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A look back at how first-year head coaches have fared at Michigan

Since 1969, the new leaders of the Wolverines have done very well. Well, except Rich Rod.

Michigan v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Last week, Sherrone Moore officially became the 21st head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Moore has the unenviable task of following arguably the best coach in Michigan’s 144-year history, but Moore has already proven his merit. With his back against the wall, he led the Wolverines to victory in Jim Harbaugh’s absence against Penn State, Maryland, and Ohio State in 2023 to preserve Team 144’s pursuit of a national championship.

The celebration following Moore’s hiring is over and it’s now time to look ahead to Team 145. What are reasonable expectations for Moore and this team? Can he continue the success upon the foundation that Jim Harbaugh built over the last nine years? If history tells us anything, Moore should hit the ground running.

Five of the last six Michigan coaches have won eight or more games in their first season at the helm, four have won at least nine, and two have reached double-digits. Rich Rodriguez was the only Michigan coach of the modern era (1969-present) to have a losing record in his inaugural season.

Let’s take a closer look at how every coach in this era has fared in their first season as head coach at Michigan to get a better understanding of what to expect from Moore.

1969: Bo Schembechler, 8-3

The 1969 Michigan Wolverines are one of the most important teams in program history. Bo Schemebchler took over for Bump Elliott who resigned following an embarrassing 50-12 loss to Ohio State. Schembechler reinstated a sense of belief and pride within the program and famously coined the phrase “Those who stay will be champions,” among others.

Following a rocky 3-2 start to the season, the Wolverines strung together five consecutive wins to finish the regular season, including a monumental upset over No. 1 ranked Ohio State. Michigan would fall to USC in the Rose Bowl, but with Schembechler now leading the way, the Wolverines had returned to perennially compete at the top of the Big Ten for the next 20 years.

1990: Gary Moeller, 9-3

Until Sherrone Moore, Gary Moeller was the last Michigan offensive coordinator to be promoted to head coach, although Moeller had also served as Michigan’s defensive coordinator in the 70s. Fascinating career.

Moeller inherited a machine from Schembechler after Bo moved into the Athletic Director position at Michigan. The Wolverines were fresh off their third 10-plus-win season in the last five years and were returning the dynamic offensive duo of Desmond Howard and Jon Vaughn.

The Wolverines finished as a top-10 team in 1990, but were plagued by a 2-3 record in one-score games. Although Michigan did beat Ohio State for the third straight year, in what become an unfortunate trend for Moeller, the 1990 team was good, but fell just short of great.

1995: Lloyd Car, 9-4

Defensive coordinator Lloyd Carr took over the program after Gary Moeller was dismissed following his drunken, public episode in June 1995. With little time to adjust and prepare, Carr worked tirelessly to preserve the team’s personnel and culture, and strived to create a national championship foundation.

Carr combined equal parts Moeller and Schembechler in his first season. Similar to Moeller, Carr’s 3-3 record in one-score games weighed the team’s record down, but the upset of No. 2 Ohio State is what the season is remembered for.

With the help of Tshimanga Biakabutuka and a special freshman class, Carr helped establish a foundation that led to Michigan’s first national championship since 1948 two years later.

2008: Rich Rodriguez, 3-9

Rich Rodriguez came to Michigan after seven seasons at West Virginia where he took the Mountaineers from 3-8 in his first year to pair of Pat McAfee missed field goals in the final week of the season away from the BCS National Championship in 2007. Rodriguez was touted as one of the key innovators of the spread offense and was going to bring an offensive explosion to Michigan. Instead, he brought more of an implosion in one of the worst seasons in program history.

The Wolverines finished 3-9 in 2008 — the most losses in a single season in Michigan history and the first losing season since 1967. Of the nine losses, only three were within one score, and one of those one-score losses came at the hands of the Toledo Rockets. Rodriguez’s teams did improve every season, but there were never any heroic victories over Ohio State to buy him time or goodwill, and after a 15-22 three-year tenure, patience ran thin and Rich Rod was run out of town.

2011: Brady Hoke, 11-2

Brady Hoke’s arrival at Michigan was met with a mixed reaction, but the one thing Hoke had going for him — which was a complete 180 compared to Rodriguez — was he was likable; the vibes were high. The headset-less wonder had a way of connecting with players, coaches, and the media that instantly made you root for him. The culture shift under Hoke was drastic and the ethos surrounding the team was rejuvenated.

In Hoke’s first season, Michigan was dynamic on offense, smothering on defense, and had a magical feel. This season was special because it marked Michigan’s first double-digit win total since 2006 (only the third Michigan season since 1986 to reach 11 or more wins) and it was the only time the Wolverines would beat Ohio State between 2003 and 2021.

The 2011 season was a reprieve for the tortured Michigan fan. A season that featured an unforgettable first night game in the Big House and hope for the future of the program for the first time since 2006. Hoke would never be able to recreate the magic from this season and after seeing his win total decrease in each of the next three seasons, he was gone after 2014.

2015: Jim Harbaugh, 10-3

In Dec. 2014, the prodigal son returned. Jim Harbaugh had been a winner at every stop during his coaching career and no one expected anything less when he returned to Michigan.

Harbaugh’s first year featured a mix of everything: the good (three-game shutout streak, goal-line stand against Minnesota, a blowout over Florida in the Citrus Bowl for win No. 10), the bad (“trouble with the snap,” blowout loss to Ohio State), and an overwhelming sense of optimism about the direction of the program.

Under Harbaugh’s guidance over the next few years, Michigan would reach the precipice of greatness in 2016 and 2018, but never got over the hump. After reaching a devastating low in 2020, Harbaugh realigned the program’s focus and launched into a historic three-year run which included: three wins over Ohio State, three Big Ten titles, three College Football Playoff appearances, and one national championship.