Sports

Michael James: If Jim Harbaugh Can't Beat Ohio State Saturday, Maybe A Better Coach Can


November 28, 2019, 11:47 PM

The author has spent more than 20 years in sports journalism as a Detroit News reporter, a New York Daily News sportswriter and as head writer for ESPN’s Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith. He runs The Tribe Sports.

By Michael James

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Jim Harbaugh

The moment of truth – if Michigan Wolverines fans and supporters are truly interested in truth – comes in Showdown No. 5 between Jim Harbaugh and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

See, for the past four years, seasons for the Wolverines and Harbaugh have all ended as another exercise in futility. Yet another loss to the team from Ohio.

As much as anything, including returning UM as a bona fide on the national stage and a perennial contender for a Big Ten championship, beating Ohio State was what Jim Harbaugh was lured back to Ann Arbor to do.

This has not happened.

In its place, the Wolverines, after four straight season-ending defeats, has gone on to a bowl game and an offseason where we have allowed ourselves to forget that Harbaugh has failed once again.

Such has not been the case for the men whom we continuously illogically compare Harbaugh to – Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney – elite college coaches who actually deliver on their prodigious contracts and winning promises.

No, for some reason, despite Harbaugh’s repeated failures on the biggest stages, we continue to allow ourselves to be told, and sold, on the idea that he really is the best man to run Michigan football.

But if we are seriously interested in truth – there’s that word again – Harbaugh has not been in their league.

Five Years Is Enough

More to the point, five years is more than enough time to secure at least one victory over your arch-nemesis.

Let’s be honest: If Jim Harbaugh cannot defeat Urban Meyer’s protege Ryan Day in his rookie season, there really is no reason to believe he will beat Ohio State with any regularity over the next five years.

This should provide more than enough evidence that Harbaugh really isn’t the man to get this job done.

And for those who will protest that there is no better available quality head coach on the horizon to succeed Jim Harbaugh, I beg to differ. On the contrary, I argue, that man is already on the sidelines in


Josh Gattis (Photo: UM)

Ann Arbor.

His name is Josh Gattis.

If you’ve paid close attention, you might have noticed that Michigan’s resurgence has coincided with offensive coordinator Gattis being brought out from the upstairs booth to coach alongside Harbaugh on the sidelines.

What has transpired with that change is Michigan’s offense has turned into a juggernaut, averaging over 40 points the past three games.

You should have also noticed more innovation and variety on offense, more daring and trickery, and less of the conservatism that Harbaugh has shown previously.

You should have also noticed that Michigan has at least once pulled a struggling Shea Patterson and given backups Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton time once games were in hand – something Harbaugh has never done.

This is the doing of Gattis, who worked under Saban in Alabama, a coach who has no problem pulling a starter for another who could get the job done.

If I can see Gattis breathing down Harbaugh’s neck, so can he.

So, Showdown No. 5 against the hated Buckeyes is more than just another game for Jim Harbaugh. In truth – if Michigan fans and supporters are really interested in truth – it should also determine if he stays or goes.

Ohio State plays Michigan for the 116th time at noon Saturday in Ann Arbor. 


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