Knapp: How Jim Harbaugh Is Taking Over the Big Ten From Urban Meyer

Knapp: How Jim Harbaugh Is Taking Over the Big Ten From Urban Meyer

Football

Knapp: How Jim Harbaugh Is Taking Over the Big Ten From Urban Meyer

Since 2015, Michigan fans have clamored about head coach Jim Harbaugh. He helped build up San Diego Football in 2004 by starting his first year going 7-5, finishing the season on a five-game winning streak and in 2005 he would go 11-1 and winning the Pioneer Football League championship and 2006 would be the same story.

After that he spent four years at Stanford, rebuilding their program as they started out 4-8 in 2007, upsetting the number one team at the time USC, then 5-7 in 2008 and finally a winning season in 2009 finishing 8-5 before finishing his final year 12-1 and finished by winning a bowl game against Virginia Tech, their first bowl win since 1996.

He then jumped to the big leagues of the NFL and went 49-22-1 with two divisional titles, an NFC championship, and a Super Bowl appearance in his four seasons in San Francisco.

Jim Harbaugh would then leave the NFL to come back to his alma mater, The University of Michigan, and try and fix their football program that was struggling since former head coach Lloyd Carr left in 2007.

Urban Meyer’s Coaching Path

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has had a different coaching path in his career. Meyer would take over Bowling Green State in 2001 and go 8-3 and in 2002 he went 9-3, putting Falcons in the AP poll as high as 20 at one point in his tenure there.

He would quickly leave Bowling Green State and head to Utah where he would only coach for two years once again. His first year would be a 10-2 season with a Liberty Bowl victory, then he would go undefeated in year two, going 12-0 and winning in the BCS Fiesta Bowl, finishing the year at number four in the AP polls.

After Utah, Meyer would head to Florida where he would accomplish greater things and start out 9-3 with a win in the Outback bowl to start in 2005. The very next year, Meyer would go 13-1 and win the BCS National Championship. 2007 was a rough rebound year where the Gators would finish 9-4 and lose in the Capital One Bowl. 2008 Meyer got back on track and went 13-1 again and won another National Championship. 2009 was close to a repeat, but a 13-1 record and a Sugar Bowl victory were still impressive. 2010 is where Meyer would have his worst coaching record ever, going 8-5 and winning in the Capital One Bowl, but due to health issues and family, Meyer would retire.

He would spend the 2011 season on ESPN as an analyst and suddenly the health issues went away and he would be hired as the Ohio State head coach to start the 2012 season.

Before Harbaugh would start his battles with Urban Meyer, Meyer would start his career at Ohio State with a bang, going 12-0 after the team wasn’t allowed to compete for a conference championship or a bowl game after the university was investigated for letting their players receive improper benefits.

2013 was a step back for Meyer and the Buckeyes as they went 13-2 and lost in the Orange Bowl, but would rebound with a National Championship and a 14-1 record in 2014.

Let The Games Begin

2015 is when this battle between the two started and while Meyer is 3-0 in the rivalry, and should favored Michigan win on Saturday, the tide is about to shift in Ann Arbor’s favor.

2015: we saw Ohio State with the seventh-ranked recruiting class and Michigan with a 37th, but Harbaugh had little to do with that class. Michigan finished the year 10-3 and a Citrus Bowl win, while Ohio State finished 12-1, a 42-13 destruction of Michigan and a Fiesta Bowl victory.

2016 was a closer battle and a controversial one none-the-less. Harbaugh and his Wolverines would finish 10-3 again, this time getting close to playoff dreams, but a 30-27 overtime loss to Ohio State would derail the train and a loss in the Orange Bowl would leave the Wolverines with a bad taste in their mouth to end the season. Ohio State would finish 11-2 and a loss in the Fiesta Bowl. Recruiting was closer as Ohio State had a fourth-ranked class, while Michigan was ranked eighth.

