When Jim Harbaugh returned to Ann Arbor in 2015, this time as a head coach, expectations were high. Sky high. Wins over Ohio State, Big Ten titles, national titles – they all seemed within reach.
Nearly six seasons later, however, they don’t.
Has Harbaugh underachieved at Michigan?
“Oh yes, absolutely – and he’ll tell you he’s underachieved,” Big Ten Network analyst Howard Griffith said on The DA Show. “It’s not any great secret. He has not lived up to the billing, and I think he would tell you that.”
Harbaugh is 49-22 at Michigan. He is 0-5 against Ohio State and has never won a division title, much less played for a Big Ten championship. Under contract through 2021, he will meet with Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel after the season to discuss his future with the program.
“I think they’re handling it the right way,” Griffith said. “I know if you take a poll or pulse of people around the country, they’ll probably say that Michigan should move on, but that’s not the fan base’s decision. That’s ultimately what Warde Manuel feels that he needs to do and what’s in the best interest of the student-athletes and the program.”
Harbaugh went 10-3 in three of his first four seasons with Michigan but is 11-8 since 2019. It’s possible that he has run his course in Ann Arbor. After all, this is his fourth head-coaching stop – and his first time lasting more than four seasons.
“That’s what people have always said,” Griffith said of Harbaugh’s short shelf life. “It’s one of those things that has to be evaluated. I think if you look on the field, you can absolutely make the argument he’s not achieved. He’s not won a Big Ten title. Hasn’t beat Ohio State. There are some things that Michigan people and Michigan fans demand that happen. That doesn’t make it right, but those are some of the expectations that are out there, and Michigan hasn’t been there. So I think this is going to be one of those very fluid situations that Michigan is going to have to either reassess how Coach Harbaugh has handled the program and try to move forward, or they’re going to go in a different direction.”
Since 2015, Michigan is the fifth-winningest program in the Big Ten. Not in the country, in the Big Ten. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa have all won more games than the Wolverines.
Nevertheless, expectations remain sky-high. Many Michigan fans, Griffith says, would rather beat Ohio State than win a national title – or would be fine losing every game except The Game.
“That fan base is a tough, supportive fan base, but they have expectations like most fan bases,” Griffith said. “I don’t think their fan base is any less galvanized as Ohio State. But the reality is this: they’ve been dominated in recruiting. They go out East and spend some time out there. When you look at some of the great teams that they had, they would go into Ohio and fight toe-to-toe with trying to go after Ohio kids that Ohio State was going after as well. So I think recruiting is a huge part of it, and Coach Day and Urban Meyer have that thing rocking and rolling. It looks like it has not slowed down. . . . If you don’t have the players in place, you’re not going to win.”
To be fair, though, Wisconsin and Iowa are typically nowhere near the top of the recruiting rankings. How have they been able to win more games than Michigan?
“A team like Iowa [is] never high in the recruiting rankings, but they do an unbelievable job of development there. You look at Wisconsin, they do an unbelievable job of developing there,” Griffith said. “Penn State has done a great job of recruiting and getting in some of those battles. But until Michigan has the type of roster that Ohio State has, they’re going to struggle in that game.”