Edson: U-M, Harbaugh Know What Must Be Done

Despite what the critics say, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh is a smart guy.

You can bet as he was walking off the field after the Wolverines were whipped by Ohio State on Saturday, he was already thinking about what he has to do to beat the Buckeyes.

All Harbaugh has to do is study the history of the coach across the field – Urban Meyer.

Meyer was born and raised in Ohio and got his start in college coaching at Bowling Green, a Mid-American Conference school up the road from Columbus.

Even though he later coached at Utah and Florida, winning two National Championships with the Gators, his mind and his heart were never far from Ohio.

So when the Buckeyes and Notre Dame were competing for his services in early 2012, he already knew which job he would take.

Like every student of the game, Meyer learned lessons at every coaching stop. Turns out, he learned his two biggest lessons while coaching in the toughest college football conference in the country, the SEC.

If you’ve ever spent Saturday afternoons watching SEC football, you realize two things right away:

1) The players are faster.

2) The playbook is more wide open.

So Meyer took that SEC philosophy and applied it to the Big Ten. He recruited faster players and he opened up his playbook.

Both of those were on display again Saturday in Ohio State’s 62-39 win over the Wolverines.

Even the Michigan players admitted afterwards they seemed a step behind the Buckeyes. And while Ohio State opened up its playbook, Michigan seemed to stubbornly stay with a conservative game plan.

Harbaugh admitted as much in his post-game press conference.

He is the first Wolverines coach to start his career going 0-for-4 against Ohio State. He knows that better than anyone.

He also knows if he is going to turn that around he has to do what Meyer has successfully done: Get faster and get more creative with his play-calling.

I’m not one of those fair-weather Michigan fans who cursed at the TV set on Saturday and called for Harbaugh’s head.

Rather, as I watched the game unfold I knew Harbaugh was taking mental notes. He knows what has to be done.

Given his coaching track record, I don’t doubt we’ll start to see some of those changes sooner rather than later.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.