A few years ago you’d all be reading the title of the article and be yelling an emphatic “NO!!!”. But times change, and the Chicago Cubs have went to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, winning the World Series in 2016, and appearing in three straight National League Championship Series.
The Cubs used a great template that made them consistent contenders, and Michigan may be in the same mold with how Jim Harbaugh and company have done things and will continue to do them.
How the Cubs became a perennial title contender
First, the Cubs needed a new general manager and president to be in charge of personnel and the overall vision of the franchise. Theo Epstein, who won two World Series as the GM of the Boston Red Sox became team president of the Cubs and installed his friend Jed Hoyer as GM.
The Epstein hire changed the culture, changed how things were done in Wrigleyville.
The vision? Have a chance to win a World Series each and every year.
Epstein realized this wouldn’t happen overnight, growing pains would occur, he said this repeatedly. He was right, the Cubs finished last in their division the first three seasons with Epstein at the helm.
Many doubted his vision, many felt his hire was now a mistake.
It wasn’t a mistake, Epstein just needed a little more time.
Part of his vision was holding on tight to their young players and allowing them to grow. Even during these tough first three years, players who would become All Stars such as Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, and Addison Russell bought in to the vision. They knew where the bar was set. And eventually, they reached the bar, and became champions.
The vision didn’t just change when it came to aspiring to win lots of games, it also changed off the field when it came to the team facilities.
The Cubs had one of the oldest clubhouses in the major leagues, it became one of the most modern.
Their team headquarters was in a typical old brick office building, now the headquarters is huge and when you walk in it feels like you just stepped into the future.
More facilities for players were built; a state of the art gym, batting cages, and more to entice free agents to sign with the Cubs.
Parallels between the Cubs and the Harbaugh era Michigan Wolverines.
The Harbaugh era of Michigan football has been about trusting the process to this point, the most important thing to happen thus far in his tenure has been him becoming Michigan’s head coach in January of 2015.
Harbaugh came into Ann Arbor with a culture to change/revert, he needed to get Michigan back to its roots. Much like Epstein, he had a system that worked for him in the NFL that made his team a consistent contender. He knew at Michigan he’d need to set the bar high, he’d need to recruit players that bought in to his system, his philosophy.
The first three seasons of Harbaugh’s tenure has had a handful of recruits that were players he inherited. He inherited some great players from the Hoke era, who embraced Harbaugh’s mentality, but they still weren’t the kids Harbaugh ate dinner with in their home with their Mom and Dad at the table. That’s a different type of bond and relationship. The type that grows as time passes with the experiences shared together, just like the type Epstein had with his prospects who became big leaguers.
For Michigan to get to where they need to be, growing pains were necessary, time had to pass where a team would be nearly all Harbaugh recruits (coming in 2018). It’s way too early to declare 2018 the year Michigan has an everlasting memorable season.
The coach still needs a little more time, but the time may be coming quite soon. The young players Harbaugh recruited mostly have experience now. 2017 had to happen for them to sharpen their skills. Not only have they been lock in step with Harbaugh and his vision, the players themselves have bonded in battle, diversity, and defeat. Will they fold because of struggles or will they be the best versions of themselves next season?
The results are not there yet, to where the Wolverines are in the College Football Playoff race year in and year out, but it takes the first year of doing that to create the domino effect of it continuously happening.
That’s what Harbaugh is trying to build, not just one magical season, but the expectation that Michigan can win a National Championship each season. If Alabama can have that mindset, why can’t any other team?
The Cubs changed the culture, trusted the process, and the expectations have now been reached, can the same happen for Michigan?
I mentioned how the Cubs built new facilities and that it was part of the overall vision, and that is something Athletic Director Warde Manuel along with Harbaugh have realized is vital to the long term future of the program.
The team will be getting a $21 million dollar weight room up and running shortly, and Schembechler Hall will be undergoing a $14.8 million expansion. This shows recruits what the team is trying to do, win championships and prepare to do so in state of the art facilities.
A culture shift is needed in this way just as much as it is on the football field itself, the two separate visions go hand in hand to reach the ultimate goal.
My point is maybe just maybe Michigan is right on schedule and Harbaugh knows exactly what he’s doing while some have doubt and reservations about the long term success of the program, of beating Ohio State year after year.
Full disclosure, I’m a Cubs fan and this article was written in good fun. I had my doubts with Theo Epstein’s vision, I became irritated that the team didn’t win immediately as much as I wanted them to. But then my reservations were proven wrong, and the Cubs keep winning and winning more than they ever have in my lifetime. Thus I apply my learning experience here with the Harbaugh era at Michigan.
Sometimes trusting the process isn’t easy until after the fact, only then does it all make sense for all of us naturally impatient humans. Only time will tell, right? It always does.
Will Michigan become title contenders yearly under Harbaugh? (please explain in comments)
This poll is closed