Winning a national championship in college football is harder than it has ever been. The talent pool has never been deeper, the collection of head coaches has never been savvier, and recruitment dollars are flowing shamelessly to acquire both.
Over the last 15 years, only seven coaches have secured the sport’s ultimate prize: Kirby Smart (2), Nick Saban (6), Ed Orgeron (1), Dabo Swinney (2), Urban Meyer (2), Jimbo Fisher (1), and Gene Chizik (1). The list is even shorter when you look at the history of the Michigan Wolverines.
Lloyd Carr is the only Michigan head coach with a national championship in the last 70 years, and it is a shared honor. Yes, thanks to a begging Scott Frost and Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer voting the undefeated Wolverines fourth, Michigan’s lone title since the Truman administration is lessened in the eyes of the masses.
However, current head coach Jim Harbaugh has a chance to render those arguments meaningless this fall. While Michigan finally has all of the parts necessary to win a national championship, everyone knows that doesn’t guarantee anything (see: 2007).
But what if Harbaugh goes 15-0 and wins it all this season — does he immediately become the greatest head coach in modern Michigan football history (1969-Present)?
It is a massive presumption, but if Harbaugh achieves immortality, his resume has an argument. But how does it stack up to the other candidates?
Jim Harbaugh (2015-Present)
- Record: 89-25; Big Ten: 60-17*
- Win Pct: .781; Big Ten: .779
- Three Big Ten titles*
- One national championship*
*All assume a 15-0 season in 2023
Rich Rodriguez (2008-2010)
- Record: 15-22; Big Ten: 6-18
- Win Pct: .405; Big Ten: .250
- Recruited Denard Robinson
Even without a national championship, Harbaugh clears two coaches: Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. Rodriguez was an embarrassment on par with the movie Cats and felt like a punishment for a previous life’s actions.
Brady Hoke (2011-2014)
- Record: 31-20; Big Ten: 18-14
- Win Pct: .608; Big Ten: .563
- First Michigan head coach to beat Ohio State since 2003
Hoke was simply in over his head at this level and couldn’t sustain the magic from his 11-win first season in Ann Arbor. Clapping only takes you so far.
Gary Moeller (1990-1994)
- Record: 44-13-3; Big Ten: 30-8-2
- Win Pct: .758; Big Ten: .750
- Three Big Ten titles
After clearing that low bar, we move into Gary Moeller territory. Moeller had one of the most fascinating careers of any coach in Michigan history. During his time in Ann Arbor, Moeller served as defensive coordinator (1973-1976; 1982-1986), offensive coordinator (1987-1989), and had stints as a positional coach overseeing the defensive ends and quarterbacks.
Just imagine Jesse Minter calling the offense next year or Mike Elston taking over the quarterback room!
When Moeller took over for Bo Schembechler in 1990, he inherited a Ferrari and did a great job of keeping it between the lines. Moeller only lost five games over his first three seasons and secured at least a share of a Big Ten title in each year as well. While a national title remained elusive, Michigan remained in perpetual contention.
However, after that initial surge, the team began to slip. Michigan finished 8-4 in consecutive years, and Moeller’s Michigan career unceremoniously ended when he was forced to resign after the infamous Excalibur incident.
Harbaugh is already clear of Moeller, but a national title would make that unassailable.
Bo Schembechler (1969-1989)
- Record: 194-48-5; 143-24-3
- Win Pct: .796; Big Ten: .850
- 13 Big Ten titles
This is where the Harbaugh conversation starts: Lloyd Carr and Bo Schembechler. Two of the most iconic figures in Michigan history. Schembechler returned Michigan to the national stage, never endured a losing season, and only had one season with fewer than seven wins (1984: 6-6). Furthermore, Schembechler possibly could have had a national title in 1973 if not for a Michigan State Rose Bowl voter.
Lloyd Carr (1995-2007)
- Record: 122-40; Big Ten: 81-23
- Win Pct: .753; Big Ten: .779
- Five Big Ten titles
- One national championship
Carr doesn’t have the longevity of Schembechler or the Big Ten titles to match, but in three years, Carr took the Wolverines to a place Schembechler couldn’t in 21. Granted, a vote didn’t keep him out of the Rose Bowl, but it did keep the 1997 team from sole immortality.
This year, there is no voting. There are no ties, no BCS computers, and hopefully no public cries for support. Although, Scott Frost does have some free time on his hands.
There are only 15 games and if Harbaugh wins every one of them in the most competitive era of college football, he will go down as the greatest head coach in modern Michigan history. Just trust me on that; we don’t need to vote on it.