The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 31 BY JOHN BORTON T his isn't the first job change for Mike Hart in the keep-moving-up world of college football. It might be the first one that widened his 10-year-old's eyes. Hart's coaching résumé goes back a decade, from Eastern Michigan to Western Michigan to Syracuse and Indiana. Each came with a new-venue introduction to his wife, Monique, and their growing family of three children. This one, though? It just wasn't the same, Hart admits. "I have a 10-year-old son, and I just got to walk him around the facility," Hart said. "I saw my name on the wall a couple of times. "It just kind of hit me, like, 'I'm home.' It was just different when I walked my son around that time. I always walked my son around any job I've had. But this was special to me. "He's obviously grown up a Michigan fan. He was like, 'Your name's on the wall. That's YOU!' I was like, 'Yeah.' That's prob- ably when it hit me." It's no surprise to encounter Hart's name on the wall inside Schembechler Hall. Af- ter all, he did post the highest modern-day Michigan career rushing total (5,040 yards) over this four years in The Big House. Along the way, he earned team MVP honors twice (shared the award once), got named a Doak Walker Award finalist and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. He also sports what a generation of Michi- gan players ache to possess — a Big Ten championship ring. So it's no shocker he's on display in the Michigan football inner sanctum. But he doesn't care about any of that, at least as it relates to his new job. He'll never show his players a Mike Hart highlight, he insists. Then again, he doesn't need to do so. They've seen clips on their own. Redshirt sophomore running back Has- san Haskins assured that when Hart speaks, the running backs room listens, because he just knows what he's talking about. Hart's ready — to talk, to act and to help reestablish Michigan football as a champion- ship-level program. Ready For The Work Ahead There's no question about the expectation, Hart insisted. That's part of coming back to the place that has won more Big Ten cham- pionships than any other program. Have the Wolverines experienced a drought, all the way back to when Hart donned the No. 20 and played far bigger than his size at Michigan? Obviously — but that's not something the new U-M coach dwells on. It's all about what happens now, going for- ward. And he's fully aware the task at hand isn't an easy one. "Any time you're at Michigan, the goal is to win the Big Ten," Hart said. "You know that, all the way from when Bo [Schem- bechler] was here, and Gary [Moeller], Lloyd [Carr], even RichRod [Rich Rodri- guez] and Brady [Hoke]. It's always to win the Big Ten championship. "I don't think you go into any season thinking you're not going to win the Big Ten championship. It's hard to win a Big Ten championship. It's not easy to do. "Piece by piece, you have to just embrace the process of getting better every day. You develop leadership. When you're the right kids, when you're the right team, we win." Sometimes, even when you field a great team, you don't win the conference. Hart played on one like that, back in 2006. The Wolverines made it undefeated, all the way to a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown at Ohio State. "We lost that game, and we weren't Big Ten champions," Hart mused. "Does that mean we were a bad team? No. "You have to take it game by game, piece by piece, and take it one game at a time. Be- fore that, you've got to train in the summer, go into fall camp and have a great fall camp. You'll find out what kind of team you have. You'll get to the end goal as long as you take it step by step and embrace the process." That's precisely what he's doing these days, and ever since Jim Harbaugh picked up the phone last winter and invited him north out of Bloomington. Hart accepted the challenge and began immediately getting to know some in his running backs room, while renewing acquaintances with others. He knew second-year freshman running back Blake Corum, having recruited him. The same goes for true freshman Donovan Edwards. The others, he's quickly getting to know — a pleasure, Hart says, thanks to his prede- cessor coaching the position. Jay Harbaugh moved from mentoring running backs back to guiding tight ends when Hart came in, and — according to the newcomer — laid a great foundation. "In my room, Jay recruited some great young men," Hart said. "There's a special group of guys. They didn't blink when I came into the room. They fully embraced me. "It's just a great group of guys. My hat is off to Jay for that. It's been an easy transition going into that room. I can't say that about every past stop that I've been a part of. Jay made it easy for me from that standpoint, just recruiting the guys he did. It's been great. "You've still got to get them to trust you. We're at that point. It's great coming to work every day, getting to coach them." He loves the response so far. "These guys are buying in," Hart said. "The players are doing a great job, devel- oping leadership. Any great team has great leaders. That's the biggest thing." Demanding, But … Hart offers a succinct and savvy descrip- tion for his coaching style, when asked. "Demanding, but not demeaning, would be the best way to explain it," he said. "I have high expectations for the position. Coach 'em hard; love 'em hard. That's my approach. In 10 years as a college coach, Hart has mentored four 1,000-yard rushers; was nominated for the Broyles Award, which is annually given to the nation's top as- sistant coach (2018 at Indiana); and been named one of the nation's top 25 recruit- ers by (2019 at IU). PHOTO COURTESY U-M ATHLETICS

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