Nothing To See Here

The team, the team, the team used to mean something at Michigan. It doesn't anymore.
By Michael Spath , |

Jim Harbaugh is the embodiment of his coach, Bo Schembechler, and at his core, Harbaugh preaches two of Schembechler's maxims: "The Team, The Team, The Team" and "Those Who Stay Will Be Champions." But those two phrases are hardly recognizable around the Michigan program these days. Consider:

• In December 2018, multiple players, including captains Karan Higdon and Devin Bush announce they will sit out the Peach Bowl to protect their NFL futures. 

• A respected insider on posts about Harbaugh and his staff weeding out a sense of "entitlement within the program" and guys  that "aren't all in for the team" suggesting changes in recruiting philosophy and leadership to better assess players that will be selfless in their commitment to Michigan football.  

• In January 2019, Michigan loses two assistant coaches to Ohio State. Assistants move on all the time, and one can't fault coaches or a program when a promotion is at stake, but long-time Wolverine Greg Mattison, a 13-year U-M veteran, leaves Ann Arbor for the Maize and Blue's rival, pulling a 180 on everything his career had been about for the previous eight seasons. 

Linebackers coach Al Washington, a rising star in the profession, regarded as a dynamic recruiter, departs after one season for a lateral move to OSU. Even with ties to the Buckeye program, it's a surprise and another huge coup for Michigan's rival. 

 • In the August of 2019, first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis jokingly references his starting quarterback spending too much time on the golf course during the summer, a comment that carried much more serious undertones behind the scenes. In fact, the players send a message, not electing senior Shea Patterson captain. 

"There wasn't a lot we could do because Shea was our starting quarterback, but we wanted to let him and our coaches know we weren't happy with his work in the summer - both Joe [Milton] and Dylan [McCaffrey] outworked him, and then Coach immediately went against our decision and named him a captain," a recent departure shared. "Guys weren't happy."

As a former player noted the beginning of the end for the Brady Hoke regime was when Hoke and his staff began playing favorites and giving leeway to certain players, including Devin Funchess, that they didn't give to the entire team. 

"He'd let Funchess get away with stuff in practice and in games ... he wasn't held accountable, and that created a lot of locker room issues," the player shared. 

• Within days of the captain announcement, facing speculation in the media and among the fan base of discontent within the ranks, Harbaugh named Patterson and senior safety Josh Metellus alternate captains. 

"From the moment Shea arrived, he was treated differently, like he could never do anything wrong," another recent exiting player shared with "Wilton [Speight], John [O'Korn], Brandon [Peters] would all get chewed out for things that they just looked the other way with when it came to Shea." 

• From Aug. 1-present, eight players have entered the transfer portal, including five four-star recruits. That alone is not unique in today's college football, but out of 56 signees in the 2016-17 classes, Michigan has lost 24 to transfer so far (42.9 percent). For the same two classes, Penn State has seen a departure of 31.7 percent of its enrollees and Ohio State saw 26.7 percent of its 2016-17 enrollees transfer. 

• U-M loses three underclassmen to the NFL Draft, again not unexpected, but according to a friend of wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, the DPJ camp was worried Michigan would not "put him in the best position to showcase his talent, just like they did with Jabrill Peppers and Rashan Gary." 

According to the friend, those guys got drafted because of their freak athleticism and potential, as Peoples-Jones will, and not because the staff utilized them in a way that allowed NFL scouts to see what they're capable of. 

• In November, Michigan gets beat by first-year and first-time Ohio State head coach Ryan Day by a greater margin at home than Urban Meyer achieved in 2018 in Columbus. 

• After U-M's fourth straight bowl loss, rising senior cornerback Ambry Thomas gives an interview to Michigan's official network that the Wolverines did not do a good enough job in 2019 holding players accountable and that in 2020, there will be greater accountability among the team. 

• Insiders on both and once again discuss "entitlement" and "playing favorites" and Harbaugh's desire to craft a program in his image, building a culture that greater reflects the Schembechler way. 

• Just a few weeks ago, famed recruiting guru and special teams coach Chris Partridge, who had been selling the 40-year plan to Michigan prospects - the idea of a first-rate education, winning with integrity and setting a young man up for life with a degree that will do more than football alone - leaves for Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin, a program and coach with poor reputations for doing things above board. 

• Yesterday, position coach Anthony Campanile reverses course and signs a contract with the Miami Dolphins, reportedly 48 hours after Michigan pulled out all the stops to court him away from gigs at Rutgers and Boston College, willing to give him a raise that will severely limit the program's ability to sign another top assistant to fill Partridge's vacant position. 

Every one of these bullet points can be explained away. It's the new normal. Coaches leave all the time. Ohio State was more talented than Michigan. There is a me-first attitude prevalent throughout college football. But going into Year 6, Harbaugh has failed to instill the "the team, the team, the team" culture among his players and his coaches, and one has to seriously ask if he ever will be able to.