Harbaugh falls short of hype
One of the best things I read this weekend about Penn State’s 42-13 blowout of Michigan was this single line: “The Harbaugh worship has to stop.”
It came from a Wolverines beat writer, Shawn Windsor. In the Detroit Free Press, of all places.
And it’s 1 million percent spot on.
Count me among those who just doesn’t get all the hype surrounding Jim Harbaugh.
He’s a successful coach. No doubt.
He’s a weird dude. We all know that.
But let’s stop with all the nonsense about how he’s some kind of coaching genius. That he’s one of the best coaches in college football. That he’s worth $9 million a year, making him the highest-paid coach in the country.
Jim Harbaugh is the fourth-best coach in the Big Ten East Division.
The top two coaches will square off Saturday in the “Showdown at the Shoe” when Urban Meyer and Ohio State host James Franklin and Penn State. That game will be for all the marbles in the division and likely the conference this season, while Harbaugh once again will be on the outside looking in.
Here are my rankings of the Big Ten’s best coaches:
No. 1: Urban Meyer
No brainer. He’s the second-best coach in the country behind only Nick Saban of Alabama. Penn State fans might not like him — jealousy can do that — but there’s no denying that Meyer is one of the best college coaches of all time.
Meyer is 67-7 with one national title in six seasons at Ohio State. He’s 171-30 overall with two other national titles won at Florida.
No. 2: James Franklin
This isn’t some homer pick because I cover Penn State. There’s simply no denying that what Franklin has done in a short period of time with the Nittany Lions has been absolutely stunning.
He won the Big Ten a year ago in his third season, just five years after the Sandusky scandal broke and four years after the NCAA sanctions. That is legendary any way you slice it.
The Lions have won 15 consecutive regular-season games and 12 Big Ten contests in a row.
Penn State is No. 2 in the country and a legitimate national title contender.
There’s a lot of praise to go around for offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, defensive coordinator Brent Pry and PSU’s other excellent assistant coaches. But Franklin put the staff together and does an excellent job delegating and letting those guys do their jobs, so if by some chance you’re still in the camp of those people wondering if he truly is a good head coach, just stop it.
What else do you need to see?
No. 3: Mark Dantonio
Yes, I have Dantonio ahead of Harbaugh on this list. And it’s totally justified.
Dantonio took over a mess at Michigan State in 2007 and has done a tremendous job, going 96-43 in 11 seasons with three Big Ten titles (2010, ’13, ’15). He has done more with less, while Harbaugh has done less with more.
Dantonio is 8-2 against Michigan. Think about that, because it’s staggering. The run began after Wolverines running back Mike Hart called Michigan State “little brother.” Dantonio is 2-1 against Harbaugh, has gone 4-1 in Ann Arbor and has won three of four games against Michigan when it was ranked in the top 15.
Dantonio is the most underrated coach in college football.
Which brings us to the most overrated …
No. 4: Jim Harbaugh
If you’re expecting me to say something silly like Harbaugh is a bad coach, that’s not happening. He has done some great things, including getting to a Super Bowl and two other NFC title games with the 49ers (losing all) and going 25-8 so far in three seasons at Michigan.
But for the amount of hype he gets for all of his shenanigans — recruiting sleepover, exotic trips with the team, aloof and grating personality — he simply has not lived up to expectations with Wolverines.
He’s 1-4 against Ohio State and Michigan State, which is totally unacceptable in Michigan. He’s lost other key games, such as last year at Iowa, which came out of nowhere, and has become known more for his silly antics than big wins.
Because there haven’t been any big wins. Yet, anyway.
For Michigan fans thinking, “Yeah, he whipped Penn State and Franklin 49-10 last year,” so lay off the guy. Well, Franklin and PSU went on to win the Big Ten anyway, which is insane if you think about it.
Michigan was badly outcoached Saturday night by the PSU staff, which looked for and exploited matchups effectively on both sides of the ball.
Moorhead deserves some kind of playcalling award for his efforts. And while everyone came into the game talking about Michigan’s defense, it was Pry’s defense that proved to be much better, albeit it against a bad Michigan offense.
Oh yeah, Michigan’s offense. Harbaugh is stuck in 1987 with that traditional Big Ten attack, which is designed to run the ball primarily and be relatively conservative in the passing game while showing very little creativity.
He’s not going to win a national championship playing that type of offense.
What Harbaugh needs is his own version of Joe Moorhead, someone who can spruce things up and bring in a more modern attack, one where the quarterback can beat you with his arm or legs, the way Trace McSorley did for PSU on Saturday. It doesn’t have to be a return to the RichRod way of doing things, which was a disaster, but Michigan needs to adapt to consistently beat Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State.
Franklin deserves credit for turning the offense over to Moorhead and letting him be the head coach of that unit. It’s not really in Harbaugh’s personality to do that with his offense, so don’t count on Michigan changing much.
Look, I’m not here to write off Harbaugh or Michigan. If he stays there a long time — and that’s a big if, because you know there will be NFL opportunities popping up — then he is going to win a lot of games with the Wolverines and will always be a potential thorn in Penn State’s side.
But given his body of work so far, Harbaugh isn’t worth anywhere near the amount of hype he receives or the money he’s getting paid.
Cory Giger may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org