Herbstreit: UM under Harbaugh will be 'fun to watch'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
“I think for the players who aren’t familiar with him, the honeymoon is over — it starts tomorrow night,” ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit said.

Kirk Herbstreit won't offer a timetable for Jim Harbaugh turning around the Michigan football program, but he does think he will make an instant impact in terms of how the team prepares and the attitude the players will bring on the field.

Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback and longtime ESPN college football analyst, said Tuesday during a conference call that he believes Harbaugh will get the Wolverines working with a new outlook after meeting with them as a team for the first time Wednesday Night.

Harbaugh was formally introduced as Michigan's new head coach a week ago, replacing Brady Hoke, fired after four seasons.

"I think for the players who aren't familiar with him, the honeymoon is over — it starts tomorrow night," Herbstreit said. "I think his biggest challenge is to change the culture of Michigan football, and that requires incredible sacrifice in the weight room. You have to put in so much for Jim Harbaugh for his system to work. You have to invest a lot of hours of sweating and sacrifice, as far as, he wants you to leave it out there. What you do in those winter months and spring football will have a lot to do with how well they play in September. So he's going to grind on them.

"He's a big believer in the old-school way of winning up front and winning the trenches. To me, I envision Michigan being one of those teams, just the mindset alone, just when they take the field, it's going to have a different feel. I'm just telling you right now, whoever is back, you're going to see in September a different team just based on the way they run onto the field and the way they have been preparing to get ready for the season. I'm not going to predict and say, 'By Year 1 this, Year 2 that,' I just think the first couple of years you'll see a noticeable difference in the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball."

Herbstreit said that after two years of recruiting, Harbaugh will have a team that looks more like what he's trying to mold here.

"I think as far as the talent Michigan was accustomed to having for so many years, he needs time to recruit players, because, quite frankly, he's inheriting a team that doesn't have a lot of the caliber of player we're all accustomed to seeing in a Michigan uniform," Herbstreit said. "There are some here and there, but that's an area where they've struggled in recent years, and I'm sure he's going to go out and recruit his tail off with his staff.

"Into the third year, you're going to start to see guys like Steve Hutchinson on the roster, guys like that, look (like) there's a Michigan offensive lineman.

"It's going to require time, you can't just snap your fingers because it's Jim Harbaugh and say, 'OK, now we're ready to compete and win a national title. He needs a couple years to bring in guys that are eventually going to help get them there. And there are guys probably currently on the roster who are going to raise their game and be able to go to a different level that maybe didn't know they're (capable of) doing.

"It will be fun to watch the first year, because the team will probably take on his personality, which, as we all know, he did it at Stanford, he did it at the 49ers. It's a very determined, kind of chippy football team. I'm already envisioning Michigan playing that way. We've not seen them play that way in eight or nine years."

Harbaugh played quarterback at Michigan and in the NFL and has a long track record of developing quarterbacks as a coach.

But Herbstreit said that while Harbaugh may be able to work his wonders with returning quarterbacks Shane Morris and Wilton Speight and early enrollee freshman Alex Malzone, the key to the offense will be the offensive line and generating a running attack.

"He has an ability to relate to quarterbacks, because of playing the position and coaching the position," Herbstreit said.

"What he does, he does a very good job of adjusting his system to the strengths of his quarterback. I think while everyone gets locked in the quarterback because for the obvious reason with him, if you really studied his teams over the years it's more about the physicality of the offensive line and the tailback. In my opinion, Michigan's offensive line has not been a Michigan offensive line for a long time.

"If there's anywhere I think he has to roll up his sleeves and get Michigan back to being Michigan, it's their running game. When was the last time Michigan could control the line of scrimmage and run the football — you know they're going to run it, and they're still going to run it successfully?

"That's what Jim Harbaugh is going to bring back to Michigan through weight training, through development, through recruiting. He's going to bring people in, they're going to want to play offensive line and they're going to knock people off the ball, and they're then going to worry about the play-action pass game off of that.

But before, they worry about the quarterback and the passing game, it's all about what happens up front. Even Andrew Luck and the success he had at Stanford (under Harbaugh), all of that started because they had one of the best offensive lines in the country. I'm hopeful with how he coaches, that offensive line is about to go back to being that old-school Michigan offensive line."