The goal of the Michigan Wolverines football program this offseason goes beyond ensuring a season like 2020 does not happen again. It also involved getting the stink and negativity of the last few years out of their system and hitting the reset button in an attempt to get back on track.
There had been whispers of culture problems and a disconnect within the program before, but senior pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson outwardly spoke about them on Thursday afternoon at Big Ten Football Media Day in Indianapolis. He confirmed that something in the building was off and that head coach Jim Harbaugh has been at the forefront of trying to fix it.
“Clearly in 2018, 2019, something wasn’t right about the culture,” he said. “We shouldn’t be getting blown out by Ohio State if we’re competing at just as high a level as them, and it just didn’t make sense. Coach Harbaugh has been doing a great job of adapting and seeing what our team needs and changing what needs to be changed.”
“I mean, I could go on about it, but I probably won’t. There was a variety of things that were not wrong about our culture, but just things that needed to be improved. And I think we’ve made those changes in this offseason and have improved the culture of the team.”
Hutchinson says his eyes were opened about what the meaning of culture is when defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald joined the program last winter.
“I actually didn’t think about culture too much until probably last year or this year. I thought it was more about Xs and Os and about being in the right gap or guys not being in the right gap, and that's why we’re losing ballgames. I was kind of enlightened by (Mike Macdonald). He came in and we kind of discussed this, talking about culture and the importance of it. And he kind of opened my eyes to how you can have the greatest Xs and Os or the greatest plays, but if your team is not fully bought in and 1,000 percent invested in what you’re doing, it’s going to fail.”
Hutchinson could have been gearing up for an NFL training camp right now but elected to come back to be a part of the solution. He likely will wind up as a team captain because of it. Harbaugh sang his praises during his podium session on Thursday afternoon.
“True football player, real football player,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a big 267-pound guy that can move and move laterally, move forward, move backward, move low, move quick. I mean, he’s got tremendous force, acceleration, mass, and a great desire to be good and to have his teammates be good.
“You talk about leadership, pulling other guys in, holding himself accountable, holding other guys accountable. It’s the kind of player that as a coach if you’re sitting down, you’re rolling up in your chair if you’re standing up, I’m leaning forward here to tell you that, yeah, this is one of my absolute favorite guys that I’ve coached. And for all the right reasons. He does everything that you would want him to do. He gets the best grades, wins the most awards, excels at sports. He’s a really good guy. Great family, honors his dad, but he’s also setting his own legacy and it’s all A-plus-plus.”