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Is He Winning? The Many Levels of Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Experience

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Michigan vs South Carolina Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s such an interesting question: Could you call the Harbaugh at Michigan experience a success even though he hasn’t really won anything of note?

Some things to consider when pondering this question.


Michigan football is, clearly, more than a football record or even a football team. It’s part of a gigantic brand attached to a well-known university with a monster endowment and super-wealthy donors.

The trips to Italy, South Africa in 2019, France...financed by donors, really impressive trips that look to be a lot of fun. No other football team takes these trips. It’s an interesting addition to the college football experience. Wouldn’t you want your CFB experience to be filmed and to include a foreign trip? That can’t hurt recruiting.

The Amazon show (which is watchable, especially video of the Pope visit and the in-game video) is another feather in the cap of those who enjoy some braggadocio toward their alma mater. And you just know that donors eat these things up when considering whether to make their yearly give.

So the brand is alive and well. And it helps to have a celebrity at the head of these ventures - other than Nick Saban and possibly Urban Meyer, is there a better known college football coach than Jim Harbaugh? Michigan football is constantly in the news, thanks to Harbaugh’s quirky personality or statements about paying players...


If you start the question with the knowledge that winning is only part of the Michigan equation, you can understand why AD Warde Manuel stated that he wants Jim Harbaugh to stay until retirement. The business of Michigan football is good, even if the winning or in-game playcalling leaves something to be desired. And what do brands and businesses always want? Stability.

The program is stable (insert “same finish in division yearly” joke). Recruiting is excellent. No university-wide scandals (remember the Brady Hoke concussion issue that was national news?).

And the kicker - if Michigan fires Harbaugh after a bunch of 9-10 win seasons, aren’t they admitting that winning titles at Michigan may not be realistic? Wouldn’t Michigan’s admin be admitting that even their dream hire, given every penny, couldn’t pull them over the top?

WHAT OF 2018?

Michigan is supposedly a top 15 or top 10 team in 2018 - big-time defense, lots of returning offensive starters, Shea Patterson eligible, possibly less confusion / simplicity when it comes to playcalling.

But even if Michigan turns out to not be a Top 10 team and the Shea Patterson experiment doesn’t pan out - I get the feeling, barring a scandal, the Harbaugh experience will continue in Ann Arbor in all its grandiosity.