Ask Gary: How will it end for Jim Harbaugh?

by Gary Shelton on September 8, 2018 · 10 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

For the first time since Jim Harbaugh returned to Michigan, he was getting questions before the season started about how he was going to improve his record against traditional rivals like Ohio State and Michigan State in addition to top-ranked opponents in general. Now that Michigan has lost to Notre Dame in the season opener, those questions and doubts are getting louder. He is getting paid like a top-tier coach but clearly the results show he is under-performing.

How do you think this plays out? Is Jim Harbaugh going to make the decision on his own to return to the NFL within the next couple of years or will he hang on until he wears out his welcome with the alumni and university?

Larry Beller

First of all, Larry, I have to tell you that I'm surprised. I saw how much better that Stanford was with Harbaugh, and how much better that the 49ers were. I think the guy's a good coach. But, no, he hasn't made a muscle at Michigan.

I don't know where the big boosters are aligned. Maybe Harbaugh gets another year or two. But he hasn't finished high in the Big 10, and a lot of alums who expected quick results are shaking their heads.

Here's how it ends. Harbaugh can always go back to the NFL. He can always land a job as a TV analyst. So if he continues to be pedestrian, it will leak out through an agent that he finds this job intriguing. Maybe that one. Michigan won't fight hard to keep him, and he'll go.

To their last breaths, Michigan officials will swear they were loyal to Harbaugh. Recruits will swear undying love. But when Harbaugh leaves, if his results aren't better, then everyone will breath a sigh of relief.

Again, it's a shame, because I think the guy really can coach. I don't know if a return to the college game has doomed him, or if he was too far behind with the talent, or Urban is a big enough snake to fend him off. But, right now, it doesn't look as if Harbaugh's last act will be a shower of confetti.

The loss to Notre Dame was devastating since Michigan is supposed to have a quarterback. Michigan will win games this year, but it's anyone's guess if they'll win a big game.

Robin Roberts of the Philadelphia Phillies pitched 300 or more innings for six consecutive seasons (1950-1955).  Now it is rare that MLB pitchers exceed 200 innings.  How come?

Scott Myers

I knew Robin. He was a great gentleman who walked me through a Hall of Fame exhibit at a local museum.

You know the answer, Scott. Pitchers were built for nine innings in Roberts' day. They're working hard to get through six these days. You remember my favorite stat of all time, right? In 1971, the Baltimore Orioles had four guys win 20 each. They had a combined 81 wins.

And 70 complete games. Seventy.

This year, the leader of the entire American League has two.

Roberts and his ilk were tough men. They didn't think relievers should sweat on their days. The game was theirs to start and theirs to finish.

Bob Feller had three years of more than 300 innings pitched, and he missed three years with military service. Don Drysdale had four straight seasons of more than 300 innings pitched. And they were slackers. Wilbur Wood, in 1972, threw 376.2  innings. A year earlier, Mickey Lolich pitched 376 innings for the Tigers.

Steve Carlton threw 304 innings for the Phillies in 1980.

Around the turn of the century, a guy named Ed Walsh had two straight seasons of more than 400 innings. Think about that. For two years, he threw 886.1 innings. Earlier than that, Big Hoss Radbourn once threw 678.1 innings in a season.

The guys you grew up watching hit 300 innings regularly. Koufax. Marichal. McLain. Ford. Niekro. Cuellar. Tiant.

Of course, that was before baseball fell in love with matchups, and set-up men, and analytics. That was before pitchers were making 30 million dollars a year, which makes them as much of business asset as an athlete. That was before five-man rotations.

Last year, Chris Sale led the American League with innings pitched. He had 207.2. It won't be long before someone leads with less than 200 innings.

The new helmet rules in the NFL look to be clear as mud. I feel sorry for the officials who have to determine if a player "lowers his head" or has "clearly avoidable contact" resulting in disqualification. How do you see these rules affecting the game this year? Maybe NFL stands for Not For Long in regards to whether they are enforced.

Barry McDowell

That's the thing, Barry. I think officials were strict during preseason, and they may be strict in the early part of the season. But after a while, I think football will be football again, and only a flagrant helmet-to-helmet will be called.

I really don't think we'll see substantive changes. I just think the NFL can now beat its chest about how diligent it is being toward player safety.

Meanwhile, can anyone figure out what a completed pass is? Or defensive interference. Or holding? There are too many penalties that are "eye of the beholder" these days.

I believe the NFL overthinks officiating. “What is a catch?” is a good example. For now, I’ll ask about saving time during the games.

Take the mic off the head referees. Have them signal the penalty to the TV cameras, and give them a headset to tell the PA and the broadcast booth the details. They, in turn, can announce it to us (I’m sure they’ll love to show us the replay). There’s time wasted while we wait for the ref to talk to the camera.

To put it in perspective, (1) the head referee gets more TV exposure than some star players, and (2) the head ref is “silent” during exciting plays such as TDs, then speaks on boring and wasted plays such as penalties.

Do you think Bill Polian, Tony Dungy, or the other smart guys the NFL listens to, talk about this?

-- Carlos Ubinas

Sure they do. These days, every aspect of officiating is discussed time and again, by Tony and Bill and every other analyst out there.

Tell you a story. I once covered a Miami-Dallas game that featured 14 replays called by the officials. Of those, 12 were to decide where to place the ball after a punt. Really? It's at the 22 or the 23. Be a man and make a call.

