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The Harbaugh Effect: Why Michigan Football Is Doomed to Fail


The Harbaugh Effect
© Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK/USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan football stands at a crossroads as it bids farewell to former coach Jim Harbaugh, the architect of its resurgence.


Under Harbaugh's leadership, Michigan underwent a remarkable transformation, reclaiming its status as a powerhouse in college football.



Now, with Sheron Moore stepping into the role, the Wolverines face a pivotal moment in their history. This article examines Harbaugh's effect and legacy, the formidable challenges awaiting Moore and the lessons gleaned from Michigan's storied past. As the program navigates this transition, it must draw upon its traditions, resilience and unwavering commitment to excellence to chart a course toward continued success.


Return to Prominence

Harbaugh brought Michigan football back from mediocrity, resurrecting a program that had lost its luster under previous coaches Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez. During their tenures, Michigan's storied football program had slipped from its place among college football's elite to that of a mere mid-level team. It’s hard to believe there was a time when the powers at the university considered giving Harbaugh the axe, eventually settling for him taking a pay cut instead.


Harbaugh's tenure was marked by a return to prominence for the Wolverines, who became a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten Conference under his leadership. His ability to recruit top-tier talent and a return to hard-nosed, fundamentally sound football restored Michigan's status as a perennial contender.


Yet now, with Harbaugh's departure to the Los Angeles Chargers a reality, the Michigan football program faces an uphill battle to hold onto the gains he achieved. The challenge will be maintaining the standards he set and continuing the momentum he built, ensuring that Michigan remains a powerhouse in college football.


Harbaugh's Blueprint

In nine years at the helm, Harbaugh transformed Michigan football, leaving with an impressive record of 86-25. This stands in stark contrast to the nine years preceding his arrival, where the program languished with a 58-43 record—abysmal when compared to the glory days under legends like Lloyd Carr and Bo Schembechler.


When Harbaugh arrived at Michigan, he brought his philosophy of old-school football with him. He built a team characterized by toughness and physicality, emphasizing a run-heavy offense and a hard-nosed defense anchored by a formidable defensive line. This transformation was achieved through a combination of strategic recruiting and a well-devised scheme.


A significant aspect of Michigan's resurgence under Harbaugh was their performance in "The Game," the annual end-of-season clash against Ohio State. While Harbaugh's overall record against Ohio State was a losing 3-5, his tenure saw a notable resurgence in competitiveness, culminating in victories in the final three games of his tenure. This renewed competitiveness in one of college football's fiercest rivalries was emblematic of the broader turnaround he orchestrated at Michigan.


The Harbaugh Effect
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Facing the Future

Moore has a tough challenge in his first season leading the Wolverines. Moore began his coaching career in 2009 as a graduate assistant for Louisville. In 2014, he was hired by Central Michigan as the tight ends coach, later being named assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, all while remaining in charge of the tight ends. In 2018, Moore joined Harbaugh's staff at Michigan, initially as the tight ends coach before becoming the offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator. Under his guidance, the Wolverines' offensive line earned back-to-back Joe Moore Awards in 2021 and 2022, recognizing them as the best offensive line unit in the nation.



During the 2023 season, Moore faced a self-imposed one-game suspension and also served as acting coach during Harbaugh's three-game suspension. Moore's coaching philosophy aligns closely with Harbaugh's, focusing on a power run game and a tenacious defense. However, the question remains whether Michigan will be able to maintain the same level of success they enjoyed under Harbaugh's leadership. The new era brings uncertainty, and Moore will need to navigate these challenges to keep the Wolverines at the top of the college football landscape.


Lessons From the Past

Michigan saw limited success after winning the national title in 1997. Under Carr, the Wolverines posted five more seasons of 10 wins or more, with the pinnacle of that success being a win in the 1999 Orange Bowl. After Carr's tenure, the program experienced sporadic success under Rodriguez and Hoke. The height of this era was a victory under Hoke in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.


It wasn't until the arrival of Harbaugh that Michigan began to reclaim its former glory, ending a 25-year championship drought with significant achievements. Despite his ultimate success, it took Harbaugh some time to bring the Wolverines back to prominence.


The bottom line is that Moore has big shoes to fill, and with the current landscape of the sport, he may not have as much leeway as previous coaches at the university. As Michigan looks to the future, understanding the challenges and successes of the past may provide valuable insights into the road ahead.


Looking Ahead

As Michigan embarks on a new chapter under Moore, the path forward is fraught with challenges and uncertainties. Harbaugh's departure leaves a significant void, and the program must now navigate a landscape that demands immediate results and unwavering competitiveness. Moore inherits a team with high expectations and a storied legacy, but he also faces the pressures of maintaining the standards set by his predecessor.


Reflecting on the past, Michigan's journey from floundering to flourishing under Harbaugh's leadership serves as a reminder of the resilience and potential within the program. However, the road ahead will require strategic vision, effective leadership and a commitment to upholding the traditions that define Michigan football.


Only time will tell if Moore can steer the Wolverines through this transition and continue the legacy of excellence that Michigan fans have come to expect.



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