The Wolverine

August 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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74 THE WOLVERINE AUGUST 2021 T he buzz was all about Michi- gan football when Jim Har- baugh arrived to take over the program seven years ago, and even the coach's most ardent critics figured he'd have the Wolverines humming within three or four years. In a way, they were right. It took only two before he made the pro- gram a player again on the national scene. Harbaugh seemed on track for every bit the success most figured he'd have after coming to U-M from the San Francisco 49ers, and even the rivals figured he was on his way. Since, though, it's been hit and miss, culminating in last year's disappointing 2-4 record during a pandemic-shortened season. Mean- while, Juwan Howard has taken over for John Beilein on the basket- ball side and continued a great run of success, to the point that Michi- gan is considered one of the top bas- ketball programs in the country. For the last 12 years or so, in fact, the Crisler Center contingent has had it rolling. They're at or near the top in postseason win total in the last 10 years, have won a handful of Big Ten titles (regular and postseason tourna- ment combined) and made a couple of national championship games. "It also has a terrific coach, one who has already beaten the odds," New York Post columnist Zach Bra- ziller wrote during U-M's march to another Elite Eight this year. "A for- mer star alum coming from the NBA can work in college. It just has to be the right person … someone willing to work and listen and learn. No- body is questioning this hire now." Plenty were at the time, including's Dave Jones. "Michigan is making mistake many have made in hiring an NBA vet to try running college program," his headline read back in May 2019. "Style over substance" was how Jones categorized it — and it couldn't have been further from the truth. Ironically, it was just the opposite when Harbaugh first arrived. He was the meat and potatoes, put- your-head-down-and-work coach whose Stanford teams looked like the Bo Schembechler-led Michigan teams he played on during the 1980s. One of his former receivers, John Kolesar, saw it in person 15 or so years ago and told his former quarterback as much after one of Harbaugh's impressive wins. "He said, 'I'm just trying to do it like Bo taught us,'" Kolesar recalled. And did he ever. Some would say he lost his way a bit when he arrived at Michigan — maybe forgot what got him here. From his Signing of the Stars recruit- ing spectacles to national satellite camps, he seemed to make headlines with just about everything he did. Some fans lament that he's since reverted to staying behind the scenes, barely seen and almost never heard. For those close to it, though, it's a positive sign. His father, Jack, reportedly helped with the mantra his son employs now — "just coach the team" — and new coach second- ary coach and former Michigan re- ceiver Ron Bellamy saw a guy com- mitted to doing just that this spring. Organized, motivated, deter- mined — Bellamy used all those words in describing the coach he wouldn't have joined had he not seen all those characteristics. "I felt like he was going to de- velop me," Bellamy said. "When that time comes, who knows … but when that opportunity presents it- self, I want to be ready for it." The former West Bloomfield (Mich.) High coach had other op- portunities, too, make no mistake. He wouldn't have come if he didn't believe in his boss. But this is not the Michigan Bellamy grew up with, and what Harbaugh's done this year with coaching changes, etc., amounts to a reset. It's going to take some time before he competes for a title again, even if he has re- gained his mojo (as many in addition to Bellamy have suggested). He has to rebuild the culture, and if he does it right, it should look just like the one in the building next to The Big House. Fans might fleetingly flock to winning teams, but they become invested in programs. In a recent The- poll, 65 percent said they were more excited about basket- ball season than football. That would have been unfathomable 15 years ago, but it's a sign of the times. The good news — Michigan hoops started at the bottom of the barrel to get where it is now, and the football program still has plenty of built-in advantages and enough good players to turn it around. Rebuilding the culture, though, is where it starts. Until Harbaugh does, Michigan might well be known as a basketball school — because Howard and his program aren't going away anytime soon. ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS Is Michigan A Basketball School? With Juwan Howard at the helm last year, Michigan basketball made its sixth Sweet 16 and fourth Elite Eight appearance in the past eight NCAA Tournaments. Meanwhile, Jim Harbaugh's football program is 1-4 in bowl games since he took over in 2015. PHOTOS BY LON HORWEDEL

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