2017 was a down year for Harbaugh and his Wolverines, finishing 8-5 with a loss in the Outback Bowl and a 31-20 defeat to Ohio State again, but Michigan made it closer than it should have been with their performance that season. Ohio State would win the Big Ten Championship and win the Cotton Bowl. Recruiting wise the difference shrunk again between the two schools as Ohio State had the number two class in 2017, while Michigan had the number five class that year.

Then 2018 happened and is where the tide started to change between the two schools.

Ohio State’s Slow Fall

First, Meyer would start his seventh season at Ohio State, now his longest time at a job, as he spent six seasons at Florida before leaving and it started out shaky. Meyer would be suspended for three games after an investigation with his former wide receivers coach Zach Smith showed Meyer could have done more in the situation.

Smith was the grandson of Meyer’s mentor, former Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce and he would walk-on and play for Meyer at Bowling Green State and Meyer would hire him as a graduate assistant in Flordia and finally a wide receivers coach at Ohio State.

Things at Florida were dicey as Smith was arrested on suspicion of aggravated battery against his wife Courtney, who was pregnant at the time. The charges were later dropped due to insufficient evidence and Courtney Smith said Bruce, Zach Smith’s mother, and Zach Smith’s attorney pressured her to drop the charges.

At Ohio State, Smith would get hired in 2012 and in 2015 he and Courtney would split in June. In October of the same year, Courtney accused Zach of not returning their son after a visit and that Zach abused her on many occasions. No charges were filed. A month later Courtney accused Zach of stalking, again no charges were filed. Courtney got a restraining order on Zach and filed for divorce two days later.

Two years later, in December of 2017, Zach was given a criminal trespass warning after making threats to Courtney and he tried to enter her home, again there were no charges filed.

2018 is when things started to heat up. In May, Zach was cited with a misdemeanor criminal trespass with Courtney after an argument of where their son should be dropped off, as Smith was in Courtney’s driveway, violating the restraining order from 2015.

The reports came out on July 23rd, and later in the day, Zach Smith was fired from Ohio State. The next day, at Big Ten Media Day, Meyer was questioned about the events and Meyer said he only learned of the allegations against Zach Smith when someone in his office told him that day.

In August, Ohio State would put Meyer on administrative leave and Courtney would tell Brett McMurphy that she texted Meyers wife, Shelley Meyer about the abuse from Zach. The Ohio State associate athletic director Brian Voltolini had talked with Meyer about him possibly deleting text messages between him and Zach Smith from a year ago that could come back and hurt Meyer.

Zach Smith would also be allegedly sending photos of having and receiving oral sex with an Ohio State staff member to Courtney, taking nude photos inside the White House during their visit in 2015, and ordering over $2,000 in sex toys, apparel and photography equipment between February and May of 2015.

After a meeting with the Ohio State board of trustees, Meyer would get a three-game suspension as they believed he could have done more in the situation.

Meyer’s Return

Ohio State went 3-0 without Meyer and his first game back he won 49-6 against Tulane. Then his team would start to struggle and while still winning, some of these games were close with teams that it shouldn’t have been close with.

They came back down by 12 against Penn State in a big win, but the next two weeks they had first-half battles with Indiana and Minnesota before pulling away in the second half to win. Then the health issues emerged once again for Meyer.

Meyer said he has a cyst and went more in-depth about it.

I’ve been dealing with that cyst for many years, and we had the surgery several years ago. And when it does take place, it’s just, you know, they give me some medicine and I feel fine now. Just something I’ve got to monitor.

Meyer would then suffer his first loss of the season to Purdue, 49-20 and before his next game against Nebraska, Meyer would say that he would be back with Ohio State in 2019 after reports of him retiring after the season came out.

Ohio State would then have a close battle with a Nebraska team that was 2-6, only winning by five and then defeated Michigan State by 20, but 12 points were handed to them from the Spartans and last week, they had to go to overtime with Maryland who has had a season-long investigation with their former head coach D.J. Durkin, only winning 52-51 and Meyer again was seen on the sidelines all game having issues again.

