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Michigan mailbag: Breaking down the possible root causes of Wolverines' problems

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Fact: Michigan is 1-2.

Fact: The majority of Michigan’s fan base is irate.

Fact: Several from that majority have submitted questions for this Michigan football mailbag.

Fiction: I have all the answers.

Fact: I will try to answer your questions, so let’s get to with this week’s mailbag without me rambling in some preamble:

Jim Harbaugh

Question: Do you expect an extension for Jim to be announced before the season ends or after? – @abrick75

Answer: That’s the question, isn’t it Alex? Let’s say Warde Manuel and Harbaugh want an extension, how do they pull this off with the athletic department losing an estimated $80 million and following nearly three dozen layoffs? If there is an extension, there’s got to be a way to backload a contract and pay less upfront, say, in the $5 million range and then more in the later years. I’m just spit-balling here, but this would have to be delicate.

Q: Percent chance Harbaugh walks before end of season? -- @MikeCandela33

A: Mike, there’s zero chance Jim Harbaugh leaves his job before the end of the season. I know people feel he’s lost his on-field spark, but I don’t believe he’s lost his interest in coaching this team and this program.

Q: At this point, is it better to reduce playing time to only running backs, receivers, tight ends? All this rotation is going nowhere. -- @Jeremiah48204

A: Lawrence, it all worked against Minnesota, which, in the end, we all know wasn’t the greatest defense. But I’m with you, particularly when it comes to the running back rotation. Call me old-school, but I’ve always been a big believer in, you’ve got to go with the back who has proven he can carry the heavy workload. Backs always say they get stronger with more carries. Right now, I think Hassan Haskins should be the main back and Blake Corum the changeup.

More: Kirk Herbstreit has 'no way of describing' Michigan football woes

Q: Who is the best option for coach replacement and why is it Mike Hart? -- @TortAndSports

A: Tort, maybe someday it will be Mike Hart, but he has a few more coaching steps to take before he makes the jump to a job like this. I’ve always said Hart will be a head coach, and I envision him making his next move to a MAC head coaching job, then maybe, say, my alma mater, Cincinnati, and then …

Q: Do you think Fielding Yost rolled his eyes at Wojo like Harbaugh does? -- @rzerkel79

A: Ryan, if I have time, I’ll go through the files and dust off some black and white images that capture Yost rolling his eyes at the then-seasoned beat writer, Bob Wojnowski. Priceless.

Q: How much $$$ would Urban need to take the job? $20 million per? -- @toddsinator15

A: Matt, you know this is never going to happen. N-E-V-E-R.

Q: Do you think there is a locker room issue? I put this season so far on JH but wonder as a coach if there are other issues in play. -- @rjjmills1919

A: Robert, that’s an interesting question. Not a locker room issue, per se, but there is considerable youth on the team, and I know in a mailbag a few weeks ago I was asked about the seven captains, and whether that’s an issue. I said then that I didn’t think so. I do think they’re all worthy, but it has since crossed my mind that if you have seven, then maybe you don’t have the core two or three. Captains are elected to be leaders, and now is the time for them to take hold of this team. Not saying they haven’t but it’s vital now, especially when there are so many younger players. Coaches say, don’t let one loss become another during practices as they prepare for the next game. Well, they can’t let two losses become three.

Q: So coach indicated that some changes were coming. Any thoughts on what they might be? -- @kmcd43

A: Ken, Harbaugh wants to know who wants to play. Not go in for a play or two but play hard every down. He alluded to this during his radio show Monday night, and I think we will see him play a lot of freshmen and a lot of the scout team players who sacrifice their bodies every day in practice. He’s sending a message to the starters. Again, not saying they’re slacking, but Harbaugh keeps talking about a disconnect, and he’s trying to make the connection, and it if means pushing some buttons, he’s doing it.

Taylor Upshaw

Q: Angel, what do you think is the issue with the CBs? Did the talent level really drop off so much with Hill departing? Also, how’s the DL depth with both Hutchinson and Paye injured? -- @RajLakra

A: Raj – You’re going to see a lot more of Taylor Upshaw and Luiji Vilain with Aidan Hutchinson out, and if Kwity Paye is out too. (Still not certain about his return.) It’s not just the cornerbacks. It starts up front with the pass rush. Hutchinson and Paye have been playing well, but the sacks haven’t been piling up and quarterbacks aren’t consistently feeling the heat. Michigan needs more from pressure from its tackles, too, but I’ve watched Carlo Kemp a lot, and he’s also playing well. This is not absolving the cornerbacks. Not even close. They’re inexperienced, but they must follow the main fundamentals of the position – following the ball and looking for the ball. Mike Zordich has been drilling this in their heads. But let’s be clear, you had to know any offensive coordinator entering this season knew the plan had to be: Attack the Michigan corners. Zordich always talks about DBs needing short-term memories. He wants them to know what’s gone wrong, but they also can’t dwell on it. They must stop overthinking.

