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Legacy and Leadership: Mike Hart’s time to shine

After playing four seasons at Michigan and coaching three more, Mike Hart’s head coaching opportunity has finally arrived and the players are all behind him.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Texas Christian at Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When Michigan running back Donovan Edwards went into the locker room at halftime against East Carolina, he checked ESPN to see his stats for the first half: six carries for five rushing yards.

While most players would be discouraged by this stat line, Edwards was able to see the positives in the game. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy had an 86 percent completion rate, wide receiver Roman Wilson scored three touchdowns, and the defense had a near-shutout. This maturity comes from his faith, his belief in himself, and his running backs coach, Mike Hart.

Edwards was the unsung hero last season for the Wolverines, rushing for 216 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State. He then followed that performance up with 185 yards against Purdue in the Big Ten Championship and 116 yards against TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.

Despite all the attention, accolades and expectations surrounding the junior this season, Hart has been there to support and mentor him along the way.

Being a former Michigan running back and playing in the NFL, Edwards has taken some things from his position coach. While Edwards claims to have more speed than his coach, he gives credit to Hart’s agility and football IQ when he played for the Wolverines.

“We watched the Penn State game in 2007,” Edwards said. “(Hart) is hilarious. I’ll give you an example. So (Michigan) ran probably a gap scheme, right? And there’s like under two minutes, probably 19 seconds left. (Michigan) is rallying down to score, he gets the ball and sees the man (in front of him). He was like ‘Do I get out of bounds?’ Nope. He stayed in bounds, made a man miss, and then he got out of bounds. Which is hilarious because if we did that, we might get chewed out. This dude can play. He actually has some game, you know? You wouldn’t think a little short dude like that boy can play, but that boy has some jukes in him. Speed. Nah. No speed to him.”

From 2004-07, Hart showcased his talent as a running back for Michigan, establishing a Wolverines’ all-time high with 5,040 rushing yards. His freshman year in 2004 saw him breaking the record for most rushing yards in a season by a freshman with 1,455. Then, in the 2006 season, he clocked in an impressive 1,562 yards, ranking fifth-best for a single season in the history of Michigan, accompanied by 14 touchdowns.

It’s no secret Hart has given his all to the Michigan football program, and now it has finally paid off. Hart will assume head coaching duties for the second half against UNLV on Saturday, and now, it’s the players’ turn to support their coach as he has done for them.

“What makes (Hart) a good coach now is the way that he operates with his players,” Edwards said. “The relationships that he builds with his players. On the field, he’s played the game, so you have more respect for a coach who has done the same things that you would have done. In my case, I could do things a little bit better than he has done — speed-wise, agility, he got me, though. But it’s those things like managing me and Blake’s reps, making sure that we’re healthy, making sure that we’re okay. There are times that he sees that we’re not okay and he’ll tell us to go sit down because he wants us to be (at our) best.”

The main thing a head coach must attain is respect from their team, and Hart can check that off the list.

“We as running backs and the entire staff and program have major respect for him,” Edwards said. “He’s also involved in other areas, too, helping out the quarterbacks, receivers and offensive line. He’s very engaging with everybody, so everybody has tremendous respect for him around here.”

A key part of the Michigan offense returning on Saturday is offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore. Because of that, Hart only has to worry about “being the guardian of victory,” as Jim Harbaugh would say.

“You have to deal with different things,” Hart said. “You have to do different things. I think that as long as you can lead people and you’re organized, that’s what it comes down to. Motivation, leadership and then belief. People have to believe in you. When you have those things and you have those characteristics, anybody can be a head coach.”

Hart has proven to have an amazing relationship with his players, respect across the locker room, and understands the responsibilities of being a head coach. Saturday will be his time to shine, and he won’t take a single minute for granted.

“It’s just an honor,” Hart said. “For coach Harbaugh to trust me to be a head coach for a half, it’s just a great honor. Obviously, I love Michigan, I love this place, and it means a lot just to be entrusted with this opportunity.”