Jim Harbaugh’s Biggest Hits: Staff Overhaul, Xs & Os Changes Have Michigan Relevance Again

DANIA BEACH, Fla .– It wasn’t that long ago that Jim Harbaugh was making headlines for his sleepovers with rookies and his trips across the country to “satellite” camps.

These days, the Michigan head coach has reinstated the college football lexicon for another, perhaps better, reason: to win.

The Wolverines are 12-1 and face Georgia on Friday, December 31, at the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla., A college football playoff semifinal venue. They won their first Big Ten Championship as a program since 2004, long before Harbaugh arrived on the scene. They also broke that frustrating losing streak against their big rival Ohio State.

So how did Harbaugh do it?

• Coaches changes. If Michigan was to make progress on the success they had built in Harbaugh’s first six years, a change near the top was needed. Especially on the defensive side.

Don Brown had become a familiar face to many fans and players, but his plan had become predictable for many opposing teams. The pressure was off and a decline in high school talent left many young defensive (and inexperienced) full-backs vulnerable in man-to-man coverage. We saw this last year, in the pandemic-ravaged 2020 season, when Michigan went 2-4 and saw their defense drop to 84th nationally in yards allowed per game.

Harbaugh responded by leaning on his brother for help, enlisting the Baltimore Ravens’ Mike Macdonald to help diversify the defensive plan, but perhaps more importantly, change the culture on this side of the ball. Macdonald more than answered the bell, taking linebacker coach George Helow with him, and Harbaugh later added defensive back coach Steve Clinkscale to help support Macdonald in the passing game.

Following: Michigan RB Blake Corum ‘finally back’, recovered before Orange Bowl

Offensively, Harbaugh made the surprising call to drop veteran offensive line coach Ed Warinner and replace him with a rising star in Sherrone Moore, who also won the offensive coordinator title. Moore has played a bigger role in planning the game this season, relieving some of the burden from offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who is also still in charge of receivers.

But additional hires like Mike Hart (runners), Ron Bellamy (security) and Matt Weiss (neighborhoods) brought instant credibility, connections to Michigan, NFL experience and, perhaps more importantly, from young people to staff. The crew are younger and more energetic, setting the stage for what is to come this year.

• Diet changes. Not only have Michigan given up on the traditional 4-3 front defensively, but Mike Macdonald et al. had no problem being aggressive – changing lineup and introducing a basic 4-2-5 look into the playbook. They were keen to accentuate Michigan’s positives from a personal perspective, such as Aidan Hutchinson’s ability to rush passes, David Ojabo’s under-the-radar athleticism, Josh Ross’s experience as a linebacker and Dax Hill’s playing abilities in high school, and hide some of the negatives. The results were incredible, with the Wolverines moving up to 11th nationally in yards allowed and fourth in scoring defense.

Offensively, Harbaugh has chosen to go back to some of his roots, using Michigan’s seasoned offensive line to pave the way for a shattering style of football. The Wolverines had a plan this year to establish the run early and work from there, slowly bringing Cade McNamara into the passing game. It worked almost perfectly, with the Wolverines not having to rely on a passing attack during the first half of the season. Gattis, this year’s Broyles Award winner, has done a masterful job of adding wrinkles to the system.

Following: Alabama exploited Georgia’s stingy defense. Can Michigan follow a similar pattern?

The results speak for themselves. Not only have Michigan become elite again, but attacking on the ground is in the top 10 under Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, a pair of running backs who have accumulated more than 2,200 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns.

A change of culture. We’ve heard of this in the past – cases where Jim Harbaugh has reintroduced music for training and allowed his players more choice – but it really made a difference in 2021. Harbaugh and the coaching staff instituted a “leadership council” made up of a group of upper-class students, many of whom are captains like Aidan Hutchinson, to make decisions on jersey suits and provide feedback to the coaching staff, some of whom are have been taken into account during training. We heard earlier in the season that Mike Macdonald himself has changed game plans and training formats to match what the players thought was the best, a difference in approach from previous years.

Between a change from Harbaugh and more player-led initiatives, with guys like Hutchinson, Josh Ross, Andrew Stueber and Andrew Vastardis among others taking the reins and not letting any issues snowball. Years ago, this stuff could have manifested into something bigger. Not this year.

Once this season is over, whether it’s this Friday or in the National Championship game, the Underdogs will try to dissect what was different about Harbaugh’s squad this year. You could argue that previous teams (2015? 2016?) Were more talented, but they didn’t rack up the number of wins or championships. In a way, this year has been the perfect storm for Harbaugh and Michigan, two parties that were at a crossroads just 12 months ago. They stuck it out and the results quickly followed.

Learn more about Michigan football:

Force against force: UM running game looks at Georgia’s big front seven

Josh Gattis adjusts play calls to staff, creating winning formula for Michigan

All-American offensive lineman transferred to Michigan

Orange Bowl area is ‘hot spot’ for COVID-19 as Michigan, Georgia prepare for playoffs

With Michigan in CFP, broadcast duo set to sign one last time

About George M. Lovelace

Check Also

Former Castlebar Bacon Factory employee Annie Mary Concannon dies

Posted: Thu Jan 6, 2022, 12:56 PM Last update: Thu Jan 6, 2022, 1:14 PM …