I know that the title and timing of this diary imply a hot-take. I truly don't mean for that to be the case. My intent here is to rationally weigh the pros and cons of the last two seasons in attempt to grade Harbaugh's tenure thus far.
- Immediately turned around a losing culture. Brought fight into a team coming off a 5-7 season, reignited the passion of the fanbase and righted the national perception of Michigan Football.
- The record overall; to double from 5 wins to 10 wins in one year is an INCREDIBLE coaching job.
- Dominating wins against three 9+ win teams in Florida, BYU and Northwestern. (I know that these teams were only fringe Top 25, but these were the types of teams that the only way Hoke could win would be in nailbiters).
- First road win in a hostile environment in 5 years, in a game we controlled (at Penn State in their White Out; last win in a non Northwestern/Indiana/Illinois-esque environment was Notre Dame in 2010).
- First bowl victory in 4 years.
- Overall, continuous player improvement and development throughout the season, something unseen in the previous decade of Michigan football.
- No "bad losses" to teams that were inferior to us (in terms of either record or overall capability).
- The Michigan State tragedy. Even though we had ample chances to be up by more than one score before the punt occurred, not sure that I can hold this against Harbaugh. MSU was a Top 10 team in 2015 that went on to win the Big Ten; while it will never not be excruciating that we lost, losing by 4 points on the biggest fluke in decades of football to a strong opponent can't be looked at too harshly. Especially with a team that was 5-7 the year before.
- Ohio State...yeah, this one there is no excuse for. It's not that we lost, it's how we lost. A beatdown of historic caliber, at home in The Big House. No Michigan team had lost that badly against OSU in Ann Arbor in more than half a century. And before people come to crucify DJ Durkin, the offense only scored 10 non-garbage time points. That would never be enough to beat Urban Meyer, even if DJ called a perfect game on the other side of the ball.
2015 Grade: A- (overall, incredible coaching job, but the magnitude of failure against the Buckeyes, especially at home, disqualifies a pure 'A' grade in my book)
- In the thick of contention for championships until the bitter end of the regular season; something no Michigan team had done in 10 years (since 2006).
- Three wins over Top 15 teams, one in absolutely dominating fashion (Wisconsin, Penn State, Colorado).
- Undefeated 8-0 record in The Big House, with 7 of the 8 victories being by more than one score and the other a game we statistically dominated. This was the first undefeated home record in 4 years (2012).
- Defeating Michigan State in East Lansing. Yes, the Spartans were trash this year, but winning a rivalry game on the road, comfortably, is an accomplishment; especially being the first win there in 9 years (2007) against a coach that has had our number.
- Huge waste of potential. Michigan had the most experienced team in the Big Ten, two of our three "tough road games" featured teams significantly and unexpectedly worse than they were a year prior, Ohio State had the youngest team Urban will have for a while and still we could not get over the hump and win a conference (or division) title.
- Harbaugh's first loss to an inferior team, at Iowa. Michigan was outcoached, outplayed and out-toughed by a team with significantly less talent (and a significantly lower paid coaching staff) than we do in a game that, with a win, likely would have delivered us into the playoff.
- Losing to Ohio State...again. Look, we got fucked over by the refs in a game that was close enough that bad calls made the difference. However, it shouldn't have been close enough for the refs to help them win. We had a senior team against a team full of sophomores and lost, for the billionth time in a row. At some point we have to win The Game, doesn't matter what the excuses are. Harbaugh joins Rich Rod as the only coach in history to start with back to back losses to the Buckeyes.
- Fourth quarter collapses become a trend. All three of our losses this were games in which we led in the final two minutes of regulation. Add in MSU 2015 and 2/3rds of Harbaugh's losses at UM have us losing a lead in the final minutes of regulation. This is a disturbing trend and the sample size is becoming large enough to be worrisome.
- Continual development was either non apparent or simply did not exist. I don't think anyone would say that this team was better in November than they were in September (wins/losses and opponents aside).
- Record stagnation. I understand that 10 wins does not constitute a bad season in any absolute terms. But given the potential, this team should've finished better than 10-3, the same record they had in 2015.
2016 Grade: B- (As much as it pains me, I can't go higher than this. No matter the margin, losing 3 out of your last 4 games is brutal).
Overall Grade: B+
I want to, but I can't give Harbaugh a grade in the A range due to the season that just finished. A 10-3 record in the context of 2015 was a great success, but a 10-3 record in the context of 2016 is a failure. If I included off field stuff (recruiting, academics, etc.) it'd be enough for an A-, but I want to focus on results from the playing field here.
I still believe in this staff and the direction we're going 110%. I just think it will take us a little longer to get there than we hoped.
To those who suffered through reading this diary (which I'm sure has plentiful typos, I am much too tired to proof-read), what do you think? How would you grade Harbaugh's tenure so far in its very young state? Did I miss any good or bad things in either season?
Forever and always, GO BLUE!