediocrity is he raising these concerns? Why were they not addressed on his day one press conference? I can respect the fact the guy wants to run a clean program, but the real issue issue here is Harbaugh’s distracted focus on others instead of his own program. 

Meyer’s retirement has paved the way for the media and critics to jump on the Michigan bandwagon. The team is ranked higher than it has been in a decade. Whispers of Big Ten titles, and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoff are growing louder by the day. Let’s hope that Harbaugh doesn’t sabotage himself and the Wolverine’s season by brewing up a quarterback controversy between Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey, and that Michigan’s revamped offense can compliment their defense and return the Michigan football program to excellence.

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