Jim Harbaugh’s reputation takes a big hit with a big loss

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When he became the head coach of the 49ers in 2011, Jim Harbaugh quickly solidified his reputation as one of the best coaches in football. He took a team that had missed the playoffs eight years in a row and had them in the NFC Championship Game his first year, the Super Bowl his second year and the NFC Championship Game again his third year. Although his fourth year wasn’t as successful and he walked away to coach Michigan, he left the NFL with his reputation intact.

Today his reputation has taken a big hit.

Harbaugh’s favored and No. 4 ranked Michigan team suffered an ugly 62-39 loss to Ohio State today, dropping Harbaugh to 0-4 against his bitter rival. And the way Harbaugh lost raises questions about whether he’s ever going to change with the times.

From the first drives of the game, when Ohio State marched down the field with ease against Michigan’s defense, while Michigan’s offense looked out of sorts and had to waste an early timeout, Harbaugh’s players looked ill-prepared. If there was ever a game when Harbaugh should have had his team ready, this game — a huge rivalry with a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game and likely a trip to the College Football Playoff on the line — should have been it.

But this wasn’t it. Harbaugh’s defense was burned by Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins over and over and over again. Haskins, who looks like a first-round draft pick, didn’t do anything fancy. He just dropped back, scanned the field and found someone open, usually over the middle on a crossing pattern, over and over and over again.

Michigan’s offense, although it did put 39 points on the board, looked a step slow all day. Harbaugh promised when he took the Michigan job that he’d use fullbacks and tight ends, like his Michigan coach Bo Schembechler had. But the reality is, Harbaugh needs to innovate, not to run an offense like Schembechler’s, which was considered old-school even when Harbaugh was Michigan’s quarterback in the 1980s.

Ohio State suffered one loss this season, to Purdue. In that game, the Buckeyes had no answer for the innovative offense run by Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm. Watch how Brohm’s Purdue offense played Ohio State, then watch how Harbaugh’s Michigan offense played Ohio State, and you’ll see the difference between being innovative enough to win and being arrogant enough to think you don’t have to innovate to win.

And that raises questions about where Harbaugh’s future lies. He has just finished the season 10-2 and will go to a good bowl game. His job is safe at Michigan. But there’s been some talk that Harbaugh wants to return to the NFL some day, that his Super Bowl loss with the 49ers still eats at him and he wants another chance at standing atop the football world. The football world, however, is being taken over by young and innovative coaches like Sean McVay and Matt Nagy, and older coaches who are willing to keep innovating, like Sean Payton and Andy Reid. Is Harbaugh willing to innovate?

If he’s not, he won’t end up on top, either at Michigan or in the NFL.

88 responses to “Jim Harbaugh’s reputation takes a big hit with a big loss

  1. Harbaugh’s reputation is exactly the same for me as it’s always been. He parlayed Andrew luck into a niners job. Then those players he inherited he parlayed into a dumpster fire and he’ll leave michigan just like the niners. Almost good and about to fall off the cliff. Never won anything. Name a championship he’s won? Anybody

  2. OSU is stacked with way better players than Michigan, especially QB. They should have destroyed them.

  3. I am an Ohio State fan, but I think it is unfair to label coaches like Jim Harbaugh and others as “arrogant” or having the game passed them by because they believe in running an offense a certain way. Football always has been, and still is today, about blocking and tackling. The NFL and college football have made it nearly impossible for any defense to compete against any offense due to lopsided rules changes. Michigan lost today because its talent wasn’t as good or as deep as Ohio State’s, not because Jim Harbaugh suddenly doesn’t know how to coach football. If I had a son good enough to play, I would have no problem sending him to Michigan to have Coach Harbaugh teach him about football and other life matters, because he is an excellent football coach, who, though a bit quirky personally, has never embarassed himself or the institutions or organizations he has represented with scandal. He will continue to due himself, his family, and Michigan proud.

  4. It’s not the NFL , it’s overpaid college football coach’s that get the cream of the crop athletes,,so I don’t care !

  5. I saw the game. There were two 10-1 teams. One has a great QB, the other has a lousy QB. Surprise!!! The team with the great QB won. Switch the two QB’s and Michigan wins. It’s that simple. It may be a boring summary, but it’s what happened. In fact, now that I see the kind of talent Michigan lacks, it actually makes me think more highly of Harbaugh and the job he’s done.

