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What if…Jim Harbaugh became head coach at Michigan after Lloyd Carr?

What if…Jim Harbaugh became head coach at Michigan after Lloyd Carr?


Time. Room. Reality. It is more than a linear path. It is a prism of endless possibilities. Where a single choice can expand into infinite realities, creating alternate worlds than the ones you know.

That's part of the Marvels intro What if…? series on Disney+, the inspiration for what will become an offseason series that considers a world where things happened differently in college football and in Ann Arbor in 2023.

Just as the Avengers conquered Thanos and restored half the universe's population, Michigan triumphed over all of college football this past season.

Discover worlds where things happened differently. Sometimes the outcome of a championship will be the same, just in different ways. Other realities are much grimmer. Maize n Brew will guide you through these realities and ponder the question: What if…

What if… Jim Harbaugh became head coach at Michigan after Lloyd Carr?

Institutions fall when leadership struggles. Your timeline witnessed this when Lloyd Carr retired in 2007. It opened the doors to nearly a decade of insignificant football in Ann Arbor, a depleted football program and fan base, and the need for monumental change.

Jim Harbaugh managed to restore greatness to Michigan after nine seasons and win the 2023 National Championship. It took years to restore the hard-nosed toughness the Wolverines once possessed, and it led to them becoming champions again.

But what if there was never a need to completely restore the program? Let's explore a timeline in which an up-and-coming head coach with ties to the Michigan Wolverines came to Ann Arbor much earlier than your world.

It's early 2007 and Lloyd Carr's Wolverines had just lost their two biggest games to end the 2006 season. The most frustrating was The Game, where #1 State of Ohio topped No. 2 Michigan in Columbus. They answered that game with a loss in the Pink bowl to No. 8 USC, where the offense scored just three points in the first three quarters of action. It was the most disappointing finish imaginable for the Wolverines, and there was pressure on the administration to make a change sooner or later.

In this universe, Michigan and Lloyd Carr mutually agreed to part ways, as Carr retired in early 2007 instead of after the fall of the same year.

This opened the door for a coaching search, with Michigan still having some of the best players on their roster, especially on the offensive side. A core of Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Mario Manningham and Jake Long made Ann Arbor one of the best coaching jobs on the market.

While there were plenty of options available, Michigan had its eyes on a former player who dominated the Division II level. Jim Harbaugh had led the University of San Diego to consecutive 11-1 records and led Division II football in points per game, passing yards per game, total yards per game and first downs per game. Toreros starting quarterback Josh Johnson threw for 67 touchdowns and 6,201 yards in his last two years under Harbaugh. Michigan was intrigued by what that could mean for Henne and top recruit Ryan Mallett.

The two sides agreed to a deal that shocked many college football experts. A Division II coach taking over a team with championship aspirations was a surprising move, but Michigan enjoyed bringing an alum back to Ann Arbor.

The 2007 season started against Appalachian State, a team that defeated the No. 5 ranked Wolverines in your timeline for what would be the ugliest loss in Michigan history. But with Harbaugh and a new swagger to the Wolverines step, they defeated the Mountaineers to open the season for Harbaugh's first win in the Big House.

However, the rest of the season was still not quite up to par. The Wolverines lost a good one to Oregon the following week and finished with three losses in Harbaugh's first season as a Division I head coach. Nevertheless, optimism from the administration's perspective was still high.

One of the key components of the coaching change was Harbaugh wanting to continue the tough approach to football. There was never a complete philosophical change on the offensive side, spreading the offense and quarterback runs; Michigan football remained Michigan football under Harbaugh.

While Michigan still lost Mallett to a transfer, the Wolverines plucked Andrew Luck, a top-50 recruit in the class of 2008, from the jaws of Texas. He would be the starter for the Wolverines as a true freshman. The emergence of Brandon Graham on defense in 2007 also brought success on both sides of the ball. The team won eight games in a reload season in 2008, then won nine games in 2009 and ten games in 2010.

Without a significant drop, as in your universe, Michigan continued to surpass Mark Dantonio and State of Michigan. Harbaugh and the Wolverines had a strong record against their in-state rival. While there was some struggle against the Buckeyes, there was never more than a three-year period where Michigan went winless against its biggest foes.

It all came together in 2011, Luck's final season in Ann Arbor. He had thrown for over 3,500 yards for the Wolverines and 35 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. Happiness was the top name for the NFL draft, similar to your world. At a much larger school, however, Luck was named the Heisman Trophy winner over Robert Griffin III at Baylor.

With the help of Fitzgerald Toussaint, a 1,000-yard rusher, the Michigan offense was one of the most potent in college football and featured a defense that turned heads with strength, physicality and blitzes from all over the field. With victories on the resume against Our ladyMichigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State, the Wolverines topped the BCS stats and earned a spot in the National Championship over the Alabama Crimson Tidea team that lost only one game.

It would be number 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Michigan for the national title. A sloppy start by LSU with a fumble on the opening drive set the tone for the game, as Michigan leaned on kicker Brendan Gibbons in a defensive battle, the star kicker hit four field goals through the uprights.

Michigan's offense under Luck was just good enough to continue putting the Wolverines in position to put points on the board, and LSU couldn't keep up the pace. Michigan would win the National Championship in just his fourth year under Harbaugh, positioning himself as one of the best coaches in college football at such an early stage in his career.

Without ever sniffing the NFL, as he did with the San Francisco 49ers in your timeline, Harbaugh's focus remained on Ann Arbor and building a dynasty. A run began between the Big Ten, SEC and ACC. But it wasn't Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama, it was the Wolverines that took that slot. Harbaugh versus Saban became one of the biggest coaching rivalries in all of college football, especially as the College Football Playoff era began in 2014 and the two sides met even more often.

Michigan won multiple championships under Harbaugh, and their success continued to this day, where this timeline and yours meet. The Wolverines won their fourth National Championship in the Harbaugh era in 2024, and the dynasty in Ann Arbor's story is still being written.

Others in this series:

What if… Mike Sainristil never moved to corner?

What if… JJ McCarthy never came to Michigan?

What if… Blake Corum didn't return for his final season?

What if…Xavier Worthy went to Michigan?




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