There has been loads of analysis done on Rich Rodriguez's progress so far as Michigan's head coach. Many are not satisfied with the improvements that Rich has made in this football team so far, and after watching the defense this year this viewpoint is very understandable. With many calling for a coaching change, and with the majority of those who want this set on bringing in Jim Harbaugh, it's time we take a look at exactly what Jim Harbaugh has done for Stanford's defense during his tenure as their Head Coach. We will look at four things; recruiting, personnel, coaches and performance. This will give us an idea of whether he will be able to turn the ship around if he is indeed brought in.
Most people know Harbaugh's records at Stanford. Coming off a 1-11 year in 2006, Harbaugh took over and posted the following records:
As many of you know, recruiting is the lifeblood of a football program so we'll start here. Lets take a look at Harbaughs ability to recruit on the defensive side of the ball. Note: Rivals star ratings used to evaluate talent.
Harbaugh clearly stepped up recruiting at Stanford. He was able to start bringing in more talent , but it also seems that he is near the ceiling in bringing in top-end recruits. Harbaugh should definitely be credited with the improvement in recruiting for his ability as a recruiter. Part of it is also due to the improvement in Stanford's record.
This trend is impressive, but not overly so. Stanford has plenty of things to pull in recruits (academics, location, playing time) and the last two recruiting years have had less competition from other in-state schools. Also it must be noted that California is one of the top recruiting hot-spots when it comes to bringing in talent (and particularly talent that also peforms well in school). Harbaugh should be able to bring in better talent at Michigan, however there is nothing to show that he will out-peform Rodriguez.
2.) Depth Chart
In order to evaluate Stanford's performance on the defensive side of the ball, it's necessary that we take a look at their roster composition and the experience in the two-deep.
Stanford has never started a Freshman or RS Freshman on defense under Jim Harbaugh. They have never had a two-deep with more underclassmen than upperclassmen. This is primarily due to a lack of the attrition that was faced by Rodriguez at Michigan. Harbaugh can be credited for keeping his players around more effectively than Rodriguez. Rodriguez has lost some of his recruits and that is definitely on him. However when it came to keeping Carr recruits, Rodriguez could only do so much. Harbaugh on the other hand wasn't dealing with kids that were dedicated to a coach that had departed, the kids were dedicated to their school as most were trying to get a Stanford degree. I'll give Harbaugh a slight advantage over Rodriguez in identifying the right players that will stay in school and keeping them around but I don't think we can entirely rule out that Harbaugh wouldn't have problems keeping players (particularly RR players) around at Michigan.
3.) Coaching Staff
Here is the list of defensive coordinators at Stanford during Harbaugh's tenure.
- 2007 Scott Shafer
- 2008 Ron Lynn
- 2009 Andy Buh
- 2010 Vic Fangio
While Harbaugh did not change defensive coordinators every year because his defense was underpeforming, it should be noted that he went through four defensive coordinators in four years and was still able to find success on that side of the ball in year 4 after bringing in a seasoned DC. His ability to keep a consistent staff on that side of the ball can be questioned just as much as Rodriguez's ability to do the same. This also shows that even with transition you can come out doing well (2010 Illinois is another example).
4.) Defensive Performance
|Year||Scoring D||Rush D||Pass D||Total D||PE D|
Interestingly, Harbaugh struggled with his defense for 3 years and had a breakthrough this year in his fourth year. There's not that much separating Rodriguez and Harbaugh in terms of defensive performance in their first 3 years. The only differences were that Harbaugh had an experienced group and was able to keep players from leaving the program. Stanford faced a talent disadvantage when compared to U of M but the defense was never decimated as much as it is at Michigan. Rodriguez had some experience on D in his first year but after that many players left, others didn't pan out and the rest are now starting. I think Stanford's experience and lack of attrition and Michigan's talent advantage cancel each other out (I actually think that Stanford has been in a better position).
Year 3 specifically is something to look at. Their talent was slightly worse than what Michigan has in year 3, but their experience level was leaps and bounds above Michigan's. That said, Stanford peformed only just a bit better defensively than this year's Michigan team has.
Moving on to Harbaugh's 4th year we see drastic improvement across the board in the defensive rankings. This is definitely a resume booster for Harbaugh, but if we look behind the rankings, what do we get? Let's take a look at the scoring offense of each of Stanford's opponents this year and Stanford's performance against them.
|Team||Scoring Off Rank||PPG||Points against Stanford|
Looking at this table, Stanford's good looking defensive numbers come from shutting out some terrible offenses and slowing down a couple decent ones. Outside of Arizona and ASU, Stanford did not have any defensive performances to write home about. They gave up 52 points to the only top 25 offense they faced, and gave up more points than the season average PPG of three weak to average opponents (Wake, USC, and Washington St.). Stanford put up some nice looking defensive numbers this year, but the fact is that the competition left a lot to be desired.
After looking through these numbers it's hard to pinpoint exactly what Harbaugh is going to bring to Michigan over Rodriguez in terms of improving the defensive side of the ball. He had 3 below average to terrible years during which faced challenges that weren't greater than what Rodriguez has faced at Michigan (less talent but much more experience). Those who point at year 4 as a reason that he is going to fix Michigan's defense should think twice. First, one year is way too small a sample size. And two look at the competition. The Pac-10 had one amazing offense, and the rest ranged from mediocre to terrible.
Many things are similar between Michigan's defense under Rodriguez and Stanfords defense under Harbaugh. The first three years look strikingly similar to Michigan's numbers the last three years (in what I would argue a weaker conference). Once Harbaugh was able to get enough talent, experience, and land a decent defensive coordinator (all of which he finally had in year 4) he was able to field a half-decent defense.
In the end I think this shows that Harbaugh is not the savior that many are making him out to be. He has made nice strides as the Head Coach at Stanford, however he has not done that much to set him apart from Rodriguez even on the defensive side of the ball. I'm not arguing that Rodriguez is the best man for the job, but to boot himin favor of Harbaugh based on Harbaugh's resume to this point would seem unfair to me. I'm hoping that Dave Brandon is looking at these types of numbers when he's doing his analysis of which coach is better for the future of Michigan.