The Wolverine

March 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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98 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2022 I n 2017, John Beilein had accom- plished just about everything a coach could in his profession. The Michigan head man had led the Wolverines to two national cham- pionship game appearances, three Elite Eights and four Big Ten titles in 11 years, and won his share against rival Michigan State … And yes, he had to work harder to do it than many of his colleagues. Because yes, Michigan is different than most. Recruiting is tougher when you're a stickler for the rules, and nobody followed them more closely than the man once called "the cleanest coach in the profes- sion" by his peers (in a landslide). So, when the Detroit Pistons ex- pressed some interest, Beilein ex- plored the possibility. He'd just led the Wolverines to a 33-8 record, a second straight Big Ten Tournament title and his second national champion- ship game appearance. He interviewed, didn't get the job, returned and led the Wolverines to a 30-7 record. "It became very clear to me where I was meant to finish coaching," Beilein told The Detroit Free Press. "If you fol- lowed my career, it was, 'You've built this up, you've got it right and you leave the program in better shape than you found it.' And then go and do it again some- where else. "I wasn't offered the [Pistons] job. I was a finalist, but I wasn't offered the job. And I decided rather than to go through it more, I knew where I needed to be." Sound familiar? It should. Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh echoed similar sentiments when he interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings, only to call director of athlet- ics Warde Manuel shortly afterward and let him know he was his as long as he wanted him. To that, several have said after Har- baugh's flirtation — "we'll see." Because things change, opportuni- ties arise and some rashes that go away sometimes come back, even (or espe- cially) when they're scratched. For Beilein, the relief lasted a year. When the Cleveland Cavaliers came call- ing, his former West Virginia player Mike Gansey ringing to see if he was inter- ested, Beilein initially balked. But there's something about coaching at the highest level that brings out the best in any competitor. Harbaugh felt it, too, especially after his San Francisco team lost the Super Bowl to his brother John's Baltimore Ravens squad in Janu- ary 2013. "There was a tugging at me that I was once that close to a Super Bowl and I didn't get it," Harbaugh told Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom. "Some NFL jobs came open. I was contacted by the Vikings. For better or for worse, it was something I wanted to explore." It also made him realize — like it did with Beilein — how much he loved Mich- igan. There's no guarantee, however, that it will last. And if he does change his mind, the way Beilein did, it doesn't necessarily make him a "liar," nor did it make him a "traitor" for exploring other opportuni- ties. Harbaugh faces the same restrictions when it comes to recruiting, the transfer portal, etc., that Beilein did when he was here, too. Anyone doubting it only needed look at the Georgia team Michigan faced in the playoff. There were five-stars at every position, bigger, faster and stronger. Harbaugh might not admit it publicly, being the ultimate com- petitor he is, but the NFL playing field is much more level than what he's facing in college. Yet here he is, and like he always does, he'll pour his heart and soul into his job. Anyone who doubts it doesn't understand what makes him tick. "Sure, the Super Bowl is the greatest prize in our sport. But winning a national championship, that's pretty darn great. Let's do that," Harbaugh told Albom. "There was a pull to the NFL because I got that close to the Super Bowl, but this was the time. And this is the last time. Now — let's go chase college football's greatest prize." And again … we'll see. Things can change. Beilein, though, probably would have resigned from the Michigan job had it leaked he was talking to Cleveland, even if he didn't get the job. He knew nobody would take his word again. The same will be true for Harbaugh if NFL teams come calling again next year. Though it seems unlikely, he could get that chance. Many Minnesota fans were irate he didn't get offered the opportu- nity, and it only takes one team to want him. For now, though, he's still Michigan's coach, and this episode could — maybe should — motivate him the way the 2020 season did to prove himself. With all the drama now in the past, that's something that should excite Mich- igan football fans heading into 2022. ❑ 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 Nothing Wrong With Chasing A Dream, But … Jim Harbaugh is back at Michigan for the 2022 season, and the only sure thing is that he'll pour his heart and soul into his job — just like he always does. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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