Gielczyk: Harbaugh, Michigan Need to Produce in 2019

Time is growing short for Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh. At least, that’s my feeling.

Entering his fifth year as the Wolverines’ head man, Harbaugh needs to start bringing home the hardware.

He’s had good seasons in the first four he’s been running the show, but nothing close to what Michigan fans and alumni anticipated when he was hired.

So far, there’s been a lot of hype surrounding Harbaugh and the Wolverines’ football program, but all of it has been during the off-season when he’s spent the athletic department’s money on lavish overseas trips.

Even one to the Vatican in Rome, meeting the Pope along the way. Oh, yeah, the Wolverines practiced and all. But other than gathering headlines and plenty of newspaper copy, the question remains over what any of it actually accomplished on the field.

The answer is rather mixed.

It certainly might have influenced some potential recruits to come to Michigan, but the Wolverines still haven’t delivered on the field. Not to the extent demanded by fans and alumni of an elite program that should be contending for Big 10 and national championships.

But now it appears Harbaugh might be on the doorstep of just that kind of season with Missouri transfer Shea Patterson returning for another season running the offense at quarterback.

Patterson deserves a mulligan for last year, coming in cold and trying to acclimate himself to an offensive scheme he was totally unfamiliar with and did not take advantage of his skill set.

Now, as the starting quarterback coming into camp and a full spring to grow familiar with new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis running a scheme that more closely suits his talents, it would seem the Wolverines are poised to make a serious run at the Big 10 title, and maybe get into the playoffs.

Still, it remains to be seen if Harbaugh can keep his hands off the offense and let Gattis have total control. If he can, the Wolverines stand a good chance of finally reaching the bar that was set when Harbaugh arrived on the scene in 2015.

Harbaugh was hailed by all as the savior of the Michigan football program, which had fallen on hard times under two coaches who were questionable hires in the first place.

Michigan seemed to be on that path last year, until the Wolverines met up with Ohio State in the annual regular season finale in November and were hammered, 62-39.

Urban Meyer stepped down as the Buckeyes coach after last season, which suddenly breathed new life into the notion that Harbaugh could finally end the Wolverines’ streak of futility against Ohio State.

Obviously, it’s not going to be as easy as all that.

The Buckeyes are still going to be a great team, with plenty of speed and NFL caliber talent and the new coach, Brian Day, learned under one of the greatest coaches in the business.

Michigan is going to have to do more than simply walk out on the field to beat the Buckeyes.

With questions at quarterback, along with a new staff, it’s possible that the Buckeyes could be vulnerable this year and if Harbaugh has been smart enough to truly modernize his offense, this could be the year Michigan prevails.

The question, of course, is if the Wolverines now have the speed on both offense and defense to match the Buckeyes, who looked quicker and faster than Michigan last year.

Michigan’s running game has been depleted with the departure of Karan Higdon and with his primary backup Chris Evans suspended, putting the spotlight on redshirt freshman Christian Turner.

Yes, it’s possible that Turner — who got a lot of touches in the Wolverines’ bowl game — and another freshman, Zach Charbonnet, prove to be the real deal.

And if that’s the case, well, anything is possible.

I think Harbaugh understands that all of the exotic trips in the off-season will have a hallow feel to them unless the Wolverines have a better showing in the fall.

He knows that another 10-win season and also-ran status in the Big 10 isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Michigan is a place where that simply isn’t acceptable. It is the way things are, and if Harbaugh doesn’t get the Wolverines there this year, he might be seeing the pilot light going out on his stay in Ann Arbor.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at ggielczyk@jackpine.net for story ideas.