Yes, there are flaws with the officials' communication. I'm not talking about the time spent to get a call right. I'm talking about officials huddling and talking while the world waits ... and then the officials decide there is no call at all. Well, the official threw a flag. Was he guessing? Did he not see what happened before he called a penalty?

I agree that the referee spends enough time on TV to be voted an Emmy. And that's not why I watch. There is something to the flow of the game that I don't think the league gets.


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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard September 9, 2018 at 9:37 pm

If Michigan needs a new coach FSU has one for them.

Who is Samford anyway?


Gary Shelton September 10, 2018 at 8:14 am

A little school near Birmingham. Has Bowden roots. It’s a shame for FSU to go to the wire with that lot.


Larry September 8, 2018 at 8:42 am

Great answer to the Harbaugh question. I probably should have asked also why he has not been more successful at Michigan and do you think he ever will turn it around before time runs out?

I feel like you that he is a good coach and can’t understand what is going on there. His offensive and defensive schemes seem out dated and unimaginative. His teams don’t seem athletic enough overall although he does get some great individual talent. Just not enough. The hope this year was that he finally had a good QB and would put things together but that Notre Dame game was a gut punch and suggests otherwise. It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle to me.

One thing I’ve heard about Michigan over the years is that their academic standards are higher than most schools and they won’t take players who can’t cut in in the classroom or could become problems off the field. Being a Michigan fan I’m proud they don’t have those kinds of players but sadly, it may be a deterrent to building a successful football program these days. Urban Myer has proven he has no issues recruiting players who may be high risk individuals off the field as long as they can light it up on the field.

The chilling thought that has crossed my mind is if Jim Harbaugh, a Michigan man with proven success can’t turn it around there, who can?


Gary Shelton September 8, 2018 at 8:50 am

That’s your question. Where does Michigan shop next?

I think Michigan is a fine school, and I’m sure there are some athletes the school can’t get in. But Harbaugh won at Stanford. Those aren’t weak students, either. When you recruit from the top shelf, you should be able to win. There are other elite schools academically. I have friends who went to Notre Dame who will say the same (true or not). l

I like Harbaugh. He’s your grumpy uncle. But I wonder if he spends too much time being cute (satellite camps, overseas games) instead of just concentrating on winning.

I know this. I’ve been an Ann Arbor. You could recruit me there. That huge stadium (it wasn’t as loud as I would have thought)? You could recruit me there. They have enough histoy, enough facilities. They OUGHT to win. I thought Harbaugh was a great hire. I’m starting to rethink it.

I can understand if Ohio State is tough to get past. Ohio State has a lot of advantages, too. But Notre Dame? I don’t think Kelly could find a first-down marker with a team of bloodhounds.


Larry September 8, 2018 at 9:28 pm

Great point. If you get out coached by Kelly then you have issues. I think your first response is the best. Harbaugh needs to find another job and let someone new take on the challenge of getting Michigan back to winning Big Ten conference titles.


Gary Shelton September 9, 2018 at 9:17 am

Who do you hire?


Larry Beller September 10, 2018 at 7:11 am

That’s the problem isn’t it? Who do you hire? I don’t have the answer to that but I’m sure there is some bright coach out there that could handle the job. Penn State found one. A lot of other programs have too. If you have any ideas please submit them to the Michigan AD. He could use some help.

This is a tough time to be a coach at Michigan because the Big Ten is stronger overall than it ever has been. Urban Myer is the devil but he knows how to win and will do whatever it takes to be on top. MSU, Penn State, and others are very good. Michigan is becoming one of those places that has a glorious past but not so good future. A little bit like Florida.

Larry September 8, 2018 at 5:39 am

Thanks for that well reasoned answer about Jim Harbaugh. Clearly something is not working at Michigan and can’t continue much longer down this path. I, like everyone else, thought it would only be a matter of time before Harbaugh lead Michigan back to prominence but we are not seeing it.

Some have said Michigan’s academic standards get in the way. They don’t take players who light up the field on Saturday but have troubles off the field or who can’t cut it in the classroom. As a Michigan fan I like that but sadly it seems to be a handicap to building a winning program. We know Ohio State has no issues recruiting those types of players.

Harbaugh has proven he can coach and has been successful everywhere he has been but something is holding him back at Michigan. He seems out of date with his offensive and defensive schemes and his teams aren’t athletic enough. It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle as to why he is under-performing.

The season is still young so maybe the team will work out their problems and make some noise after all. It sure didn’t look promising against Notre Dame.


Gary Shelton September 8, 2018 at 8:59 am

No, I didn’t. I was surprised. I thought this would be the team where Harbaugh would start to make a difference.

There was a story online from that listed the top 25 schools in the country to get into. Michigan wasn’t on it. USC, Stanford, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Rice and Duke all were. Perhaps it was in error, but I wonder just how muhc of a disadvantage it is.


Gary Shelton September 10, 2018 at 8:13 am

Eras do pass. Minnesota was once a big deal. Texas, USC, Florida are all chasing yesterday.

One thing I often consider is “where would I go to school if I was a high-ranked offense.” I still would like Michigan.

You’re right. There is always a fresh new coach. I like the guy at Virginia Tech, for instance. I haven’t given up on Michigan, but I can’t blame someone who does.


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