Are Fan Expectations For The Michigan Football Program Too High?

For some odd reason, many within the Michigan fan base have convinced themselves that the expectation for the football program is simply too high.
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It was a narrative that gained steam last season when a discussion between Joel Klatt and Colin Cowherd began making its rounds throughout social media. The discussion was sparked by two painful losses for Michigan at that point in the season - one occurring in week three against Wisconsin and the other occurring in week seven against Penn State. In the video clip, Klatt and Cowherd were discussing the seemingly unrealistic expectations of the Michigan fan base, suggesting that many are simply asking for too much – that they are asking Michigan to be something it’s never been.

Following that conversation between Klatt and Cowherd, some within the Michigan fan base latched onto the idea that they were right - that fans were expecting too much from the Michigan football program and, in particular, from Jim Harbaugh. In fact, both Klatt and Cowherd suggested that Harbaugh had already succeeded at restoring Michigan back to what it has traditionally always been.

They couldn't have been more wrong.

Here’s what the Michigan Football program has traditionally been:

  • Under the legendary Bo Schembechler (1969-1989), Michigan was a conference champion in 13 of his 21 years as head coach, winning five conference championships in his first six seasons. Schembechler had a conference championship winning percentage of nearly 62%.
  • Under Gary Moeller (1990-1994), Michigan was a conference champion in three of his five years as head coach, capturing three conference titles in his first three seasons. Moeller had a conference championship winning percentage of 60%.
  • Under Lloyd Carr (1995-2007), Michigan was a conference champion in five of his 13 years as head coach, winning two conference titles (and a national title) in his first two seasons. Carr had a conference championship winning percentage of 38%.

As far as I know, nobody in Ann Arbor is pounding their fists on the table and demanding national championships from Jim Harbaugh and this football program.  In fact, the expectation - as I see it - is quite reasonable from a fan base that has enjoyed very little in the way of success over the last two decades.  The expectation in Ann Arbor today is the same as it’s always been, which is to win the Big Ten championship. This is something that the Michigan Football program has accomplished more than any other team within the conference and something the Wolverines had accomplished 21 times over a 39 year span from 1969 – 2007.

In fact, only three coaches in the modern era have failed to win a conference title within their first 4 seasons at Michigan: Rich Rodriguez (fired after 3 seasons), Brady Hoke (fired after 4 seasons), and Jim Harbaugh (potentially entering his 7th season with a new contract extension).

Here’s my point: The idea that fans should lower their expectations for a football program like Michigan is as disappointing as it is embarassing.  Very few programs around the country have the type of resources that Michigan has at its disposal.  Regardless of the programs struggles over the last two decades, Michigan is still a premiere college football program that has everything it needs to compete for conference championships year in and year out. That was the expectation every year prior to 2008 and should still be the expectation as of today.

I’ll leave you with the words of a former Buckeye, Chris Spielman:

“The standard for Michigan football is high. That standard must not and should not be lowered. Ever.”