Pros and Cons of Jim Harbaugh Coaching the Lions

Vito Chirco

As the 2019 season nears the finish line, one cannot help but wonder how an organization would fare under different leadership. 

Would a different voice have produced better results? Could somebody else have secured more victories with the same talent provided?

Jim Harbaugh was quite successful coaching the San Francisco 49ers. The team went 13-3, and made it all the way to the NFC title game his first season. 

He was also named AP Coach of the Year during his first season in charge. 

The next season, he led San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance.  

After going 8-8 in 2014, he left the NFL, and signed on to be the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. 

Although Harbaugh has failed to beat archrival Ohio State during his five years on the job, he has still won an overwhelmingly large percentage of his games at Michigan.

In fact, he has won 47 games, equating to 73.4 percent of the 64 games he's coached in Ann Arbor.  

The next challenge is to bring the Wolverines back to national prominence, should he remain the coach. 

Meanwhile, in Detroit, the organization continues to flounder as it nears the end of season No. 2 with Matt Patricia as head coach.

With the franchise maybe looking to move on from Patricia at season's end, could Harbaugh be just what the doctor ordered?    

If the stars aligned somehow and Harbaugh was brought into Motown, here would be the pros and cons of the former Stanford and San Francisco head man coaching the Lions: 


1.) He remains a coveted NFL coach

When head coaching jobs open up in the NFL, his name consistently pops up as a candidate.

For instance, longtime Panthers head man Ron Rivera was fired on Tuesday, and Harbaugh has already become the odds-on favorite to replace him in Carolina, according to BetOnline.

Does it mean that Harbaugh is leaving Ann Arbor for the Panthers or another one of the NFL's 32 franchises tomorrow, a month from now or even a year from now? 

It unequivocally does not. 

However, his name continues to carry cachet among NFL inner circles and specifically with NFL owners. 

And because of that, no matter how many years he goes without beating Ohio State, the Fords bringing him in would provide the organization with a degree of instant credibility -- no matter how big or small -- that it's been lacking for arguably over half a century. 

2.) His experience with the 49ers 

This will pay huge dividends for Harbaugh if and when he decides to interview for future NFL head coaching gigs.

Although he did just coach four years in San Francisco and wore out his welcome with players inside the locker room and with 49ers CEO Jed York, he recorded winning seasons in three of his four years on the job. 

During this span of time, he led the 49ers to three straight NFC Championship Game appearances from 2011-13. 

And during the 2012 season, he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, in which he lost to his brother John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens.  

Guess what? 

Jim Harbaugh, who coached just four seasons in the NFL, has made more Super Bowls than the Lions have made since the first Super Bowl was played in 1967 between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Doesn't take a rocket scientist like Patricia to figure out this stat: the Lions have made zero Super Bowl appearances and have only won one championship in the last six-plus decades. 

It came back in 1957 when my now 62-year-old dad was born.

At this point, it seems like a super long time ago since Harbaugh was the San Francisco head man and was able to lead Colin Kaepernick & Co. to a Super Bowl berth.

Yet, it's still something to commend Harbaugh for, and it's something that clearly separates him from Patricia and other head men that have never had the chance to play for the Lombardi Trophy.


1.) His inability to win the big game at Michigan 

Just look at his 0-5 mark against Ohio State. Simply unacceptable for a Michigan head man, and a lot of other coaches would be fired for that same level of ineptitude in "The Game."

Harbaugh's teams haven't just lost, either. They've often looked unprepared, and have been completely smacked around. 

In fact, the last two years, they've been outscored by the Buckeyes, 118-66. 

Yeah, really that bad against a team that many Michigan fans had hoped Harbaugh would be able to close the gap with by his fifth year on the job.

It was a big reason why the former Michigan quarterback was hired. 

Instead, though, the gap between U-M and OSU appears to be only getting bigger, and many former Harbaugh apologists that were ecstatic about his hiring have turned on him because of it.

Then, there's this: He still hasn't even won a Big Ten East division title.

If I would've told you back in 2015 that five years into his job, he'd be winless against the arch-nemesis Buckeyes and without a single Big Ten East division crown, you would've been flabbergasted, and likely would have told me that it was blasphemous to utter such a thing about Michigan's "golden boy."

No longer can that be the case, though, as the once unfathomable has become a harsh reality for Wolverines fans all across the land. 

Yet, from all accounts, his job at U-M is safe, with two years remaining on a seven-year deal that expires at the end of the 2021 season.   

He hasn't come close to making Michigan a national title contender so far, and at this point, it can't be expected that he will -- even if he stays on for the duration of his contract. 

With the spanking U-M received at the hands of the Buckeyes a week ago, Harbaugh is now just 2-11 all-time against teams ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll at the time of their meeting. 

He's also a mere 1-3 in bowl games since taking over as U-M head man -- his lone victory coming in his first season on the job in 2015 in the Citrus Bowl (41-7 over Florida).   

But maybe making Michigan into an elite program that competes for national titles is not what U-M athletic director Warde Manuel and the athletic department are looking for any longer.

The bar was set so low by previous Michigan head men Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke -- a combined 46-42 over seven seasons with only one nine-plus win season among the two of them -- that maybe Manuel & Co. are now fine with a Harbaugh-type coach. 

In so many words, the administration seems to have become more and more accepting of trotting out a "Michigan Man" to lead its football program that consistently wins nine or more games a season but fails to reach the Big Ten Championship Game and the College Football Playoff.

Harbaugh has accomplished just that in four of five seasons in Ann Arbor.

But ultimately, he hasn't won the big game nearly enough and most notably, "The Game" at all. 

It's something that the Lions and any NFL organization would have to view as a red flag when looking into the possibility of hiring him.  

2.) His proneness to wear out his welcome 

It's the sole reason why he was dismissed from San Francisco after four seasons on the job. 

And if you don't believe that, think about it from this perspective: his worst season came in his final year, and it was a .500 campaign.

Coaches don't get fired after taking their team to the NFC title game in three of four seasons, including a Super Bowl appearance, and without recording a single losing season. 

He clearly proved enough to get a fifth season in San Fran, but by that point, his relationship with 49ers CEO Jed York had already soured to the extent where it was irreparable (as noted above).

Harbaugh lost one job, but gained another right away in the form of the head coaching position at his alma mater: the University of Michigan.

He had a terrific first season, going 10-3 and winning the Citrus Bowl.       

He followed that up with another 10-3 campaign that saw Michigan barely lose to Ohio State in the final week of the regular season, 30-27. 

To date, that's the closest a Harbaugh-led team has gotten to beating Ohio State. 

The bottom has fallen out since, with Harbaugh's teams losing by at least 11 points the last three seasons. 

If Harbaugh wants to beat the Buckeyes moving forward, he probably will have to do a better job of keeping his guys in Ann Arbor, specifically those from Michigan's 2017 class.

Players transferring from the '17 class has become an alarming trend. 

In fact, five-star Aubrey Solomon, four-stars Jordan Anthony, Drew Singleton, Oliver Martin, James Hudson, O’Maury Samuels, JaRaymond Hall, Benjamin St-Juste and three-stars J’Marick Woods and Kurt Taylor have all transferred from the class. 

Is it a sign of Harbaugh rubbing his players the wrong way and wearing out his welcome in Ann Arbor? 

It quite possibly could be that. 

But also, it could simply be those players not receiving enough playing time and seeking better opportunities elsewhere.    

Either way, it's something to keep an eye out for as Harbaugh continues on in his tenure at Michigan.

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