  6. How does his reputation take a hit? It just depends on your perspective. To me, he has turned around every single program he has lead. Every. One. Of. Them!! Michigan hadn’t won 10 games in a bazillion years

  7. That ess a tough loss for the maize n blue but we take our lumps. They continously gave up big yards due to grabbing wrs and causing pass interference. Still it seemed the players decided 10 wins was good and today was an off day.
    While the win was ugly, I still don’t see his reputation taking the big hit you do.

  8. Harbaugh’s reputation didn’t take a hit as much as it solidified on one core principle — he can’t win the big game. As an NFL quarterback, an NFL coach, and NFL coach, Jim always manages come up just short in the biggest games. Have no explanation why — but the pattern is unmistakable.

  9. harbaugh’s reputation took hits when he:

    – picked his nose and ate boogers on camera (SEE: YouTube)
    – went 0 wins – 4 losses vs. THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
    – went 29 wins – 21 losses at Stanford
    – immediately began wearing retro Woody Hayes glasses when hired by michigan
    – whining and crying like a spoiled little child
    – born in OHIO and went to michigan

  10. Couldn’t agree more with this article watching this game mental mistakes and lack of urgency did Michigan and Harbaugh in. Old school ground and pound will not beat a team like OSU. The days of Hayes and Bo are gone you have to be innovative and up tempo to beat schianos scheme and Days offense. Urban Meyer proved again today why Michigan can’t hang with the big boys of College

  11. sojournofred says:
    November 24, 2018 at 4:53 pm
    He did win an NFC Championship. That’s not exactly an easy thing to do.


    Hmm. And here I thot it was because of Kap’s brilliance.

  12. Ohio State clearly had the better team. I don’t know what this has to do with the NFL but Ohio State has more talent regardless of who was favored

  13. Harbaugh was the only reason anyone knew Kapernick in the beginning. He made him relevant, then once his terrible QB play caught up with him, his kneeling kept him relevant.

  14. I am sad OSU won. Not because I dislike OSU. I think their coach is a despicable human being who should have been fired before the season.

  15. Harbaugh is what he is at this point – not an “x’s and o’s” guy, but rather a hard nosed motivator that players will love while they’re winning but grow tired of when they’re not. At both levels, he surrounded himself with well qualified assistants who installed their system. I don’t expect this to change much.

  16. .
    Obviously Ohio State was playing with a small ball. It’s time to launch a major NCAA investigation. Ted Wells could get the results overturned.

  17. @doctorrustbelt – and the Bengals drafted Lewis Billups, Odell Thurman and Chris Henry. What’s your point?

  18. Jim’s “3 yards and a cloud of dust” game was fine back in the 50’s and 60’s, but it can’t win championships today. We’re 10 and 2… good year overall… but Harbaugh’s style of “pound it up the middle twice and then throw it” is never going to win anything big in this era. Wonder if we could keep Brown as DC and hire Lincoln Riley or his OC….

  19. Not only do I think Harbaugh is a mediocre-to-lousy non-innovative coach

    He’s half nuts as well. I’d never hire the guy.

  20. number1hawkfan says:
    November 24, 2018 at 4:33 pm
    Harbaugh’s reputation is exactly the same for me as it’s always been. He parlayed Andrew luck into a niners job.

    You mispronounced Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart.

  21. Will Mike Baxter of “Last Man Standing” have anything to say about his UM Wolverines loss to his wife’s OSU Buckeyes?

  22. For all the people excusing Harbaugh because of the talent disparity – Harbaugh has exclusive control over the talent he brings in!! The level of talent on his team is totally his responsibility.

    Recruiting is the most important task for a college coach. If Harbaugh cannot out-recruit Ohio State he is failing at his job.

  23. He is lucky. If winning the big game was important to Michigan, he would probably be out of a job.

  24. Too many college football games are lopsided matchups. Only a small fraction of the games are interesting to watch. Not sure that 10-1, 10-2 is even good when playing so many over-matched teams.

    Let’s just vote on the champion, and get ready for the NFL stretch run.

