When Jim Harbow returned to Ann Arbor in December 2014 to restore Alma Mater’s decaying football program, many believed he embodied the lyrics of the university’s famous battle song.
He was a winner, a winning hero, a leader and certainly among the best in his profession.
At his inaugural press conference, a reporter revealed to Harbow that others had called him a savior and, yes, even a messiah.
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But more than six years later, Michigan football coach is seen as something completely different.
He is a disappointment, a fallen star, an insufficient manager and a man who is no longer at the forefront of his field.
The decline in Harbaugh’s status is long and strange – like the contractual imbroglio, which finally ended after months and months of speculation when he signed a new five-year deal on Friday that nearly halved his basic compensation and cut the cost of buying Michigan.
With one stroke of the pen, Harbo conceded defeat again. A man who is 11-10 years old in his last 21 games has agreed to the terms in favor of a school that seems to have lost some faith in him.
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Michigan will not admit this publicly, and athletic director Ward Manuel even challenged the concept in a statement.
“I still believe that Jim is the right person to lead our program in the pursuit of the Big Ten and CFP,” Manuel said.
But the reality is that Harbaugh hasn’t led Wolverines to a single title in the past six years, and the program is gradually deteriorating after reaching its peak under his watch in late 2016. During the downturn that has developed since then, Michigan has endured significant staff turnover and a flow of desertions that destabilized the foundation of what Harbo was building.
At the same time, the disorganized approach to recruitment is hampering Werewolves’ efforts to restore a list exhausted by transfers and early departures from the NFL. The cumulative effect of these problems materialized last season, when the Werewolves either seemed superior or outsmarted in losses to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Penn.
Before that season, when Harbaugh marched through the streets of Ann Arbor and campaigned to play the games, he radiated the same coquetry that had long defined his persona. He ignored critics, believing he had set Michigan on the right track. But at that moment, his main ill-wishers were outside and pinned him from afar. Nowadays, the dissatisfaction has intensified even more than those close to the program and oversaturated the message boards of Wolverines, where fans are grouped for the state of their favorite team.
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“There is work to be done and challenges to be overcome,” Harbo said in a statement issued Friday. “These challenges are being addressed as we continue to strive for excellence in the classroom and field championships, a message that I hope will be written in the language of the contract.”
The details of the deal, rich in incentives, are truly revealing, telling a story with numbers that subtly reveal Harbaugh’s shortcomings – a 0-5 record against the Ohio archives that prevented him from winning the Big Ten in the East, the 1-4 post-season mark. who remains an albatross and a persistent inability to differentiate himself among his peers, which cannot be ignored.
If Harbaugh somehow beats the Buckeyes, wins the conference, qualifies for college football, qualifies for the national championship, and is named coach of the year, he will once again become one of the highest paid men in college football.
Specifically, it would become the version of Harbaugh that Michigan believers thought they would receive when he returned to Ann Arbor more than six years ago.
Once again, he will be seen as a victor, a victorious hero, a savior and a messiah.
But in UM Harbaugh did not show that he was this man.
Instead, he is just another decent coach trying to win some matches and give his program a chance.
The contract he signed on Friday reflects Harbow as he is now: an ordinary mortal trying to push himself away from disappointment for the past six years against all odds.
Contact Rainer Sabin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin. Read more about the Michigan Werewolves, Michigan Spartans and sign up for our Big Ten newsletter