Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 7 of 163

6 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW I t's not 1986 anymore. Nobody had to tell Jim Harbaugh that when he hopped on a plane and flew home to a hero's welcome. In '86, he made a guarantee and — with plenty of help all around him — made good on it. Michigan beat the Buckeyes in Hades' Horseshoe, 26-24, to win the Big Ten cham- pionship behind its senior quarterback. Bo Schembechler's teams went on to cap- ture two of the three championships after Harbaugh departed, making it 13 titles in 21 seasons. Along the way, the Wolverines took down the Buckeyes 11 times, and Michigan State 17 times. The landscape today appears stark and forbidding in comparison. The Spartans are convinced it's the 1960s all over again, cap- turing six of the last seven in the Michigan series. The Buckeyes have lost one game to the Wolverines since 2003, and sit atop the college football world as national champi- ons. There's a hollow ring to the phrase "Champions of the West," when the Wol- verines are picked to finish third or fourth in the East … Division of the Big Ten, that is. Harbaugh didn't strut into town making any huge promises, and for good reason. The Wolverines are 12-13 over the past two seasons, 46-42 over the past seven. Boasting at this point sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger bellowing "I'll be back" from the window of an assisted-living facil- ity. No, Harbaugh issued zero bulletin board material. He spoke of competing, winning the next meeting, winning the next day. The new boss oozes competitive spirit like a great white shark oozes danger. Lose a drill in conditioning practice, and you don't have to run extra. It's worse. You have to stand there and watch the winners run, because only they have earned the right to get better. "It didn't feel good standing there watch- ing," redshirt junior wide receiver Amara Darboh recalled of one such session. "You felt guilty almost. We just lost, and we're just standing there watching." It doesn't feel good just standing there losing on football Saturdays, either. They all get that. They're now playing for someone who simply will not tolerate it. Losing is as for- eign to Jim Harbaugh as anorexia is to a sumo wrestler. It might happen … but it won't happen for long. Yes, Harbaugh went 4-8 in his first season at Stanford. That occurred after he'd inher- ited a 1-11 squad that made the then-Pac-10 consider a name change to the Pac-9.5. The 2006 Cardinal made the 2014 Wol- verines look like title contenders. Harbaugh took the ashes and began rekindling a fire, burning down 41-point favorite and No. 2 USC along the way that first year. Before long, Stanford proved itself a power. Harbaugh wouldn't stand for any- thing less. He repeated that story in the NFL, crafting the hapless 49ers into a Super Bowl team. It might not come immediately … but it's coming. "People that have won championships typically go on to win championships in the future," assured former Wolverine Bob Thornbladh. "They have a special recipe. Jim's got a tenacious, demanding, tough-guy persona, but he truly does care about the kids and the people around him. "Sometimes he's not going to hug every- body. It's going to be tough love. He's going to be dedicated to the people around him." He's also going to be dedicated to those people winning football games. He's already proven that, from restocking the quarter- backs room to barnstorming the nation in the "Summer Swarm" camps coaching tour, allowing Michigan's staff to rub elbows with prospective Wolverines. He's pushing himself and his staff to the limits, working to get this right as quickly as possible. He knows no other way. "The companies that are most success- ful, certainly they can't be as autocratic and abrupt as a football coach, but they are ones that have a culture where people want to be excellent," Thornbladh observed. "They expect sacrifices and hard work to achieve it. The leaders are the catalysts and push the people to be the best they can be." Harbaugh pushes. He prods. He challenges. And he's preparing to attack (no doubt, with enthusiasm unknown to mankind) a landscape that has grown as dark as Tolkien's Mordor. "He's got a challenge in that there are some formidable programs in this league," Thornbladh cautioned. "I have great respect for Coach [Mark] Dantonio and what he's done at Michigan State. There is nobody I'd rather beat, along with the Buckeyes, than those guys. But they're not going to be easily beaten. "Jimmy is going to take that as a challenge. He's going to approach that with zeal and determination." When Jimmy approaches anything with zeal and determination, the landscape changes. It may not happen instantly, but the storm clouds are gathering. ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH JOHN BORTON Harbaugh Won't Settle For Second Best Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at jborton@thewolverine.com and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine. Jim Harbaugh made no guarantees, but he has a proven track record of turning programs around. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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