Jim Harbaugh has re-taken the college football universe by storm.
Since he became the Head Coach at the University of Michigan in 2015, Harbaugh has become a central figure in the college football scene through his new school recruiting tactics, his eccentric style of coaching on and off the field and most notably his high salary.
Harbaugh is college football’s highest paid coach. Now making $9 million per year, Harbaugh is being paid more than coaches like Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and Jimbo Fisher who have all been mainstays in the college football scene and are consistently heralded as the top coaches in the country. All of which have won National Championships in their career and their teams are consistently in the top 10 rankings every year.
To be fair to Harbaugh, he has also paid his dues in college football.
He got his first college football coaching experience in 1994 when he was an assistant on the Western Kentucky football staff until 2001. After a stint as assistant coach on the Oakland Raiders’ staff, he was then hired for his first head coaching position at the University of San Diego in 2004.
During his three years at San Diego, Harbaugh rejuvenated what was a mediocre football institution by going 7-4 in his first season, including reeling off five wins in a row to end that season. The next two seasons, he had a combined record of 22-2 that included two Pioneer Football League Championship titles and mass respect across the country.
Due to his success at San Diego, Harbaugh then received his first head coaching position at a big conference school when he became the head man at Stanford University in 2006. Once again, he played a huge role in the resurgence of a football institution who had gone on a stretch of mediocrity before his arrival. At Stanford is where Harbaugh made his mark in the national spotlight.
During his time at Stanford, Harbaugh started to morph into the Harbaugh we now know: A player’s coach with the ability to win through his eccentric tactics and emotional demeanor.
During his first season, Harbaugh’s Stanford team defeated the top-ranked, 41 point favored USC Trojans during their heyday 24-23 with a last minute touchdown. That was considered one of the statistically greatest upsets in college football history. Before the game, Harbaugh had made headlines by saying that he heard a rumor that USC coach Pete Carroll had only one year left there and that he heard that rumor from someone inside the football coaching staff. From that game, Harbaugh and the Stanford Cardinal had started to become a team on the rise. In 2009, Harbaugh led them to an 8-4 record, helping them finish in the top 25 in the rankings. That season, the Cardinal played in the Sun Bowl, their first bowl game since 2001.
2010 was Harbaugh’s year. Stanford had compiled an 11-1 regular season record, their first 11 win season in school history. Their played had them ranked number four in the BCS rankings and they played in the Orange Bowl at the end of the season, defeating Virginia Tech 40-12 to win their first bowl game since 1996. After this historic season, Harbaugh decided to take his talents to the NFL, becoming the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 by signing a five year/$25 million deal.
Harbaugh helped the 49ers come back into the fold as a prominent team in the NFC during his time there.
During his first season, he led the 49ers to a 13-3 season and an appearance in the 2012 NFC Championship game where they lost to the eventual champion New York Giants. The 49ers had not had a winning season, nor had they won a playoff game since 2002. Due to this first season success, Harbaugh was named AP Coach of the Year.
The 2012 season is where Harbaugh helped his team take that next step. He led the team to a 11-4-1 regular season and had made the controversial move of replacing Quarterback Alex Smith with the dual-threat Colin Kaepernick which sparked a lot of controversy. The move paid off as the 49ers reached the Super Bowl by defeating the Green Bay Packers 45-31 behind Kaepernick’s 444 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. In the Super Bowl, Harbaugh faced his older brother, John who coached the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens defeated the 49ers 34-31.
After being at odds with the 49ers front office for the next two seasons, Harbaugh left the staff in 2014. On September 3, 2015, he became the head coach at the University of Michigan.
Through his one and one-half seasons at Michigan so far, Harbaugh has once again brought a historical institution from a period of mediocrity to the national spotlight once again.
The Wolverines finished the 2015 season with a 10-3 record and their first top 25 ranking since 2013. Their comeback season was capped off with a 41-7 win in the Citrus Bowl over the University of Florida.
This success from his first season, caused a lot of hype to surround the program once again due to his wacky, but effective offseason recruiting tactics. During the last offseason, Harbaugh made headlines for a series of “outside the box” tactics to attract recruits. He made a youtube music video about why players should come to Michigan, he has also been known to sleepover at a recruit’s home and sitting in class with them.
These unusual recruiting tactics is one of the reasons as to why Harbaugh has had so much success as a coach. His personable personality is a direct attraction to the players he recruits and the players that are currently on his team. The relationships he develops with his players pays immediate dividends on the field because it’s something new and fresh and it allows his players to look forward to putting a Michigan jersey on every week.
His eccentric style of coaching is a direct contrast to coaches like Saban, Fisher, and Meyer who embrace more of an old school style of coaching and recruiting. Although many are against this new coaching style, they can’t go against his success, especially this season.
The Wolverines are currently 8-0 and ranked number three in the country. They have been dominant all season, are almost a lock to make the college football playoff and according to many experts, one of the top contenders to win the National Championship.
Does all this success make him the best coach in the country? No.
Well, not yet at least. What Harbaugh is missing is the National Title that Saban, Meyer, and Fisher have attained. This season is his best shot to do it and from the looks of it, he has earned his $9 million per year salary because of his new wave coaching style that has allowed Michigan to exceed expectations much like all of the teams he has inherited have throughout his career.
If Michigan wins it all this year, you have to consider Harbaugh to be in the conversation as the best coach in the country.
Do you think that Harbaugh is the best coach in college football? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3