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Michigan Wolverines' Best Position Moves Made by Harbaugh

Updated: Mar 13

Michigan Wolverines

Throughout his tenure at Michigan, Jim Harbaugh made several position changes, some worked out for the best, and some just fizzled out. To move guys to different positions was never something Harbaugh shied away from whether it was moving a dual-threat quarterback to linebacker or a wide receiver to defensive back. Harbaugh was always looking to improve each team he had from not only outside sources but also from within.   


Notable player Changes


Chase Winovich:

Winovich came in as a linebacker before moving to tight end and special teams before finding his way to edge rusher. In his last season at Michigan, Winovich totaled 59 tackles and 5 sacks in his last season at Michigan. That season propelled Chase to a third-round pick going 77th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft.  


Zach Gentry:

Gentry committed to Michigan in 2015, a 4-star recruit according to rivals was the number four rank pro-style quarterback in the class and was the number 1 player out of the state of New Mexico. Harbaugh would move Zach to tight end as a freshman, at 6.6 and 230lbs he had the size to play the position and that move would get him to the NFL. In 2 years at tight end, Zach recorded 49 receptions for 817 yards and 4 TDs. After the 2018 season, Gentry entered the draft where he would go in the fifth-round 141st overall to the Steelers.


Michael Barrett:

Barrett committed to the Wolverines as a 3-star athlete who was a Dual-Threat QB in high school. In his time at Michigan, Barrett has been a part of more wins than any other player in school history. Before becoming a linebacker. Michael played a few different spots but settled into his linebacker position after Mike McDonald took over. In 2023 Barrett was named a team captain and helped lead the Wolverines to a national championship.  


Michigan Wolverines

Barrett's numbers were slightly down in 2023 from 2022. In 2022 Mike totaled 72 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 INTs, and 1 TD. In 2023 he totaled 65 tackles, 3 sacks, no INTs, and no TDs, but forced 3 fumbles plus had 2 fumble recoveries. The one thing that is impossible to quantify is his influence and leadership inside the Michigan locker room and what that meant to the 2023 team.   



The Move of Moves 

Mike Sainristil cemented his legacy at Michigan with a season of memorable highlights that helped the Wolverines to a Big 10 Championship and first National champion in 26 years. 


Sainristil's personality and ability to make plays made him one of the leaders in the locker room, it also helped make him a fan favorite with the Michigan fanbase. Because of the success Sainristil has generated on the field, the question has now come up if he was the best position move Harbaugh made in his time at Michigan.  

Early On

Mike committed to Michigan in 2019 as an athlete and only a 3-star recruit according to Rivals. Mike started his career as a wide receiver where he did not see much of the field. In 2019 Mike had 8 receptions for 145 yards and 1 TD. 2020 saw his receptions and yards drop (COVID year), but his TDs increased from 1 to 2. 2021 was his best year with Mike making 21 receptions for 305 yards and 2 TDs. 


Michigan found something.

In 2022 Harbaugh asked Sainristil to move from Wide Receiver to Defensive Back after the departure of Dax Hill to the NFL and no one stepped up to take his spot. It didn’t take long for the Michigan defensive coaches to realize that found something in Mike.  


Sainristil was named a team captain and played in all 14 games for the Wolverines. He totaled 58 tackles, with 6.5 being for a loss and had 2 sacks along with 1 INT. Mike earned an All-Big 10 selection that year and shared Defensive Player of the Week honors on Sept. 3 and Nov.26.  


Sainristil had one of his best games at Ohio State where he had a total of 7 tackles and 2 pass breakups. The play that showed Harbaugh made the right switch came on a 3rd and 4 with 7:34 remaining in the game. CJ Stroud found TE Cade Stover who looked wide-open in the endzone, Sainristil showed his speed and ability to recover by catching up and knocking the ball out of Stover's hands. OSU would end up kicking a field goal instead of what looks to be a sure-fire touchdown.


Sainristil Becomes a Star

In 2023 Sainristil was named a team captain and played in all 15 games for the Wolverines en route to the Wolverines national championship. He recorded 44 total tackles 4 for a loss had 6 INTs and returned 2 for TDs. Sainristil tied the Michigan program record with the 2 INTs that were returned for 2 TDs but set the program record with 232 interception return yards.


Sainristil was named a 1st team All-American by Sporting News, and 2nd team by Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports and USA Today. Mike was also a 1st team All-Big 10 selection by the media and 2nd by the coaches. On Nov 20, Mike earned defensive player of the week for his performance vs Maryland. He also shared defensive player of the week four times Sept. 23, Oct. 21, Nov 18, and Dec 2.

 "I Just Called Game” Rod Moore


Sainristil's biggest play came when the lights were the brightest vs Washington in the National Championship Game when he picked Heisman runner-up Micheal Penix Jr. and took the ball back 81 yards inside the Washington 10-yard line. Blake Corom would punch it in from there to put the game away for Michigan. Sainristil's interception ended any chance Washington had of coming back to win the championship game, and just like Rod Moore did vs Ohio State Mike Sainristil called the game vs Washington.


The Debate Continues for Michigan Wolverines

The debate will continue if Sainristil is the best position change in the Harbaugh era but in my opinion, it’s not even a debate. But no matter what side of the fence you are on there is no question that Mike Sainristil's position switch played a major role in Michigan winning the national championship. 


Mike Sainristil's accomplishments throughout 2023 have made him a legend inside the Michigan fanbase and will be remembered for a long time to come.


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