Ever since Jim Harbaugh was named Michigan’s football coach in December, he’s been on tour.
You can hardly pick up the Internet these days and not read Harbaugh’s name in a headline on some website somewhere.
First he’s helping distressed motorists. Then he’s being passive/aggressive with fellow coaches. Then he’s posing for a selfie with the First Lady of the land. And pretty much everything in between.
Harbaugh will talk about anything, to anyone.
You wanna talk khakis? Harbaugh will bend your ear.
It’s as if Harbaugh has been charged with selling Michigan football—barnstorming the land, espousing the Michigan Way. You keep looking for the back of a truck and the bottle of Love Potion no. 10.
Harbaugh, after just four months on the job, has already gotten more positive press as Michigan’s football coach than Brady Hoke got in four years.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when Harbaugh was even remotely undecided about his future beyond the San Francisco 49ers.
There hasn’t been this much buzz about Michigan football since the man who coached Harbaugh roamed the sidelines on Ann Arbor Saturdays.
With all apologies to Lloyd Carr, a fine man and coach, Harbaugh has the state and the nation on pins and needles about the block M in a way that reminds the old-timers (like yours truly) of when Bo Schembechler donned the headset, sunglasses and ball cap.
College football was never boring in these parts when Bo coached Michigan.
Whether he was turning red with anger at yet another question about his kicking game, or working the officials on the sidelines, or getting into the face of one of his players, Schembechler WAS Michigan football.
Bo never would have conceded that fact, but it was 100 percent true.
Now, with Harbaugh, the Wolverines finally have a coach that is the face of the program, and right from the jump.
There is deliciousness in the connection between Harbaugh and Schembechler—a direct link that can never be broken.
Camaraderie among the brotherhood of coaches is nice and all, but it doesn’t come close to the relationship between player and coach—especially when that player is a quarterback.
It’s one thing to say that you are returning to be the head coach at a place where you were once an assistant. That’s a nice little story.
It’s quite another to have once been the BMOC and then return to campus to take the head coaching job—a job once held so grandly by your mentor and practically second father.
We’ve all seen the photos and the videos of quarterback Jim Harbaugh, no. 4, being given a talking to by Schembechler on a fall Saturday in the mid-1980s. Their relationship was not atypical when it comes to that of QB and coach. Tough love comes to mind.
Now Harbaugh is the coach, and unlike when Bo arrived in Ann Arbor as a virtual unknown in 1969, Harbaugh bounces into town with a nifty resume and a cult following.
You’d never catch Bo making the rounds as publicly as Harbaugh has this year, but that’s more of a sign of the times than anything else.
Schembechler was larger than life and he didn’t have social media to help him—not that he needed it.
Harbaugh has all the trappings of being the next great Michigan football coach (again with apologies to Carr, who did a very good but not great job), but no matter his win/loss record, one thing is for certain: there’s a lot more juice in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry now.
Remember Michigan-Ohio State?
The rivalry hasn’t been the same since Woody Hayes was forced out of Columbus after the 1978 season.
Bo coached Michigan for 11 more years, but nine years of Earle Bruce and two of John Cooper at OSU didn’t move the meter nearly the way Bo and Woody did between 1969 and 1978.
In fairness to their successors, Bo and Woody coached their teams partly during an era where you didn’t go to a bowl game unless you went to the Rose Bowl for winning the Big Ten—otherwise known as the Big Two and Little Eight in the 1970s. So there was a lot riding on that final game of the year in Columbus or Ann Arbor.
But the fact remains that Michigan-Ohio State hasn’t had the star power at the head coaching position—on both teams—since Bo and Woody cast their large shadows.
Jim Harbaugh at Michigan and Urban Meyer at Ohio State form arguably the most intriguing coaching matchup in college football today.
Finally, both schools have star power under the headsets.
This Michigan-Ohio State thing has some juice again. Meyer’s program has the leg up on Michigan’s, but for how long?
The recruiting battle will be fierce. The gamesmanship will be fascinating to watch.
More importantly, the football played on the field will be exquisite, once Harbaugh fully sinks his meat hooks into the job.
The coaches don’t have catchy names like Bo and Woody. “Jim and Urban” lacks in that department.
But the coaches could be named Frick and Frack for all anyone cares. What will matter, and what is finally back in this rivalry, is the intensity. For too many years since Woody left OSU, either Michigan or Ohio State have gone on streaks of dominance that have relegated the rivalry to second class status.
It’s not a true rivalry if one team is constantly beating the brains out of the other.
As long as Harbaugh and Meyer are at U-M and OSU, respectively, there shouldn’t be dominance by one school over the other.
Bo’s record vs. Woody was 5-4-1, to show you.
Remember Michigan-Michigan State?
That just got a lot better, too.
Harbaugh-Mark Dantonio won’t be chopped liver, either.
Jim Harbaugh is the rock star college coach. He tours and he has a following and he hangs with celebrities.
He brings a je ne sais quoi to the table.
He also wins.
Life has been breathed back into Michigan football.