There are more accomplished coaches in college football - though the list is short - but no one has found the spotlight like Michigan's Jim Harbaugh.
The head Michigan Man wins at every level, going 29-6 at FCS San Diego and then turning Stanford into a Pac-12 power and constant presence in the BCS bowl discussion. He took the San Francisco 49ers to two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl in four seasons, and in his first year at his alma mater, Michigan went from 5-7 to 10-3. He may not have the national titles of Nick Saban or Urban Meyer, but if he stays in Ann Arbor long enough, it is hard to imagine that he won't have the opportunity.
Harbaugh's significance extends far beyond the football field, however. No one sends shock waves through the college football world with one tweet like him. On Tuesday night, he proved it with a largely unfair and undeniably entertaining shot across Saban's bow, after the Alabama head coach went on a tangent against Harbaugh's beloved satellite camps during a press conference. I feel very safe in saying that no other coach would go at Saban the way that Harbaugh did.
">June 1, 2016
Jim Harbaugh is a proven winner, he is helping to restore one of the sport's great programs, and he's not afraid to make some news, especially during college football's long off-season. Whether you love him or hate him, college football fans should hope that Harbaugh sticks around for a long time.Here are five reasons why Harbaugh is great for college football.Next: Restore the Rivalry >>>College Football Is Better With A Good Michigan-Ohio State RivalryHarbaugh accomplished a lot in year one at Michigan. Bridging the gap with Ohio State, which was coming off of a national championship, wasn't exactly one of those accomplishments. While Michigan was very competitive in a week one loss to Utah, and lost on a freak play to Michigan State, the Buckeyes absolutely torched the Wolverines 42-13. It was Michigan's fourth straight loss in The Game, and the worst since 2010. Luckily for Michigan fans, Ezekiel Elliott is gone. We'll have to wait and see if Michigan can knock off the Buckeyes in 2016, but with Harbaugh jump-starting UM recruiting, the talent gap should close over the next few years. While Ohio State fans would probably love their streak of dominance to continue, rivalries are the bedrock of the sport, and rivalries are always better when they are competitive. Harbaugh should get Michigan there in short order.Next: He Improves The B1G >>>An Improved Big Ten Brings Balance To The College Football LandscapeUntil further notice, the SEC is the best conference in college football. While not quite at the level that it was when it won seven straight national championships from 2006-2012, the SEC is still the deepest league, and has been incredibly competitive for years now. With recent national championships for Florida State and Ohio State, the power in college football has spread out a bit, and a good Michigan team helps that cause.
">November 9, 2014
Ohio State has been rolling under Urban Meyer, and Mark Dantonio has turned Michigan State into a power. Wisconsin is consistently solid out of the West and Iowa surprised with a big 2015. Within the conference, however, only Ohio State moves the needle the way Michigan does.
The Big Ten does not necessarily need to catch the SEC, but having good college football across the country makes the entire product better. Rather than all of the focus being on the Southeast, the sport is healthiest when fans in the North and Midwest and on the West Coast are all engaged at the same time. Michigan being a quality team on the field helps the Big Ten immensely, but Harbaugh's status as a news maker is also incredibly important.
No Matter What Time Of Year It Is, Jim Harbaugh Makes News
American sports have long been inherently seasonal, though the NFL has largely bucked that trend. Even outside of the September to February NFL season, the league has found a way to dominate conversation year-round, between the Draft, fantasy football, free agency, camps, and a number of other events. Even the release of the NFL schedule has turned into a huge day, as banal as it seems.
With recruiting and spring football, college football manages to extend itself a bit, but there are long stretches of dead time in the sport. We're in the heart of one right now, between the end of spring and the beginning of fall camps. That is why Harbaugh's tweet yesterday went so viral. Not only did it put two of the top five coaches in the sport at odds, but there really isn't a ton happening in June. Whether Harbaugh recognizes this or not, for two straight off-seasons, he' pushes buttons, raises issues that didn't exist before he took over in Ann Arbor, and gives us things to talk about. Before 2015, satellite camps were barely a blip on the average football fan's radar. In 2016, they are one of the most hotly-debated topic in the sport. If not for Harbaugh, his brash personality, and his willingness to toe the line on many college football issues, that never happens.
">@GregSankey responds to Jim Harbaugh https://t.co/ORKQttZmtu
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum)
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) June 1, 2016
">June 1, 2016
We're sure that many fans are sick of hearing about the camps, and Harbaugh altogether, but the NFL's dominance over American sports has a ton to do with its ability to take advantage of the 24-hour news cycle. College football doesn't quite do the same, but Harbaugh has helped keep it in the headlines for 12 months.
Jim Harbaugh Is A Proven Winner At The NFL Level, And Returned To College
Generally speaking, successful college coaches and NFL coaches have different skill sets. Many fantastic college coaches, Nick Saban included, have made the jump to the pros and have failed. Harbaugh is a major exception. After rebuilding the Stanford program, Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers were one of the final four teams standing in the NFL in each of his first three years. He failed to win a Super Bowl, but if he decided to return to the NFL this winter, he would be the top available coach on every single team's list.
">November 3, 2015
After the failures of Saban, Steve Spurrier, Butch Davis, Bobby Petrino, and many others, there is a stigma about great college coaches in the NFL. Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, who had previously struggled as a pro coach, have helped stem that a bit. The fact that Harbaugh had so much success, and appears prepared to stay in the college ranks for a while is great for the sport.
Harbaugh is as competitive as they come, and eventually he may want to go and try for a Super Bowl once again. When that day comes, college football fans should hope that Michigan does everything it can to keep him in Ann Arbor.
Intentional Or Not, Harbaugh Has Started Important Discussions About The Athletes
Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban can frame their arguments about satellite camps however they want. In reality, both are probably being very disingenuous. Jim Harbaugh wants to be able to go to talent-rich parts of the country, like the Southeast, and compete for recruits. Nick Saban and other coaches in the SEC want to maintain the fences that they've established around their territories. Both coaches are primarily concerned about their own abilities to recruit.
That being said, there is truth in the things that both have said as well. Saban is right that things like satellite camps bring third parties into the equations. Anyone who follows the issues that exist in the AAU basketball system will tell you that it is a problem. However, after the conferences initially voted to ban satellite camps, a decision that was eventually overturned, the outcry from the athletes themselves prove that Harbaugh's rhetoric is also based in truth. These camps help players from lesser high school football areas gain exposure and land scholarships. That is a very good thing.
Whether or not the coaches bring up these issues for the "right reasons," because of the various recruiting strategies that Harbaugh has popularized, we are now having large-scale discussions about things that benefit high school and college football players. Players' rights have become a huge issue in every sport, and if Harbaugh has some ulterior motives in bringing these discussions to the forefront, more power to him.