ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh certainly appears to have more control of his football program.
A much stronger hold, if nothing else.
Given the circumstances, he should feel more at ease — right?
Na, not really. Not him.
Having another year of experience doesn’t necessarily mean that preparation, organization or logistics have been any “easier” or “less tedious” for the second-year Wolverines coach. Remember, words such as “comfortable,” “content” or, in some rare cases, even “pleased,” aren’t part of Harbaugh’s common vocabulary.
“Well, I don’t know if any of those words really come to mind when describing what it is,” Harbaugh said on Sunday during the team’s annual media day at the Junge Center. “I think when you’re doing something for the second time, there are advantages to that. Everything that we’re doing as a football program, with the exception of the new players coming into the game, we’re doing for a second time — so there is an advantage there.”
That’s about as far as Harbaugh will go with that one. Of course, having roughly 18 months at the helm helps expedite the process for anyone in any career. The day-to-day stuff probably doesn’t seem as time-consuming as before — if he ever felt that way in the first place — and yeah, the ship seems to be running more smoothly heading into the first week of camp.
Of course Harbaugh has a better handle. Call it the calm before the storm.
Look around — he has one of the nation’s best defenses ready to lead the way. What coach wouldn’t want a should-be dominant defense at this stage of the game? He doesn’t have to mold or shape; it’s already there, at his disposal, waiting to duplicate or surpass what had been done in 2015.
That said, Michigan returns a major threat — led by a monstrous front four — that ranked No. 3 overall in 2015, one that shut out three straight opponents from Sept. 26 to Oct. 10 (BYU, Maryland and Northwestern). Following its season-opening loss to Utah, Michigan gave up 14 points in the next five games.
Let’s not forget that kicker (now kicker/punter) Kenny Allen outscored opponents during that stretch. Opposing teams couldn’t get into the red zone, let alone the end zone. Despite late hiccups, the Wolverines left zero doubt regarding their potential.
Look at the polls and predictions. They’re not based on Michigan’s offense, that’s for certain. People are banking on another “try me” type of defense this season.
We’re talking about the same defense that held Florida to one touchdown in a 41-7 Citrus Bowl romp in Orlando. We’re talking about a defense that suffered regular, not Earth-shattering, losses due to graduation and the NFL Draft or free agency; a defense that also has sure-to-be star Rashan Gary joining the defensive line.
On top of that, Harbaugh also added defensive coordinator Don Brown to the puzzle. In 2015, Brown — formerly of Boston College — directed the No. 1-ranked defense in the land, making him a must-get for Harbaugh. This wasn’t a chance hiring; Harbaugh sought the best coordinator available — a beyond-calculated move to replace another masterful X-and-O guy: D.J. Durkin, the new head coach at Maryland.
Jourdan Lewis, an All-American defensive back (maybe wide receiver?); Jabrill Peppers, a not-human do-it-all force; Chris Wormley, one of the fiercest pass-rushers in the game — do those guys sound familiar? Some teams would love to have just one of them. Harbaugh has all of them.
He should be comfortable, really comfortable — especially with his defense.
He won’t say so… but he will say that he’s eager to see everything put itself together. He has no problem admitting that much.
“We’re very excited about our coach’s track record — Don Brown, Greg Mattison (defensive line), Chris Partridge (linebackers), Brian Smith (defensive backs), Michael Zordich (defensive backs), just to name those coaches… it’s been outstanding,” Harbaugh said. “And everybody has great confidence in our defensive staff.
“Players and other coaches feel like it’s coming — feel like it’s [defense/front four] coming and has the chance to do something really good… we can’t wait to get out on the field and compete and watch the guys have at it.”
Be on the lookout for more Michigan media day coverage throughout the week