Well, at long last, the monkey’s off his back.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s head coach, finally has one.
A victory over arch-rival Ohio State.
As a Michigan player (1983–1986) he was 3–1 against the Buckeyes but was only on the field for the games in ’85 and ’86, when he was the Wolverines starting quarterback.
In the 1985 contest, a 27–17 Michigan triumph, Harbaugh completed 16–19 passes, good for 230 yards.
And in 1986, Harbaugh brashly predicted — guaranteed, in fact — that the Maize and Blue would defeat Ohio State and make the Rose Bowl.
A 26–24 Michigan win turned his bravado into reality.
He was a Heisman Trophy finalist in ’86, finishing third in the voting (behind winner Vinny Testaverde and runner-up Paul Palmer).
A little different however, as his alma mater’s head coach.
Not much to crow about when your record vs. Ohio State stands at 0–5.
Entering the 2021 fray.
The alums don’t like it.
Nor do the board members.
In the meantime, Jim Harbaugh is entitled to be supremely confident.
He has enjoyed success for a long time, and on many levels.
He played in the NFL for fourteen seasons (1987–2000).
Selected in the first round by Chicago in the 1987 NFL Draft (# 26 overall), he became the Bears’ starting QB in 1990.
He moved on to the Indianapolis Colts (1994–1997); the Baltimore Ravens (1998); and the San Diego Chargers (1999–2000).
In 1995, he led the Colts to the AFC Championship Game, was selected to the Pro Bowl and was honored as the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
His career as a player was good.
He is a much better coach than he ever was a player.
Not even close.
Runs in his blood.
His father, Jack Harbaugh, 82, was the longtime head football coach at Western Kentucky (1989–2002–91–68); and before that, at Western Michigan (1982–1986–25–27–3).
And then, there is brother John.
[In the interest of full disclosure, Jack and his wife Jackie are also the parents of Joani, another Harbaugh athlete, married to Georgia Bulldogs head basketball coach Tom Crean.]
John Harbaugh — head coach of the Baltimore Ravens since 2008 — (149–90, including the playoffs) and Super Bowl XLVII Champions in 2012 — has a resume all his own.
That Super Bowl, incidentally, has been dubbed, “The Har-bowl.”
Because Jim and John Harbaugh — the first pair of brothers in history to serve as NFL head coaches — went at it, in a Super Bowl matchup.
Obviously, the first time ever for that, too.
Jim’s son and John’s nephew, Jay Harbaugh, was also on the Ravens’ coaching staff.
Quite the family affair.
Super Bowl XLVII was the first to feature two teams with perfect records in the ultimate game: Baltimore 1–0; San Francisco 5–0.
John’s Ravens beat brother Jim’s 49ers, 34–31, in a wild contest that was suspended for 34 minutes due to a partial power outage in the Louisiana Superdome.
Hence, another nickname for the extravaganza: “The Blackout Bowl.”
Before that, Jim Harbaugh was the Stanford Cardinal head football coach from 2007–2010.
No stranger to controversy — back then, or now — he went on the offensive with respect to then-USC head coach Pete Carroll.
In March 2007 “Gentleman Jim” was quoted as saying this:
“Pete’s only got one more year though.
He’ll be there one more year.
That’s what I’ve heard.
I heard it inside the staff.”
This comment engendered, what for the laid-back Carroll was, a pointed rebuke.
Harbaugh got into Carroll’s head.
In fact, Carroll would be at USC’s helm for 3 more seasons, but let the “games” begin.
At the Pac-10 Conference media day on July 26, 2007, Harbaugh was effusive in his praise of USC.
“There is no question in my mind that USC is the best team in the country and maybe the best team in the history of college football.”
Gamesmanship, in an effort to grab more media attention.
It’s practiced, it’s executed, and it’s done.
Some are better at it than others.
Jim Harbaugh is a pro.
But it’s as worthless as an empty pocket, unless you can back it up.
Harbaugh put his money where his mouth was.
Later in that season, Stanford defeated #1 USC 24–23, with a touchdown in the final minute.
With the Trojans established as a 41-point favorite, statistically it was the greatest upset in the history of college football.
Although Stanford lost to USC in 2008, Harbaugh and the Cardinal upset USC at home again, by a score of 55–21 on November 14, 2009.
At the time, Stanford’s 55 points were the most ever scored against USC, in the Trojans’ rich history.
It was Carroll’s first November loss as USC head coach.
Harbaugh never lost in USC’s home stadium, the legendary Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
You think that Carroll wasn’t a burr on Harbaugh’s backside?
For any number of reasons?
Harbaugh crafted a plan — replete with never-ending mind games — to methodically take him and USC down, peg-by-peg.
And he executed it, pretty much to perfection.
Fast forward to November 2021.
November 27, 2021, to be precise.
Harbaugh’s litany of great football successes aside, his back was against the wall.
Michigan, 0–5 vs. Ohio State under his watch???
Can’t have it.
Not in Ann Arbor.
More revered and accomplished coaches have been given the gate, for much less.
And you can’t count on your lineage — your pedigree — to bail you out, either.
It took ten years, two coaches and five rushing touchdowns from Hassan Haskins to get Michigan over the hump, as the Wolverines blasted then-#2 Ohio State 42–27, before the 111,156 Big House faithful in Ann Arbor.
It was the largest crowd ever to watch a football game in that storied venue.
And it was Harbaugh’s first win against Ohio State since he assumed the Michigan coaching reins in 2015 — Michigan’s first win over the Buckeyes since 2011, and only their fourth since 2000.
Michigan — now ranked #2 — will meet #13 Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday (December 4) in Indianapolis.
This will be Michigan’s first Big Ten Championship appearance, if you can believe it.
The school with the second-most wins in college football history — 949 to Alabama’s 954 — has never played for a Big Ten title in the championship game era.
So, it’s bigger than big, with enormous ‘Final Four’ postseason ramifications for the Wolverines.
And staged in Indianapolis, no less, where the coach has fond memories of his NFL playing days.
Rest assured; Jim Harbaugh will be ready.
He aced his previous test.
And it was about time.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in December 2021.]