With Harbaugh’s extension now officially complete, it’s likely that many Michigan fans are feeling a sense of disappointment - which is completely understandable given the way the last six seasons played out. In fact, many within the fan base had hoped that the conclusion of the 2020 season would also mark the conclusion of the Harbaugh era in Ann Arbor.
That obviously didn’t happen.
As disappointment gradually dissipates over the coming months, the majority of Michigan fans will likely enter the 2021 fall season with what has become an all too familiar feeling - hopeful, yet skeptical.
Though Harbaugh has put together a decent winning percentage of 69% during his first six seasons in Ann Arbor, the wins that Michigan fans desperately want - the wins that count - have been nearly nonexistent. The issues with Ohio State remain front and center as the primary complaint when it comes to Harbaugh's performance. During the 2019 season, Harbaugh became the first coach in Michigan Football history to go 0-5 against the Buckeyes and avoided what would have certainly been 0-6 during the 2020 season as 'The Game' was cancelled due to COVID issues within the Michigan program.
Beyond the obvious struggles with Ohio State, Michigan has also continued to struggle with its in-state rival under Harbaugh’s leadership. Over the last six seasons, Harbaugh has achieved a 3-3 record against the Spartans that included a home loss in 2020 to a Spartan program in rebuild mode with a first year head coach - a loss that is considered one of the worst of Harbaugh’s Michigan career to date. While Harbaugh’s recruiting classes in Ann Arbor have been far superior to anything occurring in East Lansing, the success on the recruiting trail hasn’t translated into the same type of success on the football field.
In addition to the issues with Ohio State and Michigan State, the Wolverines have also struggled to finish strong under Harbaugh’s leadership - often ending each year on multiple sour notes. Since the 2016 season, Michigan is just a combined 7-13 in their last four games of each season, including an 0-4 bowl record during that same span. The late season struggles year after year have largely contributed to the Wolverines inability to legitimately compete for Big Ten championships, which is another area of concern when it comes to Harbaugh.
In short, there are plenty of reasons to remain skeptical about Jim Harbaugh's return to Ann Arbor.
Beyond the hype that accompanied his arrival in 2015, Harbaugh gave Michigan fans plenty to be hopeful for following his first two seasons in Ann Arbor. During his first year, Harbaugh led the Wolverines to a 10-win season that included a 41-7 blowout victory against the Florida Gators in the Citrus Bowl. It was an impressive first year for Harbaugh, and the Wolverines appeared to be on an upward trajectory that would soon take them back to the top of the Big Ten conference. The 2016 season only furthered that belief. Michigan spent all but two weeks of the 2016 season ranked within the AP top five and looked like a team that was not only on a collision course to winning a Big Ten title for the first time in 12 years, but also competing in the college football playoff for a national championship. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes had other plans.
While Michigan didn’t have its much anticipated breakthrough year in 2016, the Wolverines proved that they were more than capable of legitimately competing for both conference titles and national titles. It appeared that Harbaugh’s restoration of the Michigan Football program was nearly complete and that, as cliche as it sounds, Michigan was back.
That was then, this is now.
Though most Michigan fans currently reside in the skeptical category, it wasn’t all that long ago that the entirety of the fan base was full of hope and excitement - and Harbaugh had plenty to do with that. Whether it was reports of wearing cleats during an in-home recruiting visit, his endless supply off-the-wall comments, his fiery sideline personality, or his obvious love for the Michigan Football program, Harbaugh gave the Wolverine faithful plenty of reasons to root for his success. It’s still possible that Harbaugh can recapture that support and excitement from a fan base that has grown increasingly frustrated and impatient, but the only way to do that is by winning on the football field when it counts.
It’s time for Jim Harbaugh to do what he was brought here to do.
Skeptical, yet hopeful.