  25. Dwayne Haskins realllllly helped his draft stock rise up draft boards today tearing thru the nations #1 ranked pass defense like he did. Still, Haskins likely would of been the 5th highest QB of the board in last years draft though behind Mayfield , Rosen, Darnold and Allen but going ahead of Jackson. Still though, he has a good chance of becoming a mid 1st round pick after today if he declares.

  26. If the Cowboys were to hire Jim i would be a happy camper, yes he is arrogant, yes he has never won any championships but the guy is a damn good coach, he is organized, smart and creative………come on Jerry, offer him the job asap.

  27. I don’t get why some people talk up the Ohio State – Michigan “rivalry” because it’s not one anymore. Ohio State has won 17 of the last 19 games. Michigan hasn’t won a game in Columbus since 2000 – in that same stretch Ohio State has won 7 games in Ann Arbor, including the last 4. Ohio State is 14-1 in the last 15!

  28. Anybody with even half a working brain can see that Harbaugh is a top coach that gets the most out of whatever talent he has. Which in this case, isn’t much at the QB position.

  29. doctorrustbelt says:
    November 24, 2018 at 4:47 pm
    harbaugh’s reputation took hits when he:

    – picked his nose and ate boogers on camera (SEE: YouTube)
    – went 0 wins – 4 losses vs. THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
    – went 29 wins – 21 losses at Stanford
    – immediately began wearing retro Woody Hayes glasses when hired by michigan
    – whining and crying like a spoiled little child
    – born in OHIO and went to michigan


    I have not stake in either school or state, but man would it suck living in Ohio, no real beaches, no mountains to look at, garbage pro sports teams minus the Indians some times.

  30. Those coaches you mention in the NFL have not been or won a SB..Has nothing to do about new schemes..Look at Tom Brady and NE,as old school as you can get even with Josh.

  31. Everyone harps on Michigan talent at QB. That’s on Harbaugh.

    From the 2016 Class, he has the #1 QB recruit(Shea Patterson) and for good measure the #6 QB that year, Brandon Peters. Neither one has had much of a performance the last 2 seasons against the Buckeyes.

    Urban Meyer is stuck with just the #8 QB from that year(Haskins)and has done pretty good the last 2 Michigan games.

    Either he’s recruiting the wrong players or can’t develop them. Wonder if Patterson wishes he stayed at Ole Miss?

  32. Its college football. One game isnt going to do anything to Harbaugh’s reputation. If nothing else, his success will help get top players into the program there. Look at Alabama. They snag all the top talent. Their 3rd string guys could start in most programs.

  33. Anyone saying Michigan doesn’t have the same level of talent as OSU is wrong. Harbaugh has had a top 5 recruiting class every year he’s been at Michigan. He simply isn’t a good enough coach to translate that into victories in the big games. Also he’s a world class jerk so it’s always fun to see him lose

  34. Haskins, who looks like a first-round draft pick,


    Not. Even. Close. 7th round project at best.

  35. Harbaugh’s reputation doesn’t take the hit. He’s coaching very young men, for crying out loud. And as well know, young men and women do what they sometimes do — fail to live up to their reputations.
    If Harbaugh decided to leave Michigan tomorrow and return to the NFL, there’d be a dozen teams wanting to hire him. Same thing goes for other universities.

  36. Cleveland. A match made in heaven…or maybe hell. But can you imagine with the current talent the Browns do have, with their salary cap situation being one of the best in the league, and a nice cache of draft picks over the next couple years…can you imagine what Harbaugh could do?

    Seriously this might be the one coach I have a sports hatred for more than any other. But if I were the guy hiring in Cleveland this might just be the guy I go after, knowing that 5 years down the road I’ll likely have to replace him. Not because of his coaching, but because of his abrasive personality. But until then, considering where the Browns organization sits today, he might just be THE ideal candidate to bring a Lombardi to the city of Cleveland.

  37. Ohio State has more talent and it’s not close. They haven’t been a very well coached team this year. It takes a bit to build a roster in college. I don’t think Harbaugh stays at Michigan very long, but I do think he’s a good coach.

