Jim Harbaugh’s hot seat already getting warm at Michigan

The University of Michigan football brand is as hot as it’s ever been under head coach Jim Harbaugh, but the question remains whether his presence is uplifting or just a temporary facelift.

Entering his third season in Ann Arbor, Mich., Harbaugh has seemingly done anything possible to return the Wolverines to national relevancy. He’s taken his team on a trip to Rome, held satellite camps in fertile Southern recruiting territory, helped land a lucrative apparel deal with Nike’s Jordan brand and even slept over a recruit’s house to seal the deal. He’s college football’s most magnetic personality. This will be more detrimental than promotional, however, if Michigan cannot escape the massive shadow Harbaugh has cast.

In Harbaugh’s first two seasons at Michigan, the Wolverines failed to make enough noise on the field to warrant what they got off of it. While back-to-back ten-win seasons is nothing to scoff at, all that got Michigan was consecutive third place finishes in the Big Ten’s East division. This season, with Ohio State and Penn State fielding championship-caliber squads, another third place finish is likely in the cards. With the fewest returning starters (5) of any FBS program — including just one on defense — that might even be generous. The 2018 season, however, can be viewed as a put-up or shut-up campaign for Harbaugh.

Like previous coaching staffs, Harbaugh and co. have done very well on the recruiting trail. Michigan’s first two full recruiting classes under Harbaugh have ranked eighth and fourth nationally, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. With nine four-star recruits committed to the 2018 class, it’s likely the Wolverines will welcome another top-10 group to campus next year. He has clearly assembled a talented roster that fits his style — now we need to see some results.

Michigan is swept up in Harbaugh mania and the coach appears at home at his alma mater, but both parties will seriously question the relationship soon if the team isn’t matching expectations. Harbaugh, who has not stuck around for more than four years at any of his coaching stops, is the best bet to be the first party to crack. Sure, the Michigan fanbase will be growing restless if the Wolverines are still playing second-fiddle to Ohio State and title-less after year four, but if Brady Hoke lasted four years, you can bet Harbaugh will have a longer leash. Harbaugh, on the other hand, will not continue to stick around if he feels the relationship is souring. Need proof? Consider his last coaching stop with the San Francisco 49’ers. Once he got a sense that there was a lack of trust from within, he bolted.

Sure, the Michigan fanbase will be growing restless if the Wolverines are still playing second-fiddle to Ohio State and title-less after year four, but if Brady Hoke lasted four years, you can bet Harbaugh will have a longer leash. Harbaugh, on the other hand, will not continue to stick around if he feels the relationship is souring. Need proof? Consider his last coaching stop with the San Francisco 49’ers. Once he got a sense that there was a lack of trust from within, he bolted.

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Look, it’s obviously still too early to call Harbaugh’s Michigan tenure a failure. Saying so even after a disappointing 2017 might be premature. That said, given his coaching history — zero major conference championships or national titles — and the massive expectations at Michigan, his seat will be warm. At some point, the fun and games needs to lead to winning football games.