The Wolverine

January 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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66 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2022 I n January 2021, Jim Harbaugh met with his team to discuss goals for the upcoming season. The Wolverines, coming off a disap- pointing 2-4 campaign in which the team looked discombobulated, the culture "broken," desperately needed something to spark a turnaround. "A reset" is how new secondary coach Ron Bellamy described it in the weeks after the Michigan head coach hired him … and like most, he didn't expect it would happen overnight. But as hard as it is to win — and make no mistake, winning cham- pionships is tough — the formula's most important ingredient is still relatively simple. Talent matters, of course. We can't tell you how many times we've heard the cliché, "It's not the X's and O's — it's the Jimmys and Joes" on message boards, radio shows, etc., in the past few years. More than anything, though, it goes back to something late, legendary coach Bo Schembechler preached to all his teams, brought to light in his now famous pregame "The Team, The Team, The Team" speech. "We're not gonna criticize each other, we're not gonna talk about each other — we're gonna encourage each other," he barked before the start of the 1983 Big Ten season. "And when we play as a team, when the old season is over, you and I know, it's gonna be Michigan again — Michigan!" It was an expectation. As former U-M All-Big Ten offensive lineman Doug Skene once said, "We'd start the season talking about what we were going to do when we got to California for the Rose Bowl." The players weren't really related, but they might as well have been. They shared championship DNA, passed down from their older "brothers" who knew what it felt like to beat Ohio State and win championships. That culture disappeared, frankly, when Lloyd Carr retired in 2007. And as many in his profession warned when Rich Rodriguez entered and changed it (for the worse, unfortunately), "Once you lose it, it's really hard to get it back." Brady Hoke tried, and he had some success in his first year. His love for Michigan was strong, but something was missing. Four years later, the Wolverines faced another reset. It was going to take a spe- cial group to get the Wolverines back, led by a special leader — maybe a guy who still had that championship DNA in him from a different source. Enter Aidan Hutchinson, who took every snap, every rep in the weight room and every practice personally in an ef- fort to experience what his father, All- American Chris Hutchinson, did when he won five championship rings as a de- fensive tackle from 1988-92. A group of high-character guys fol- lowed his lead in winning the program's first title since 2004. "Nobody's owed anything. Nobody's entitled to anything," Harbaugh said af- ter the Wolverines thrashed Iowa, 42-3, in the Big Ten title game. "But when you're around a group of guys that at- tack everything the way they attack their schoolwork, their practice — they want to give it their very best — then you've got a good feeling it's going to happen." "Nobody's owed anything," he reit- erated — and that included everyone from the top down. For some reason, that hadn't really sunk in among some of last year's players. Hutchinson, quarterback Cade McNamara, linebacker Josh Ross, center Andrew Vastardis and wide receiver Ronnie Bell set out to change that in day one of spring ball. "It's been a mindset from back in January that every day matters. Only 12 are going to count … only 13 that are going to count, then 14 are going to count," Harbaugh said of game days. "It's getting ourselves prepared. It's been a lot of work put in by a lot of people. "It's a building in Schembechler Hall of guys working, not worrying … and having a lot of fun doing it. Always upbeat, guys with smiles on their faces. It's a fun team to be a part of." The beauty, he added, is in the re- ward. When you give it your very best, then you know you've done all you can. "It's awesome that you accomplished a championship. But that's the beauti- ful thing about giving it your very best — whatever you do accomplish, you feel good about," Harbaugh added. T h ey d i d i t t h e o l d - fa s h i o n e d , Schembechler way when nobody gave them a chance. It involves everyone in the building, no matter the pay grade. "I call them my mighty men, mighty men and women of Michigan football," Harbaugh beamed. "That's what they are to me." And to a fan base that is champion- ship-starved no more and excited to see what this group can still accomplish in the next month. No matter what happens, it's already been a year to remember. ❏ 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 For The 'Mighty Men And Women' Of U-M Head coach Jim Harbaugh reset the Michigan football program the old-fashioned, Bo Schembechler way when nobody gave them a chance. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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