It is a quiet time for the Michigan Wolverines football program right now with the 2020 recruiting class pretty much wrapped up and signed already and conditioning underway. That said, it is also the offseason which is peak “Jim Harbaugh’s name gets throughout for clicks” time on the calendar.
(Note: I suppose we’re guilty of that too, now).
Harbaugh’s name and program have been brought up a few times this week during Super Bowl festivities down in Miami with his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, facing off with the Kansas City Chiefs for all the marbles. The loudest voice is 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, one of Harbaugh’s former players at Stanford and a guy who he did battle with when he played for the Seattle Seahawks.
This beef is ugly and relatively one-sided, as Harbaugh has not really engaged in any back-and-forths with Sherman. Still, he is rarely one to hold back.
“I wanted to put him out of the league,” Sherman said, via Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “And once I got that done, I had no animosity toward the 49ers organization.”
Sherman has gone on tirades on Harbaugh for years now and 247Sports rounded up some of his quotes from the past.
“I meant every single one,” Sherman said. “I meant it to Harbaugh. We’ve had our history. I don’t regret half a second of that. There’s bad blood there. There’s history there. That’s not the team. … So that was less about the 49ers and Seahawks. That was very personal.”
“There is nothing to mend,” Sherman told The Mercury News earlier this month. “The bridge was burned down, torn down and built another bridge at another place. But the bridge in this particular relationship will never be rebuilt. I don’t think he is interested in it, and I’m not interested in it.”
Harbaugh felt Sherman, then a wide receiver, quit on his team after undergoing season-ending knee surgery in 2008, which made Stanford’s star player distance himself from his coach. Sherman eventually moved to defense to be further away from Harbaugh and would reportedly prod him during practice.
I’ve seen some people on social media use this as ammo against Harbaugh and it isn’t really all that fair. Whatever happened between those two has absolutely nothing to do with Michigan and should be taken with as much importance as anything Braylon Edwards has to say about Jim Harbaugh.
Certainly feels like sour grapes.
The quotes on Harbaugh or Michigan from Miami this week that actually carry some weight are from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush, who starred at Michigan from 2016-18 and was the No. 10 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Bush appeared on Fox Sports 1’s “Speak for Yourself” with Jason Whitlock (another grain of salt figure in this conversation), who asked Bush to give him some hope that Michigan can get back to being a national title factor. His answer was fairly blunt.
“Yeah, I need hope, too,” Bush said. “I got to keep it real, but we just not winning the big games. We have to find a way to win the big games. We got to do it.”
So, the question that keeps getting asked is if it is coaching or the players. Bush feels both have to figure it out.
“I think it’s a combination of the both,” Bush said. “Obviously, I was there, but I just felt like we need the right mentality. We need to walk into that game and not be like, ‘OK, I hope Ohio State don’t show up today.’
“Nah, it’s like we gotta go in there and we gotta take it.”
This backs up what a lot of former players and people that keep tabs on the program have said. For whatever reason, there is a disconnect as it pertains to how this team prepares and how it actually performs on the biggest stage.
At the same time, and I’m not blaming Bush for this entirely, I do sort of roll my eyes at these comments because Bush was a team captain. He could have been a part in changing the narrative, but hindsight is always 20/20. For whatever reason, it does not sit entirely right to criticize the mentality when you were also a guy who sat out a bowl game in a time where they could have used some stable leadership. That’s a business decision and I support it, but that factors in here too.
We keep looking for someone to blame for what ails this program right now and given that Harbaugh is well-paid to deliver results, it’s understandable and justified through six years. But he doesn’t control a guy who jumps offsides on fourth down when you’re trying to get off the field, or throws an interception or fumbles in the redzone. Players have to be better in those situations as well.
People keep talking about shuffling out coaching staffs or moving on from Harbaugh, but Nebraska and Bo Pelini always feels like a cautionary tale. Michigan is too competently coached right now to bottom out, but not quite well-enough coached to get over the hump. That’s a tough spot to be in because Michigan’s problems in big moments predates Harbaugh.
At this point, it feels like it will take a special group of guys led by a quarterback with wide enough shoulders to carry the team on his back while Harbaugh and his staff push the right buttons. That’s just where we’re at right now.
I don’t care what Richard Sherman says about Harbaugh. I care what Michigan players say about what their program has struggled to do. And enough people over the last calendar year have pointed out the obvious on what needs to change and the approach.
Here’s to hoping 2020 brings forth something different.