Jim Harbaugh is locked in as the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines for the foreseeable future. It is time to get to work on making sure a bottoming-out like the 2020 season does not happen again. There is a long list of issues to address before the next time the Wolverines take the field.
Harbaugh’s future at Michigan is going to hinge on wins and being consistently competitive each week. Their problems the last few seasons have been largely self-inflicted. Poor preparation, untimely errors in games, or tactical mistakes in game planning and execution have doomed this team. The only way out of this hole is to dig out of it themselves.
Here are the five biggest priorities of the offseason for the Wolverines.
New blood on the coaching staff
The wheels are already in motion given the dismissal of defensive coordinator Don Brown and his reported replacement, Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Mike Macdonald. What is unclear to this point is who else Harbaugh might bring in to overhaul the defensive staff, but those changes are absolutely coming.
While changes to the defensive staff are a lock, the offense might benefit from a boost via a different voice somewhere in the mix. Quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels is not coming back and the expectation is that Harbaugh will coach that group himself. That opens up another slot on the staff for another assistant. That might come via a co-coordinator to pair with Josh Gattis or sliding Jay Harbaugh to another spot on the staff.
The 2020 season — COVID-impacted or not — was so bad for this program that it demands change in several areas. A foundation for any sort of rebound starts with the staff that Harbaugh puts around him.
Don’t run from failures, embrace them
Michigan’s down 2020 season reads like an anomaly on paper. However, this is a program that is coming off of an 11-10 record in its last 21 games played. There is enough of a sample size here to identify the factors that led them down the road of a quasi-reboot.
What Harbaugh is tasked with now is a meticulous self-evaluation of what has gone wrong and why certain things happened in some critical moments. The whispers of a full-blown cultural problem have been overstated, but there has to be an awareness from Michigan about its current predicament and a plan in place to reach the goals and standards the program has set for itself.
Attack the transfer portal
This should be one of the most talent-rich offseasons for the transfer portal since its inception in 2018. Michigan should be looking to fill any slots it can on the roster with players that would be able to make an immediate impact at any position. The top priorities are on the defensive line at cornerback given the misses there on the recruiting trail over the last few seasons. No position group should be exempt from this if there is someone that can come in and help this team win.
On the flip side, it would not be a surprise to see a little bit more of an exodus from the roster with current players. It might even come in the form of some guys in prominent roles moving on. It needs to be sorted out who is going to be here and put the work in that it will take to get this turned around. The attempted reboot is going to take a massive all-in effort from all parties involved. The quicker they get that sorted out and everyone on the same page, the better.
Blank slates for the entire roster
There are not many players last season that project to return this year that are completely guaranteed their spots moving forward. Players who have been around for a bit longer have the upper hand, but expect competition at every single spot on the roster in the lead-up to the 2021 season.
This should include the quarterback room. Joe Milton may or may not return after being benched in 2020 and Cade McNamara showed flashes of positives in limited action. Any competition at quarterback should feature five-star signee J.J. McCarthy as long as he is up for the challenge. There are no freshmen, sophomores, juniors, etc. on this roster right now. They are football players and the best ones should be on the field regardless of previous accolades.
Discover your identity, don’t try to force it
Hopefully, there is spring football this year because it feels like this might be the most important one yet for Harbaugh and his staff. Getting these players in there and establishing their strengths and weaknesses would make it a heck of a lot easier to figure out how to plan for fall camp. The impact that a lack of a spring had on the 2020 season cannot be overstated from this standpoint.
There are still pieces to like on this roster on both sides of the ball and they are far from completely bereft of talent. Michigan might benefit from letting its identity show itself and build from there as opposed to clinging to the things they want to be.