The Wolverine

August 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 26 of 75

AUGUST 2021 THE WOLVERINE 27 need to try. You have no chance. Don't even try any further,'" he said. "We don't subscribe to that at all. We try to get to the top." Whatever else anyone wants to say, Harbaugh is no quitter. He has all the money anyone needs in a lifetime. He could have walked away from Michi- gan, lived in that house by the ocean, enjoyed his retirement and avoided a potentially ugly ending at his alma mater. Instead, he's still up on the mountain, still counting his steps, determined not to turn around. Call it a family trait, the internal drive that keeps him pushing toward the top, convinced the summit is around that next bend in the trail. The climb is only getting steeper. AARON McMANN MLIVE.COM "UNDER PRESSURE, JIM HARBAUGH VOWS TO 'DIE TRYING' TO GET MICHIGAN BACK ON TRACK" "Ever notice that once you get to the top, it never stops?," Harbaugh said. "You think you're at the top — but you're never quite at the top." That line sums up Harbaugh's coaching tenure thus far. He took the NFL's San Francisco 49ers to three conference championship games and a Super Bowl, but was never able to win the ultimate prize. And up until last year, Harbaugh had Michigan respectfully competitive — the Wol- verines had amassed three 10-win seasons and tied for first place in the Big Ten's East Division in 2018 — but was unable to qualify for the confer- ence championship game. This fall begins a second act for Harbaugh, who was thrown a life preserver this offseason in the form of a new contract — one that extends his tenure at Michigan through 2025 — and spent much of the offseason overhauling the coaching staff. He hired a new defensive coordinator, Mike Macdonald, with hopes of fix- ing a broken culture on that side of the ball, along with three other as- sistants, while adding Michigan's all- time leading rusher, Mike Hart, and shuffling the staff on offense. "All the outside noise is outside noise for a reason," linebacker Josh Ross said. "We know what's going on inside our building. We know how we changed. We know how we got better. We know how we've grown. And everybody is going to see that when the season comes." TOM VANHAAREN ESPN.COM "MICHIGAN FOOTBALL GOES THROUGH CULTURE SHIFT AFTER 2020 STRUGGLES, PLAYERS SAY" To pull off those [big] wins, the players, and the leaders of the team, have taken on more responsibility to hold everyone accountable. They believe that if the result is going to change on the field, it's going to come from them. "The amount of positivity, how people are attacking what they're doing, getting extra work in, happy to be there, no negativity," Ross said. "The culture of our program right now is the highest I've seen since I've been here. People are going to see, we've been working." The players acknowledged that the message of change and a new result has been there in the past, but the difference to them this time is in the attitude of the players and the will- ingness to take on the responsibility of making the change happen. "What that resulted from was 2-4, bad season and guys just want to play ball," [defensive end Aidan] Hutchinson said. "We came out in spring ball popping, energy was there, and the good thing about it was, from what I observed, we stayed consistent with it all 15 practices. "Anyone can be hype on the first day of full pads, but the good thing about what we did was we kept with it." Harbaugh praised the offseason work to this point. "Maybe we're the Rocky Balboa of college football, you know, beat up and angry," Harbaugh told ESPN. "… That's what I've been seeing now is half the battle is the offseason, you know, but that's just half the battle. I think we won half the battle." SPENCER HOLBROOK LETTERMENROW.COM "'DIE TRYING?' MICHIGAN FINALLY REALIZING WHAT IT TAKES TO COMPETE WITH THE BUCKEYES" It's been nearly two decades since it seemed like the Wolverines cared enough to pay attention to Ohio State, despite the Buckeyes' repeated beatdowns, daily countdown clocks and Team Up North practice periods. While they were away, the Buck- eyes have won two national titles, made the annual trip to Indianapolis to collect a Big Ten title trophy and made easy work of their biggest rival — and once biggest competition. After the near-20-year hiatus from caring about The Game more than just lining up on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and playing for 60 min- utes, it seems as though Michigan has finally realized prioritizing the rivalry is what makes it so special. The pictures from inside Schem- bechler Hall surfaced on social media this spring. Michigan had a simple question posted in the weight room: What are you doing to beat Ohio State today? The short answer for the last 3,525 days: Not enough. But that sentiment of treating ev- ery Ohio State game like every other game on the schedule appears to be receding in Ann Arbor. Maybe with this new approach — one Ohio State has been using for the last 20 years — the Wolverines will at last embrace the rivalry and make it competitive again. "Ohio State is on our mind every day," said Josh Ross, a Wolverines linebacker who has yet to beat the Buckeyes. "Every. Day." Michigan may think about the ri- valry every day, but Ohio State seems to live it every day. The Woody Hayes Athletic Center rarely allows blue to be worn — ever. Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer and Ryan Day have all addressed the importance of the rivalry ad nauseam, and it has shown on the field. Ohio State hasn't lost to its rival since 2011 and has only lost twice this century. When Jim Harbaugh was hired at Michigan, he was expected to change the tone of the Wolverines program and emphasize the importance of The Game, a game he won as a player. But Harbaugh is winless as a coach against the Buckeyes, he was a historic underdog a year ago before a COVID cancellation gave Michigan a reprieve — and his next try doesn't appear to be in his favor, either. But at least even Harbaugh has de- cided to focus a little more energy on taking down Ohio State. ❏

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