Harbaugh Epiphany – Overview of Program Status
Revisiting Program Status and Initial Discussion of Preference Theory
Many have quipped that it is hard to fully grasp the actions, words, and program development of Coach Jim Harbaugh. To a large degree, Coach is a little more difficult to read than the average person going about their work and daily life. There are times that what he states and does seems puzzling and complex, and then there are times that what he states is as pointed and direct as a spear. Coach Harbaugh is simply more complex than the average person. To understand why, read on.
Two theoretical models of looking at Coach Harbaugh and the recent evolution of the program will be detailed and explained. They are (1) Myers-Briggs type theory (M-B) based on the work of Carl Jung, and (2) Stephen Peppers’ worldview preferences. Of the two, the belief here is that Pepper’s theory offers the most accurate window of insight. Beforehand will be a first section revisiting program status lending to setting a solid preliminary foundation for linking program problems, preference, and decisions.
Section 1-Statement of the Problem-Revisiting Program Status
The Michigan program suffered tough losses, untimely injuries, critical turnovers, and a deflation of public efficacy/respect. The explanations offered by outsiders are numerous, including (1) insufficient recruiting of top-tier talent, (2) ineffective scheme, (3) insufficient coaching ability, (4) program leadership and direction, and (5) infighting.
Like most programs, the internal bad laundry will not be subject to much public view or intense explanation. Instead, lately, much as a result of Sam Webb’s staff interviews small tidbits has been offered for readers to make inferences of past problems and future direction. The inferences, if correct, are useful for observers to explain, and potentially useful for staff to foster new direction. What matters far more is program improvement, whatever the chosen philosophy and implementation strategies. Parts matter, go recruit: scheme matters; work hard and improve it; coaching matters, and here Michigan is in good shape. Leadership, good parts, smart scheme, crucial play calling victories, and cohesiveness will be the tools to dig out of the rut. Some improved physical status allowing the team to play four quarters without let down would be helpful as well.
The Harbaugh model of the tight end and fullback combos has been chastised as caveman-like and many in the base have called for a transition to more spread, passing, and flavor of the month offense. This may be a faulty underlying assumption.
With the right combo of power linemen, effective tight ends, a group of capable backs that grind and move the chain, and a quarterback that can transform scheme into production, the Harbaugh model would be effective and lauded by others. Indeed this did happen not so long ago. Overpowering an opponent is more parts-oriented than science.
Harbaugh is a parts and machine guy. Without an above average line and strong quarterback play, his offensive preferences are in trouble. Turnovers slow down some offenses. With a power team, turnovers equal a great waste of effort and limited opportunity. Most offensive schemes fail and coaches look dumb with inferior parts and mistakes. Play calling is called into question, but little may work with an offense suffering the above liabilities.
There are offensive schemes that attempt to circumvent talent liabilities, Phillip Rivers at North Carolina comes to mind. Deficiencies when playing a superior parts team was a primary reason for some early spread like offenses that attempted to negate power with speed. Small, quick slots, quick release quarterbacks, and basketball on grass became a phase. Today’s top tier teams have parts, have coaching, have power, and have speed; that is why such teams are on top.
The parts are really not there for a massive Michigan reinvention that would yield instant get to the playoff this year type of results. Taking this team and creating, say an air raid/ spread attack like described above is not an option, unless the decision is made to blow up the offense. The philosophical will to execute a 180 degree change is likely not present or palatable. And in honesty such drastic, knee-jerk, reactive measure is not needed.
Still, clearly the parts are there for a workable, specific, and precise transformation that aims to correct weaknesses in scheme structure and execution: read this as tinkering and undergoing logical retooling that uses what is present and what will be recruited in the future. Settle in on the mechanism, get a quarterback up to snuff, and make the long awaited call for offensive line improvement a reality.
