Earlier this month, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh offered a proposal that would reform college football, liberate student-athletes, and give players across the country the freedom to enter the NFL draft at any point while in school.
Presenting his plan in a letter that his public relations staff disseminated to various media outlets, he yearned to be taken seriously.
As the coach at one of the nation’s most recognized programs, Harbaugh sees himself as an influencer who can use his prominent post and name recognition to generate support for the ideas he espouses.
His advocacy of the one-time transfer rule is an example. So was his suggestion made in November of an expanded playoff bracket that would feature 11 teams.
But then Harbaugh gets in his own way and undermines his credibility by taking a detour away from reality.
He did so again Wednesday, when he told 247Sports.com that during his five-year tenure, Michigan has been “about as close as you can possibly be” to winning a national championship.
Never mind that his teams have never claimed a Big Ten title, finished atop the division, lost fewer than three games in a season, or beaten Ohio State, their fiercest rival.
In the eyes of Harbaugh, they have been right there, an arm’s length from grabbing the trophy bestowed on the sport’s best college team.
It’s uncertain how he came to that conclusion.
The highest the Wolverines have ever climbed in the College Football Playoff rankings is third, and they’ve never been among the top four teamspast the final week of the regular season.
Harbaugh could try to point to the excruciating overtime loss to the Buckeyes in 2016 as evidence that Michigan had a national title in sight.
But to make that leap, he and everyone else would have to ignore that Clemson held Ohio State scoreless in a 31-point victory in the semifinal before beating Alabama in the final second to claim the championship.
In many ways, that is easier to do than acknowledging the inconvenient truths that surround his program, which Harbaugh has been reluctant to do over the years.
Last fall, he was asked about Michigan’s poor track record during his tenure of developing quarterbacks who were recruited out of high school.
Instead of offering an explanation, Harbaugh responded: “I’d rather not toot my own horn.”
Days later, Harbaugh made another curious remark when he declared that his team’s offense was “hitting its stride” after scoring just 10 points and averaging 4.5 yards per play in a win over Iowa.
The reality of the moment didn’t fit the narrative he was trying to spin.
It was par for the course for a coach who has had a habit of overselling and underdelivering, just as he did when he declared in July he’d pick Michigan to win the Big Ten — before watching the Wolverines finish third in their division.
But wouldn’t it be nice if Harbaugh accepted the truth instead of trying to distort it so it would be more palatable for his legion of followers?
The fact is Michigan has been good, but not quite elite, under his leadership.
Harbaugh has elevated the program far beyond where it was during the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke eras. His .723 winning percentage is evidence of that.
But he hasn’t sniffed a national championship, contrary to what he believes.
That is sheer delusion.
Since his arrival before the 2015 season, Michigan has never finished higher than 10th in the AP poll.
The gap between the best of the best and the Wolverines is sizable. Harbaugh needs to recognize that instead of dabbling in fantasy.
Otherwise, the chasm will remain and Michigan won’t be able to rise above the status quo, further weakening his credibility in a sport where he still sees himself as an influencer.
The reality check addressed to Harbaugh is long overdue.
©2020 Detroit Free Press