As someone who follows the Michigan Football program closely, what I have seen permeate throughout the fan base over the last six years has been both disturbing and insulting. How exactly did U-M get here? How did the Wolverines go from perennial Big Ten bullies to perennial Big Ten underachievers? How did Michigan get to a point where the local and national media figures are suggesting that Michigan fans should lower their expectations for a once dominant football program?
A growing culture of excuses, that’s how.
Instead of holding steadfast in their beliefs, instead of demanding that the program maintain the success that created one of the most iconic brands in all of college sports, some within the Michigan fanbase have resorted to making excuses for a football program that was once determined to maintain Big Ten dominance on the field.
As Michigan nears the end of the 2020 season, these are the excuses that must officially end with it.
Excuse No. 1: Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke
It was once a fan-favorite excuse, the go-to talking point when any criticism was leveled at Jim Harbaugh and his lack of on-field success. For years, Michigan fans became intent on defending Harbaugh by using Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke as excuses.
Contrary to what many would want you to believe, the Michigan football program wasn’t on the verge of death before the arrival of Harbaugh. In fact, Harbaugh inherited a football team that was loaded with NFL talent thanks to Brady Hoke. Guys like Jabrill Peppers, Mo Hurst, Jake Butt, Chris Wormley, Jourdan Lewis, Chase Winovich, and Taco Charlton – all guys who were in the locker room by the time Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor. The cupboard was far from bare.
It's true that the Michigan football program struggled under both Rodriguez and Hoke, but it’s also true that the statute of limitations has officially run out on using both coaches as scapegoats in order to shield Harbaugh from well-deserved criticism. Michigan is six years removed from Hoke and ten years removed from Rodriguez.
Excuse No. 2: Dabo Swinney and Brian Kelly
While there are those within the Michigan fanbase who still blame previous coaches, others have decided to move on by finding hope in other, more successful coaches. In spite of reality suggesting otherwise, a portion of the Michigan fanbase believes that Harbaugh is just a season or two away from achieving greatness. Their reasoning? Dabo Swinney and Brian Kelly.
Michigan fans will often point to Swinney and Kelly as examples of delayed success, but they often do so while ignoring much of the early success that earned both coaches buy-in from the fan base. Swinney won a conference title with the Tigers in his third year, while Kelly led the Irish to an undefeated regular season and a National Championship game by year three. Harbaugh has yet to win his own division, let alone the conference. Those are important details that cant be glossed over when attempting to make such comparisons.
Excuse No. 3: Academics, Morals, and/or the Administration
As far as I know, the academic and moral standards at Michigan are the same today as they were back when Lloyd Carr was roaming the sidelines in Ann Arbor. How exactly was Carr able to win 5 conference titles in 10 seasons if he was handcuffed by the same lofty academic and moral standards that Michigan holds to this very day?
The reality is that academics and morals have absolutely nothing to do with the 16-year conference title drought in Ann Arbor. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that Michigan holds its student-athletes to a higher academic standard when compared to many other top tier football programs, I just don’t believe that those high academic standards have served as a barrier to on-field success.
Michigan fans also need to retire the "administration" excuse. Regardless of what anyone may or may not have said to Jim Harbaugh following the 2016 season, Harbaugh is still in complete control of how he chooses to conduct himself on the sidelines. That will remain the case whether it's Harbaugh or another coach roaming the sideline at Michigan in 2021. Throwing your clip board and ripping off your jacket is one thing, showing you're alive is another.
Excuse No. 4: Unrealistic Fan Expectations
I find this excuse to be the most insulting – by far.
It’s a narrative that you see circling around sports networks and within the Michigan fan base itself. It’s the idea that Jim Harbaugh has already brought Michigan back to what they always were, and that the fans need to dial back their expectations for both Harbaugh and the football program.
Nobody in Ann Arbor is pounding their fists on the table while screaming about national championships. In fact, Michigan fans would be quite happy accepting a win against their top rival (Ohio State), getting to Indy and winning the conference once every four years or so.
The reality is that Harbaugh hasn’t brought Michigan back to what it has always been. Michigan has always been about two things: beating its rivals and winning the conference. That's it.
Are those lofty and unrealistic expectations for a program like Michigan? Not quite.
The bottom line is this: Michigan, and in particular its fans, need to get out of the business of making excuses for a program that is more than capable of handling its business on the field. Given the tremendous amount of talent and resources at its disposal, the Michigan football program (its players and coaches) should be held to an extremely high standard when it comes to on-field results. Expecting anything less does a tremendous disservice to all those who helped make Michigan football the winningest college football program of all time.