“The team, the team, the team.”
Bo Schembechler, the legendary University of Michigan Wolverines football coach who collected 194 wins and only 48 losses during his 21-year tenure at the university, drilled these words into his players’ heads before taking the field against The Ohio State University in 1983.
“No man is more important than the team. No coach is more important than the team,” he proclaimed.
Fast forward 32 years, and Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh has taken Schembechler’s former place at the helm of the historic program. Harbaugh was hired in 2015 to help Michigan regain its standing at the top of college football after the program took a serious downfall over the past decade.
Harbaugh, who is considered by many to be the second-coming of Schembechler, was immediately tagged as the man who could wipe away the stale, seven-year-old tears of Michigan fans and bring Wolverine Nation to the promised land. But that can’t be realistic, can it? Rebuilding a football program is supposed to take at least two or three years to see any tangible improvement.
Michigan finished with a 5-7 record last season during former head coach Brady Hoke’s final year in charge. Change that seven to a two, and you have this year’s record only halfway through the season.
The Wolverines’ first loss came in the first week of the season to the University of Utah, a football team that has now reached No. 3 in the nation, after a late interception returned for a touchdown gave Utah the seven-point edge. Michigan’s second loss came last weekend against No. 7 Michigan State University on a fluke play. The Wolverines’ punter fumbled a snap, and the Spartans recovered the ball and returned it for a game-winning touchdown as time expired. Sure, it’s still a blemish no matter what the circumstance, but Michigan was two plays away from having two wins over two now top-10 teams and being undefeated.
To answer the question posed earlier, I’m here to tell you that Michigan can recover its program in just one year, and the Wolverines are back and here to stay. With this quick turnaround, Harbaugh is not only taking the college football world by storm once more; he’s also proving that Michigan is making college football more exciting than it has been in a long time.
Quick turnarounds of this nature are almost unheard of in college football. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was able to help the Buckeyes back to national title contention in 2012 after a few disappointing seasons for the program. But he had a better supporting cast with players such as quarterback Braxton Miller, running back Carlos Hyde, cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Ryan Shazier.
Michigan, however, has not been able to recruit highly touted players in recent years, since the best players usually prefer to go to good teams. The Wolverines haven’t been a good team. But Harbaugh is transforming Michigan’s players, who looked like they still belonged in high school last season, into efficient stars this year.
He’s doing this by breaking the status quo. Spread offenses dominate the college football landscape. The spread features a speedy quarterback who makes the majority of his plays by throwing the ball deep down the field or running the ball. This kind of offense is like a fresh pair of Air Jordans — it’s just the trendy thing to have nowadays. By molding together the individual strengths of his players into a collective unit, Harbaugh is unleashing his inner Schembechler and using the type of offense common in the 1980s by featuring a rush-heavy attack that wears the defense out.
Michigan is a renowned powerhouse in college football that has been anything but relevant the past seven years. Times are changing. Fans love to see Harbaugh get his players to buy into his leadership, and they love to see Michigan do well again. But most of all, Wolverine fans love seeing Harbaugh stress the importance of “the team, the team, the team.”