Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 33 of 163

32 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW the embers of the smoldering U-M football pride. From almost the moment he arrived, the Harbaugh headlines exploded. Whether it involved pulling crash victims from a rolled- over vehicle off I-94, to coaching first base in spring training for the Oakland A's, to se- curing spots for his coaching staff in satellite football camps across the country, Harbaugh and Michigan have been in the news. "How about Jameis Winston?" Dierdorf mused, regarding the former FSU quarter- back who came north for some Harbaugh instruction prior to the NFL Combine. "There's a gift that keeps on giving. One day Jameis talks about, 'These are the finest facilities I've ever seen.' Then the next day, 'I wish I could have played for a guy like Jim Harbaugh.'" The attention has been nonstop, no doubt galling those who have won more than a few games in Big Ten play and beyond over the past few seasons, the former U-M All- American pointed out. "Every news cycle, there's something new about Jim Harbaugh," Dierdorf said. "Can you imagine how this is being received in Columbus and East Lansing? "If you put a blood pressure cuff on Mark Dantonio and Urban Meyer, I bet you at different times, their doctors were worried about them. I know that's the way I would be if I was one of those two guys. I'd go, 'What is going on here? He hasn't even won a game yet.'" That's where Harbaugh himself cautions not to "feed the hype," although that's like insisting it not snow in Buffalo during Janu- ary at this point. Thornbladh did call for tempered expectations, at least initially. "He's taking over a team that won five games," Thornbladh pointed out. "Not one time in the press has he mentioned the cli- ché, 'The cupboard is bare.' Not one time has he complained about the lack of depth, the lack of talent, because he doesn't look at it that way. "Bo inherited a great team, with a lot of good players — Dierdorf, [Jim] Mandich, [Reggie] McKenzie. Now, he pulled them together for extraordinary success in the program. But Jimmy is not inheriting a team as well endowed as Bo did. "Instant success might be difficult. Bo always said every day: 'You never stay the same. You get better, or you get worse.' I can guarantee you, the Michigan program, the Michigan team and the Michigan players will get better every day, as long as he's the head coach." The question is, how much, how soon? Dierdorf found himself analyzing a Michi- gan team last season that clearly needed a jumpstart. "Last year, watching this team perform, and watching them play, I thought something really dangerous was happening," Dierdorf acknowledged. "I thought the team was growing accustomed to losing. "That can happen when you lose and you lose a lot. I thought I saw a football team that had lost its confidence. Now, they really surprised everybody with their performance in Columbus. I was really proud of them for the way they fought back." For the most part, in the mid-to-latter por- tion of that season, such was not the case. "I remember watching Minnesota, at the end of that game, when they stormed our bench to take the Little Brown Jug," Di- erdorf recalled. "For me, that was the low point of the season. Watching them storm our bench, and everyone just stepped aside and said have at it. "I just thought to myself, 'Wow. This team has lost its way.' I'm not the only person who sensed that. I think that's why we're reacting the way we are now over Jim Harbaugh's ef- forts. If nothing else happens, we know that will change. "Even if we don't win 11 or 12 games this year, we know for a fact that part, that competitive aspect of Michigan football, is going to be different. That's what we're all thankful for." Looking For An Edge Harbaugh and his staff recruited as hard as they could in the short period they had prior to National Signing Day. But they didn't just pull in the net full of freshmen, shrug, and insist they'd do their best with what they have. That's not what the new boss is all about. He saw the quarterback situation, and im- mediately added a second signal-caller — 6-6 Zach Gentry — to early enrollee Alex Malzone. Harbaugh then secured Houston sopho- more John O'Korn to transfer in and sit out a year. The head coach then pulled off the most impactful move of all for the 2015 season, culling two-year Iowa starter Jake Rudock to come in and play immediately as a fifth-year senior transfer. "You do it all the time in terms of pro football," Drevno said. "That's why every day you come out and you've got to compete at a high level." They'll also be competing at a higher level with fifth-year senior transfers Wayne Ly- ons, a cornerback from Stanford, and Blake O'Neill, a punter from Weber State. With those moves, Michigan immediately shored up some question-mark areas for the fall. "He always thought outside the box about how he could gain an advantage in competi- tion," Jack Harbaugh said. "He worked at studying the game, learning the game, find- ing ways to give himself an advantage in competition." Like at Stanford, though, players on the present Michigan roster aren't getting over- looked. They're being recruited to take it up a few more notches. That's what Harbaugh himself did when he was at Michigan, his father assured. He recalled conversations with Jim about push- ing that extra mile and what it meant. During two-a days in those mid-1980s seasons, Harbaugh didn't call it a day when the whistle blew. He instead went out to gain an edge on everyone letting up. "When practice was over, instead of get- ting a nice, cold shower, he'd take off his pads and uniform and put on his shorts, a T-shirt and running shoes," Jack Harbaugh explained. "He would run through the neighborhood The 49ers went from eight consecutive non- winning campaigns to regular-season marks of 13-3, 11-4-1 and 12-4 the fi rst three years with Harbaugh at the helm. PHOTO COURTESY SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS "Jim Harbaugh is going to be successful here. He's been successful at everything he's ever undertaken in his life. Failure is not even a consideration. It's nothing he even thinks about." FORMER U-M PLAYER AND ASSISTANT COACH BOB THORNBLADH

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