Coach Pep Hamilton has to be as frustrated as any living human regarding the offensive unit shortcomings of 2017. The talk before the season was quick quarterback release, more use of the slot, and incorporating some west coast flavor via Hamilton’s pro experience. By and large, little of that came to fruition. Why so is again a mixed bag of mumbo, one that now is in the past must be remembered to improve the future.
Coach Harbaugh, ever the Mechanist who values parts, has made coaching hires he believes will enhance the retooling effort. When a Mechanist has a machine breaks down, parts are replaced. When the machine functioning at a high level, the status quo is the preferred choice. His stated public comments evoking self-evaluation and collaboration as processes to retool are somewhat surprising but on target.
The ultimate question remains how Coach Harbaugh will address offensive scheme. He could give the public lip service and keep his current model intact. That option seems unlikely as he and other offensive coaches have detailed self-evaluation and collaboration to produce improvements. Coach has settled in with basic processes. While the venture may not be successful, it certainly has been undertaken.
Harbaugh has hired coaches he believes can secure and machine the parts to accelerate development and results. Initially the venture looks successful, solid coaching choices with a good mix now in place. One can infer from the timeline, comments, and approach to staff building this past January, that (1) there was most likely at least a plan for staff and program change even before the bowl game, and (2) Coach Harbaugh spent energy and time covering for his staff hunting new assignments.
Coach Washington is young, energetic, in the Michigan mold that Harbaugh values, and seeks success. His new status as a Michigan coach should play well in recruiting. He will work hard to meld with Coach Brown, who should be a very welcome mentor to Coach Washington. All indications lead to future success.
Now when it comes to new tight ends coach, Sherrone Moore, pretty much the same description can be applied as with Coach Washington. He has a short amount of experience but all past sources state he has the work ethic and skills to be successful. Sherrone was a lineman at Oklahoma, spent several years as a tight end coach at Louisville and Central Michigan. Coach Moore was also recruiting coordinator at Central Michigan.
So, with the new up and comers in place, and the decision of Chris Partridge to stay on board, the mission of securing energy and youthful guys that can recruit and coach hard was accomplished. The newbies will hear negatives on the recruiting trail and will need to have persistence and a strong message to place Michigan back in the top tier recruiting schools. These guys have seen the difficulty of recruiting against big timers in places like Cincinnati and Western and will now approach the recruiting craft from a position of strength.
Coach Harbaugh now needed to address the offense and its structure. Coach Pep has been discussed and is here. All the drama, the Enos’ reversal, must be forgotten, there is work, plenty of work ahead. By his nature, and by his involvement in the offense, Coach Harbaugh is joined at the hip with Coach Pep. Any concerns he has toward Pep must also be directed at himself, perhaps even more so.
So, having himself in place and having Pep in place, Coach Harbaugh turned to clear areas of need; the offensive line, tight ends, and receivers.
Coach Warinner has a clear and undisputed history of developing offensive linemen. Those in the woe is us crowd complain Coach Warinner’s history also indicates he is not a stand on his head circus type of pure charismatic recruiter. What matters is that somehow Michigan recruits high level linemen and Coach Warinner and others develop the talent.
Coach Jim McElwain had some difficulties at Florida, to this observer in large part because of injuries to key offensive personnel including at quarterback, where he never found the chosen one to lead the assent, somewhat like Michigan. Coach Mac has seen the block, many blocks, as such he is valuable as not only good coaching but also brainstorming. Mac was offensive coordinator at Alabama. Mac has served as a quarterback coach (which he played in college), a wide receiver coach, offensive coordinator, a very successful special teams coach, and a head coach at several schools. His offenses, sans Florida, have been productive.
Mac’s role at Michigan will be to develop a nice, young wideout group and help with game planning. Both areas are in need of major improvement. Mac holds a large chunk of pocket change from Florida. So, he could come in without a ton of pressure and simply enjoy a renewal from hard teaching and coaching, a sort of mid-life revival. Mac will have the luxury of being supported by Roy Roundtree, a class guy who is being provided a nice opportunity for professional growth.