The fact that Jim Harbaugh is running around with his shirt off at satellite football camps in SEC country should tell you everything you need to know. Harbaugh has quickly found out that coaching at your Alma mater is an entirely different level of pressure then leading Stanford or even the San Francisco 49ers. I believe the 51-year-old Harbaugh took a huge gamble by accepting the Michigan job. He could’ve had any open NFL gig that he wanted, but instead he chose to “come home” to Ann Arbor. Either he will return the Wolverines back into a National Power or he’ll be forced to leave like Brady Hoke, unceremoniously shoved out the door. There are no other possible endings. I say this not as a Harbaugh hater, but as a realist who knows when someone is not a good fit.


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I am well aware that my opinion of Harbaugh’s future at Michigan is contrary to popular thinking. Everywhere you turn there is someone praising Harbaugh’s moves since he arrived on campus. However, I think it would be wise to hold off on planning any championship parades. I know Michigan fans don’t want to hear it or believe it, but Harbaugh ultimately will come up empty in Ann Arbor. The reason has nothing to do with Harbaugh’s game management or preparation. I don’t even think the school that begins with the letter “O” will cause his demise. The reason will be Harbaugh’s hard-nosed, my-way coaching style. There will be some modest gains at first, but eventually Coach Harbaugh’s controlling ways will wear thin with 4 and 5-star recruits just like it did with his players in San Francisco.

Story after story poured out of 49ers headquarters during this past season. Harbaugh’s players were fed up with all of his rules. Players reportedly felt he treated them like children. In fact, on planes, his players weren’t allowed to listen to music, or even play cards. Players also complained about Harbaugh’s never ending mind games, which some felt went a little too far. Pause and think about it for a second. He treated grown men that way. What do you think is going to happen when he’s that hard on a bunch of teenagers and kids in their early 20’s? Do you think Harbaugh is going to change overnight and become a players coach? When you take a look at his background, the answer is pretty obvious.

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Harbaugh is a “Michigan Man” from glory days past. His maize and blue roots run very deep. He grew up in Ann Arbor while his father was an assistant coach to the legendary Bo Schembechler. He later played and starred for Schembechler during the 1980’s. Harbaugh might have butted heads with Schembechler but he also thrived under his coach’s iron fisted style. When the NFL came calling Harbaugh ended up in a Bears uniform playing for Mike Ditka, a guy who made Schembechler look like a sweet old man out for a Sunday drive. It’s only fair to assume these two old school coaches were a major influence on Harbaugh when he finally decided to become a head coach himself.

To Harbaugh’s credit, his coaching style has led to a lot of success. He has become a first class turn around specialist wherever he has gone. From the University of San Diego, Stanford and then San Francisco. However, all of those places have one thing in common, they aren’t his Alma mater. The pressure Harbaugh is feeling at Michigan, whether he wants to admit it or not is far greater than anything he ever felt during those other coaching stops. Besides dealing with trying to build an immediate winner, he also has to adjust back to coaching college kids. Clearly this is already has become an issue when you consider several players have already transfered from Michigan to programs like Auburn and West Virginia.

To make it clear, I don’t think transfers from the program will decide the Wolverines fate, but it does speak to the way Harbaugh has decided to deal with the players at Michigan. It’s Harbaugh’s way or the highway, which is a lot easier in the NFL with the pro’s under contract. In today’s age of coddling big time recruits, I wonder if Harbaugh will be able to dial it back and stroke all the necessary ego’s to keep his top players in a Michigan uniform. If not, you can expect the transfer train to keep rolling.

A difficult but true fact for the Michigan faithful is that the Bo Schembechler way of doing things no longer translates in College Football. I don’t fault Harbaugh for not adjusting. It’s what he knows, he’s been successful in the past. I personally would love to play for a Jim Harbaugh. I admire his business first approach. All of his rules wouldn’t bother me, but unfortunately I am in my 40’s. I come from a completely different generation. The caliber of player Harbaugh needs to compete for Big 10 titles and national championships aren’t going to stick around if the coach is a control freak.
Like it or not, we are now living in a “ME FIRST” culture more than ever before. The question is, can Harbaugh adjust to that or will his inner Schembechler get the better of him?


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– Brett Martzke

TWITTER: @brettmartzke