Jim Harbaugh has changed because he had too or risk losing his team.
Following last season’s loss to Ohio State, Harbaugh scheduled “workouts” for his team the week between the last game of the year and the conference championship game (which they Wolverines were not playing in). This isn’t an unprecedented move, but it is unusual given the grind of a twelve game season.
It is common knowledge that Harbaugh is a grinder who looks for an advantage at every opportunity. This was no exception. Certainly an extra week of workouts could only benefit his program.
Little did Harbaugh expect, but it had exactly the opposite effect. To many of his players and their families, they believed practicing the week after the season ended was excessive for a football team physically and mentally spent after a tough 2017 campaign.
One parent of a high-profile player took it upon themselves to reach out to Harbaugh and plead the player’s case. It was only then that Harbaugh realized he was off his game in 2017. He relented and called off the remaining workouts, letting the players rest until bowl practice began.
The pressure cooker that was the 2017 season had taken its toll on Harbaugh and pushed him away from his core; he had become obsessive and overbearing in his zeal to return the Michigan football program back to the top of the Big Ten. It manifested itself in every aspect of the program from his relationships with his players to his interactions with his assistant coaches.
Harbaugh wasn’t himself.
The Michigan Head Coach needed to return to the Jim Harbaugh that the players respected and loved playing for when they committed to the Wolverines. That is what forced his high-profile and public about-face during the off-season.
Harbaugh himself is famous for his off-season comment during an in-home visit with California 4-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson, claiming, “I’m a different person coming into this season.”
Harbaugh knew he had to change and the change has been obvious to the people who matter most: his players.
Look for more evolution from Harbaugh. Following the Wolverines’ embarrassing loss to South Carolina, Harbaugh held a team meeting. The players, fresh off another “Camp Christmas,” let him know that the fun was being drained from the game because of his all-business, no fun approach.
According to insiders “Camp Christmas,” Harbaugh’s extremely militaristic approach to bowl practice, is a thing of the past. Harbaugh has told players and insiders that he will allow the players more and more freedom and fun during bowl practice going forward in an effort to bring the team and the coaches closer together.
During the end of the season team meeting, Harbaugh opened up and asked openly, “What do I need to do? What can I do?” The players took that meeting as an opportunity to forge a new relationship with their head coach.
Running Back Karan Higdon believes this is the dawn of an evolved Harbaugh.
“He’s been more personal with the guys and more approachable,” Higdon said. “That’s definitely been helping.
“Coach is a football guru, and he’s been so focused on the game, and (now he’s) taking a step back from that and continuing to build stronger relationships with the players, changed our culture, changed our atmosphere around this facility, and it’s been great.”
Running back Chris Evans said there’s huge difference between spring practice a year ago and now, and it showed in the January team meeting.
“We could tell the light bulb in his head is on,” Evans said.
The light had to go on, or the program couldn’t evolve.