Michigan landed a late Christmas present this week, and it was probably worth the wait. On Monday SI.com confirmed reports of the hire of Jim Harbaugh as the Wolverines next head coach. The news comes after reports that Michigan officials spent time in San Francisco over the weekend trying to lure Harbaugh from the 49ers to Ann Arbor -- not to mention a not-so-coincidental birthday message to Harbaugh from the official Michigan football Twitter account on Dec. 23.
Harbaugh will replace fourth-year headman Brady Hoke, who was fired on Dec. 2 following a 5-7 season that included losses to rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. Under Hoke the Wolverines fell short of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009 and just the third time since 1974.
Harbaugh will come to Michigan after four seasons with the 49ers. He left with a record of 44-19-1 in San Francisco, including three NFC Championship Game appearances and a berth in Super Bowl XLVII. Harbaugh lost that Super Bowl 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens, coached by his brother, John. He finished the 2014 season 8-8. Throughout the year reports that he did not get along with 49ers management intensified. This includes GM Trent Baalke and owner Jed York, who, after the 49ers' 19-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thanksgiving, tweeted that the team's performance "wasn't acceptable."
Harbaugh has a history of turning college programs around. Prior to his tenure with the 49ers, he served as Stanford's head coach from 2007-10. The Cardinal went 1-11 the year before his arrival, their worst mark since going winless in 1960. In Harbaugh's final season in '10, Stanford finished 12-1 and claimed its first BCS victory with a 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Harbaugh is a proven coaching commodity on every level. That’s why he is exactly the big-name hire Michigan wanted. He fits the oft-criticized bill of a “Michigan Man,” as he spent his college career playing quarterback for the Wolverines from 1983-86. Harbaugh’s father, Jack, also coached as an assistant at Michigan.
Harbaugh's hire at Michigan adds a level of intrigue to the Big Ten. The conference has taken heat in recent years for its lackluster postseason performances and top-heavy pecking order. Now Harbaugh will coach in the league’s East Division against the likes of Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Penn State's James Franklin. That sets up some exciting battles for prospects, as Harbaugh’s presence could work wonders on the recruiting trail. Hoke had little trouble luring top talent to Ann Arbor -- he signed top-10 classes in 2012 and '13, according to Rivals.com -- but the on-field product never followed suit.
There is no doubt expectations will be high when Harbaugh first takes the field. This is Michigan, after all, the program with the most college football wins (915) of all time. Its history includes 11 national titles and 42 conference crowns. Fans have dealt with mediocrity for too long, and are unlikely to be patient.
Still, Harbaugh’s experience suggests the Wolverines knocked this hire out of the park. Step one for Harbaugh will be shoring up his first recruiting class. Despite Hoke’s recruiting success midway through his tenure, the coach’s 2014 class finished 31st in the country, per Rivals.com. One would expect Michigan’s profile to bounce back with Harbaugh added to the mix.
Of course, Harbaugh must turn that talent into a contender, one that can hang with the Big Ten’s premier programs. Given his history at football's highest levels, Harbaugh's marriage with Michigan has the makings of a tremendous success.
|2004||San Diego Toreros||7-4|
|2005||San Diego Toreros||11-1|
|2006||San Diego Toreros||11-1|
|2011||San Francisco 49ers||13-3|
|2012||San Francisco 49ers||11-4-1|
|2013||San Francisco 49ers||12-4|
|2014||San Francisco 49ers||8-8|