No American football conglomerate reveres its history and tradition like the Big Ten. No institution within the Big Ten reveres its history and tradition like Michigan.
Some would call Michigan the most storied program in the most storied league. Others would call Michigan the biggest has-been program in the ultimate has-been league. Both positions can be supported and justified (although the latter carries more weight in recent years).
Michigan's hiring of Jim Harbaugh pleases both camps.
Harbaugh is a nod to the past -- an old-school-ish, khakis-wearing coach who played for Bo Schembechler at Michigan, spent part of his childhood in the shadows of the Big House and employs manball schemes that warm the hearts of Wolverines fans longing for times gone by.
He also has had all his coaching success in the modern environment, from the University of San Diego to Stanford to the San Francisco 49ers. As a coach, Harbaugh isn't stuck in the past. He knows how to win right now, and he seemingly has come to the realization that his not-for-everybody style might be more effective in the college game.
Harbaugh will move Michigan forward, toward its first Big Ten championship since 2004 and possibly its first national championship since 1997.
This is big, not just for Michigan but for the Big Ten. There are no easy fixes for what ails this conference, but the quickest path is for the great programs with great history and great resources to be great again. Fans of teams like Michigan State and Wisconsin hate that argument, but it's impossible to deny that the Big Ten's perception struggles have directly coincided with Michigan's downturn. Michigan has been one of the Big Ten's biggest problems, if not its biggest.
There's no reason the Big Ten can't have it all: Michigan surging and other programs, like Michigan State and Wisconsin, performing at championship levels. Ultimately, the league needs more teams capable of competing for the national championship.
Harbaugh gives Michigan that capability again.
There are other Big Ten benefits to Harbaugh's arrival, starting with The Game. Since the epic No. 1 vs. No. 2 clash in 2006 -- the last time the Big Ten truly owned the national spotlight -- how often has the Ohio State-Michigan game been relevant? How often has it been the most meaningful Big Ten game on the final regular-season Saturday? Harbaugh's presence gives The Game, to borrow an Ohio State term, some #Juice.
There will never be another Woody and Bo, but this might be as close as it'll ever be. Harbaugh and Urban Meyer are rock-star coaches with big personalities, recruiting clout and tremendous track records. Unusual circumstances played into both coaching takeovers -- Meyer's year away from coaching, Harbaugh's falling out with the 49ers despite recent success -- but the timing couldn't have been better for both Ohio State and Michigan. They'll get after it in recruiting and in games. It will be glorious.
The Harbaugh hire also adds to the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, which the Spartans have dominated during Mark Dantonio's tenure. Dantonio has masterfully played up the Michigan game, while the Wolverines' painstaking response hasn't been up to par. Harbaugh should change that. This series becomes much more fun.
And there's more. After several years of uninspiring coaching hires, the Big Ten has added Harbaugh, Meyer and Penn State's James Franklin in recent years. Add in Dantonio and the Big Ten's East Division has a coaching lineup that pops nationally, much like the SEC's and Pac-12's.
Michigan's all-in pitch to land Harbaugh also sends a signal to the rest of the conference. One concern current and former Big Ten coaches raised earlier this season was whether the league truly wanted to be great.
From Inside Access:
A former coach added that some Big Ten schools are "too politically correct" when it comes to priorities and spending.
"There's some people on campus who are saying, wait a second, is this necessary?" another former Big Ten coach said. "Well, yes it is if you want to win championships."
Michigan answered that question in its ultra-aggressive approach with Harbaugh. Programs like Purdue, Illinois, Indiana and Northwestern can't spend like Michigan spends, but they have to stretch themselves to keep up. They have to ask themselves: Are we doing all we can to max out?
Michigan fans have their answer. This is a big-boy move by a big-boy program fed up with being bullied on the playground. That Michigan pulled this off with an interim athletic director (Jim Hackett) and a new president (Mark Schlissel) is significant. Hackett wisely eliminated the Michigan Man term and then landed the man Michigan needed, not because of his ties to the program's past but because of what he can do for the program's future.
Harbaugh will maintain what Brady Hoke did on the recruiting trail and succeed where Hoke failed in player development. He will celebrate Michigan's past like Hoke did, and actually build on it.
After an extended period of underachievement like Michigan has endured, nobody outside the base cares what the program used to be. It's about what the program is, and where the program is going.
This is Michigan. Sounds a lot better with Jim Harbaugh at the helm.