  38. “that gets the most out of whatever talent he has”

    You’re acting like he’s a victim of circumstance. He’s been there for four years now. That talent has all been handpicked by him. He is HC and GM.

  39. I think it’s laughable to compare recruits. Harbaugh did not come to Michigan with a recruiting machine like Meyer. It takes time, but Harbaugh has established a foundation. Michigan is not a great team. OSU has talent, but they are very capable of laying an egg.

  40. I would more likely think the author of this article may have lost his reputation. I watched this game being neither a OSU or Michigan fan and what i saw was 2 one loss teams and OSU playing their game of the year. This OSU team lost by 29 to and unranked Purdue that just became Bowl eligible today and only beat an at the time hapless Nebraska by 5. I think Jim will be fine.

  41. 8-8 out of the 2014 49ers was a crap season. Everyone knew that it was over and they were falling apart even if Harbaugh stayed. He bet it all on Discount Bin Red #7 and the franchise fell to pieces.

    Harbaugh almost won with Singletary’s players like Switzer won with Johnson’s players.
    At least Switzer and Jerrah brought in Deion Sanders instead of adding Kaep.

    Harbaugh’s 4 years of draft picks were abysmal. The only one who excelled at the NFL level was Aldon Smith and he was done after 2 years due to drugs and crime.

  42. Ohio State has had Michigan’s number for awhile now. Plus Ohio State probably has the best pure QB they’ve ever had. You need a qb to win plain and simple.

  43. Jim harbaugh is a good coach that lost to a well oiled machine. Let’s see Sean McVay at least reach the Super Bowl before we start saying he is the best coach..

  44. While some improvement is noted this season, Michigan fans keep wondering how a program that was so good for so many years finds itself 0 and 7 against Ohio State for the last seven. So much for any kind of meaningful rivalry with Ohio State.

  45. First meeting
    October 16, 1897
    Michigan 34, Ohio State 0
    Latest meeting
    November 24, 2018
    Ohio State 62 Michigan 39
    Meetings total
    All-time series
    Michigan leads, 58–50–6[n 1]
    Largest victory
    Michigan 86, Ohio State 0 (1902)
    Longest win streak
    Michigan, 9 (1901–1909)
    Current win streak
    Ohio State, 7 (2012–present)

  46. Sooner or later the “Ohio State has more talent” argument has got to be Harbaugh’s fault. This was his 4th season, he should have HIS players at this point. A retired QB can’t recruit a solid QB and has to rely on grad transfers, while Ohio State seems to have 2 above average college QBs on the roster at all times. That is HIS problem, not Ohio State’s. Maybe, because of this, they should send him back to the NFL (please, not for my Browns). I would hate to see him leave…as I love watching my Buckeyes make him mad in late November every year!!!
    O – H

  47. Whatever happened to playing defense? Tackling? Rule changes to protect players are changing game. Scoring is fun but look at the scores we are seeing each week. Different game.

  48. Harbaugh got out coached badly in this game! If you have watched Ohio state at all this year, you would realize that they struggled with the spread offense and they struggle when Haskins was under any kind of pressure. Michigan did nothing in either area to hit the buckeyes weaknesses. It’s the coaches job to Find these weaknesses and exploit them and he did not. The big ten is weak which is why they have ten wins. They lost against their only true opponents this year. It is time for them to move on to a new coach who can get the most out of their team.

  49. 1) he is one of the only coaches have in recent history that’s been able to have a high level of success in both college and the pros.

    2) He is better at his job then you are at yours

    3) He does not care what you or anybody else thinks.

  50. The problem with Michigan is that theyve been overrated all year. they beat up on weak teams like Nebraska and Wisconsin and fold whenever theyre faced against any real competition. There is no way they ever should have been ranked 4th in the nation. The media slobbers over them because they have “top recruits” like Gary and Bush who will likely flame out in the NFL because they are slow on the field and injury prone. And Im a Michigan fan

  51. Usually Right says:
    November 25, 2018 at 9:30 am
    1) he is one of the only coaches have in recent history that’s been able to have a high level of success in both college and the pros.

    2) He is better at his job then you are at yours

    3) He does not care what you or anybody else thinks.

    High level of success at MI? His record, particularly on the road, against highly ranked teams and against Ohio State is suspect at best.

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