A look at the Wolverines’ 2018 regular-season schedule, which opens at Notre Dame on Sept. 1, and finishes at Ohio State on Nov. 24. Video by Ryan Ford, Detroit Free Press
Jim Harbaugh’s favorite quotes are often borrowed, but when it comes to football, they usually hold up well over time.
Plenty are from his father. Some come from presidents or historical figures. Others come from anyone near or around him throughout any given day.
But through all the quips and catchy phrases uttered over the years, there’s one that always sticks out in my mind above all else. He recited a version of it the day before he opened his first Michigan training camp in August of 2015. No one knew what to expect from that group, Harbaugh included.
But he channeled a line from Bo Schembechler to put things into perspective.
“The beautiful thing about football, as our old coach Bo Schembechler used to say: ‘Live clean, come clean, be clean,’ ” Harbaugh said that day. “The part of about coming clean always resonated with me. Coming clean is telling the truth.
“When you’re a step onto a football field, never is that more evident that the truth is going to get told.”
You cannot hide in football. You can mask problems, mitigate issues and overcome adverse situations.
But you cannot ignore them.
Football’s a simple game at its core. You either did it or you didn’t. Harbaugh knows this as well as anyone. He also knows his offense from a year ago wasn’t good enough. Some of the problems came from factors he couldn’t control, some came from issues he had a firm grasp on.
But over the course of the past four months, Harbaugh hasn’t hid from or ignored those issues. Question methods, challenge outcomes, do as you like. But there’s no getting around how much self-examination Harbaugh’s put his entire offensive system through at Michigan so far this offseason.
Coming out the other side, through all the questions about play-calling or offensive coordinators or coaching staff shuffles or new faces in new places, there’s still one certainty that’s more important than anything else inside that meeting room.
“It’s his offense. Everything goes through coach,” passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton told reporters Sunday. “It starts and ends with coach Harbaugh.”
Earlier this spring Harbaugh said he hadn’t decided on a chief play-caller. Newly hired offensive line coach Ed Warinner said he’d do whatever is asked of him. Newly hired receivers coach Jim McElwain said this was Hamilton’s show. Hamilton had a large hand in calling plays last year, but some truths remain.
This was Harbaugh’s offense a year ago, just like it was the two years before that. Just like it will be this season.
This is Michigan’s best-case scenario.
Because Michigan didn’t spend 28 days in the winter of 2014 trying to lock down an offensive coordinator. It spent that time trying to lock down Harbaugh, the guy who was the best fit at the right time for the program at large.
A guy who has had his hits and misses through three years with the program. But also a guy who didn’t forget how to coach offensive football or run a team overnight.
The stretch from January through March had to have been a difficult one for Harbaugh for a litany of reasons. He was coming off an 8-5 season that was filled with injuries and growing pains but also a number of self-inflicted wounds. In those moments, you can avoid and ignore problems or you can be honest with yourself.
Harbaugh chose the latter.
Michigan’s offensive coaching staff was flipped on its head. Tim Drevno hung around through February, but didn’t make it to March. This was Harbaugh’s longest-tenured assistant coach. In NFL or college. When Harbaugh took his first head coaching job at San Diego in 2004, Drevno was there. When he made it big at Stanford, Drevno was there. They were together at the Super Bowl in 2013. Drevno was his first hire at Michigan in 2015. And they were together when the offense crumbled last season.
Difficult decisions had to be made. Plenty of coaches in football would’ve held onto a long-term friend and confidant like that. Harbaugh and Drevno parted ways because the former knew what he had to do in order to advance the team he’s in charge of. Strength coach Kevin Tolbert had worked with Harbaugh for the past nine years. But, again, change happened.
In football, you cannot avoid the truth. It always finds you.
Michigan’s truth is still Harbaugh.
He’s the guy who ran hills with J.T. Rogan and the San Diego Toreros until he puked during a 29-6 run in the mid 2000s. He’s the guy who worked a college miracle at Stanford with Andrew Luck before taking a broken NFL franchise to the Super Bowl. He knows offensive football, he’s not blind and he’s not the guy who runs from difficult decisions in challenging moments.
The reality of the situation is simple. Hamilton, McElwain and Warinner — all seasoned offensive football minds — will dedicate their time to crafting the best game plan possible throughout any given week. Hamilton did plenty of heavy lifting with the pass game a year ago and it stands to reason Warinner will do that and more with the run game this season. McElwain’s voice won’t be mute.
Can it be more streamlined? Yes. Can it be more organized? Yes. More efficient? Yes. Will it work? We’ll see. But it won’t stay idle just for the sake of avoiding change.
Michigan’s offense is still being supervised by a guy who has coached 19 offensive draft picks, won nearly 70 percent of his college games and led a team to a Super Bowl.
If Michigan has a better realistic scenario than that, I’m not sure what it is.
Contact Nick Baumgardner: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner. Download our Wolverines Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!