ANN ARBOR, Mich — Compared to when he arrived in December 2014, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh’s demeanor is different.
Some will say he’s not engaging as much in spectacle, but one could argue, with the heightened attention on Michigan — especially from a recruiting standpoint — he doesn’t need to any more, or at least, not as much.
If you watch the Amazon behind-the-scenes series, All or Nothing, Harbaugh’s behavior is seemingly much more muted.
On the sidelines, he looks like a different person, at least he did a year ago. Again — that could be by design, given the new penalties doled out to coaches making a scene during the game.
But, as far as Michigan players who have been on the roster for the duration they see the same head coach, just with different priorities.
Michigan SAM linebacker Noah Furbush has been with the program since 2014, and now he’s a pivotal part of Don Brown’s ferocious defense. He’s gone through two head coaches, multiple defensive coordinators and direct position coaches in his tenure.
He sees a change in Harbaugh, but he doesn’t liken it to the world inside the halls of Schembechler shifting as much as him realizing now exactly what he has to work with.
“I think with anything, people change over time,” Furbush said. “Your philosophies change over time. But everything remains rooted in the same principles. I think, when he first got here, he was really looking to find out who the players were, who he could build a program off of. Now, he knows us and we’re his team. He knows who his guys are.”
And now that he knows who his guys are, things seem to be trending very up.
While the Michigan fanbase seems content to play wait-and-see, there’s a veritable buzz coming out of Ann Arbor, a belief that this team has the ability to be special. It goes beyond the annual festival of blank slate, which Furbush notes.
“There’s a lot of positivity going around,” Furbush said. “The guys believe in each other, and we have confidence that we didn’t have before.”
Fellow SAM linebacker Josh Uche has a similar state of mind.
Of course the defense is more confident, given that it returns almost everyone from a year ago. Players of role last season, like Uche, are expected to be fully in rotation this year.
And now, with fall camp winding down, that feeling is starting to permeate everything and everyone in and around the football building.
“It’s different just because everyone’s ready,” Uche said. “Everybody’s ready to play Notre Dame. We can’t wait.”
But why are they so confident?
Michigan went 8-5 a year ago, and if you ask a large swath of the fanbase — or pretty much any other — it was an utter disaster.
But was it?
Maybe it was from an injuries standpoint. From an offensive identity standpoint, especially once Wilton Speight went down in Week Four. But now, the defense is faster (!!!), the offense seemingly knows what it needs to do in pass protection, under center and all around. There have been seismic shifts in the coaching staff, the philosophy. Pretty much everything on that side of the ball.
It’s just getting the younger guys — older. Because you can’t teach experience, as the coaches often said a year ago, when Michigan was fielding one of the nation’s youngest teams.
“I think one of the biggest things is we’ve seen what a lot of guys can do, because guys have so much experience,” Furbush said. “I think confidence comes with that. Those reps we’re taking in practice and also on the field. A lot of confidence comes from that.”
We’ll see very soon how much improved these Wolverines are, as there are less than two weeks before Michigan hits the road and takes on Notre Dame in South Bend. Kickoff is slated for 7:30PM on Sept. 1.
But will Michigan be ready to take on such a big game in Week One? Josh Uche seems to think so.
“It doesn’t matter who it is, to be honest with you,” Uche said. “The first person we see, we’re hitting them out the gates.”