Florida 2.0?

This is similar to how his final year in Florida went. Florida started the year No. 8 in the week one ranking and would start 4-0 before losing to No. 1 Alabama and go from No. 7 to 14. Then a loss to LSU knocked Florida down to 22 in the rankings and a third straight loss to Mississippi State made the Gators unranked.

After two wins, Florida would return to the rankings at No. 24 then a loss to South Carolina, Florida would fall out of the rankings and never return, finishing the year 8-5 and Meyer would retire due to family and health reasons.

While Ohio State isn’t losing the same amount of games this year, the similarities are close between the two and something else that could have been an impact? Nick Saban.

Meyer only dealt with Saban in his conference for four seasons, and Saban’s first season at Alabama was 7-6, then he went 12-2 in 2008, 14-0, winning the National Championship in 2009, then 10-3 in 2010. Saban was also winning in recruiting, having better classes than Meyer in 2008 and 2009, back to back third-ranked classes for Alabama and a fifth and seventh-ranked class for Meyer. Meyer could have seen what Saban was doing and how good he was doing and wanted to escape losing so he retired.

What About Michigan Football?

This is where we see a shift in the Big Ten and how Meyer is starting to lose his conference he once dominated.

This season’s struggles on the field and the off-the-field investigation, along with Meyers health issues, along with Michigan coming into a powerhouse once again are all pointing for Meyer taking the backseat in the conference and possibly towards retirement after this season or 2019. Ohio State did win in the 2018 recruiting battle, with the second-ranked class while Michigan’s was ranked 22nd, but 2019 is in Michigans favor as Michigan is currently ranked ninth while Ohio State is at 13.

Harbaugh has never lasted longer than four years at any program. Two years at San Diego, four years at Stanford and the 49ers, and this year is his fourth year at Michigan and they are like Stanford was back in 2010.

The difference now? He’s at his alma mater and surely doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere as he will be back in 2019 for his fifth-year at Michigan — and we can finally see what Harbaugh can do for longer than four years.

And that scares Meyer.

Harbaugh was able to steal offensive line coach Ed Warinner — OSU’s former offensive coordinator during Meyer’s first few years in Columbus — from Minnesota, fixing his biggest problem. And look at what Michigan has improved greatly and a weakness on the Ohio State team? Offensive line play.

Harbaugh is recruiting players well, but so far, still not overall as well as Meyer — but the tide is starting to shift. Harbaugh doesn’t have any off-the-field issues with his health, family, or any investigations tied to his name. His players are showing up, playing football and winning games, like you’re supposed to. They are dominating a majority of their opponents, unlike Ohio State.

Harbaugh is starting to dethrone Meyer as the king of the Big Ten and the rest of the schools aren’t even close to stopping Harbaugh and Michigan.

Michigan State is a dumpster fire right now. Penn State lost their best player from last season and it’s showing this season and now their best player this year is gone in 2019, so their future isn’t bright. Maryland is still trying to recover from their huge investigation. Indiana is staying middle tier and Rutgers is Rutgers.

In the Big Ten West, you have Northwestern who could evolve into something with Pat Fitzgerald as head coach. Wisconsin is starting to fall down to middle-tier, along with Iowa. Purdue could lose their head coach and if they don’t then they could start building something. Minnesota and Illinois are still trying to rebuild, and Nebraska needs some more time until they are relevant.

The Big Ten is turning into the Michigan Football conference once again and it starts with a victory over Ohio State on Saturday, something Harbaugh has yet to do and this seems like the year it finally happens. Meyer is starting to crack and so is his foundation at Ohio State, they are struggling, and have many issues, while Michigan is booming through, and in control of their destiny. This Saturday, there will be a new king in town and his name is Jim Harbaugh.

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