Q: If it’s a fundamentals concerns, why are they not firing defensive (coaching) staff? -- @PedroLB8

A: Coaches teach fundamentals and it’s on the players to learn and absorb them. What’s a bit disconcerting is that Michigan practiced all that time after the initial postponement, and the coaches spoke how much work they were able to do on fundamentals. Makes you wonder what they started with. If you’re suggesting firing the defensive staff now, that’s not going to help. And remember, they’re down a safeties coach.

More: Jim Harbaugh on NFL speculation: 'I’ll let my actions speak as they have in the past'

Q: Should this season be ignored for evaluating coaches’ performance due to “stuff” beyond their control or should it be weighed more heavily because it captures coaches handling crisis? -- @dk_fulton

A: You can’t ignore and you can’t overstate their work this year. Yes, it’s been a challenge for all staffs not having spring ball and having so many disruptions, not having a season, then having a season. This staff seems to have held things together well while the players were home and they had to meet via Zoom, etc. Not having them in pads earlier probably hasn’t helped them, coaches and players. You can of course argue that other teams don’t seem to be behind because of that, but it seems like a fair assessment.

Q: How much is the administration hampering efforts to recruit the “right” players Jim needs to compete on an elite level? Are we becoming the Vandy, Georgia Tech, Cal of the B1G now that rumors saying football isn’t a cornerstone at Michigan? -- @geoff6673

A: I don’t buy this. What was Harbaugh’s take at Stanford when he weighed in from afar about Michigan’s academics? He had strong teams there with the players he had to recruit to play for the Cardinal. And who says football isn’t a cornerstone at Michigan? I missed that memo.

Don Brown

Q: If the AD tells Jim that Don has to go, will he do it? Normally the assistants get removed first but it seems Harbaugh is too loyal to do that. -- @charlton_ar

A: Warde Manuel telling Harbaugh how to run his staff? Who he should hire and fire? Not going to happen. Ever. Harbaugh is loyal. Lots of coaches are loyal to the men they’ve hired, but I’ve seen former Michigan coaches make difficult staff moves. Harbaugh will have to reassess his entire staff after this season and see if he really believes he has the right people in the right positions.

Q: What is the reason that teams with much less talent like Indiana and MSU can year in and year out compete with and or beat Michigan. But Michigan gets blown out by OSU every year and “talent gap” is the reason accepted? -- @badnews

A: I’m a firm believer in toughness and playing with a chip. Some teams play with it all the time despite not having a collection of top recruits. Look no further than some of Mark Dantonio’s fine MSU teams. Michigan is dealing with mental blocks when it comes to Ohio State and other big-game matchups. If it were me, I wouldn’t be talking up players before the season like they’re the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Make them earn that praise and play with something to prove.

Q: Status of OL starters? -- @JHtookmyhedband

A: Unclear at this point. Jalen Mayfield is dealing with a high ankle sprain, and those can be so tough to get over, and Ryan Hayes has turf toe, also worse than it sounds.

Q: Why doesn’t Jim go after top 150 recruits more? Seems he plays smartest guy in room too often. Three stars from Massachusetts? What happened to our Ohio recruiting? -- @Greg47674104

A: They go after a lot of top recruits but don’t land as many as the top-five teams. This was something Kirk Herbstreit pointed out when I asked him on Wednesday about Michigan. He pointed to Michigan drifting from recruiting Ohio hard, and that certainly has been noticeable. Of course there are Ohio players on the team, but I started to wonder if that’s where the loss of Greg Mattison is most noticeable. He recruited Ohio hard. I agree with Herbstreit, though, that it’s not mean to disparage recruits from out east, but Michigan, Ohio, the Chicago-area, those were always the bread and butter for Michigan teams.

Q: Does Michigan have a development problem? The players do develop but by that time they are gone. Why does it seem it takes longer to develop the players at Michigan than it does at say OSU? -- @MichaelFMiami

A: Mike, feels like development has come up a lot over the years. I remember that being a question when Brady Hoke was the head coach, as well. I think about Devin Bush, and it seems like he developed well while at Michigan, and Jalen Mayfield last year in his first season of starting at right tackle turned some heads, and then you see other players who did well in college but flourish in the NFL. It’s hard to make the comparison to OSU, because the Buckeyes get so many top players who are closer to finished products in college, and it does take a bit longer to develop the diamonds in the rough, the three stars.

Q: Would you join me for dinner again the next time I’m in Ann Arbor to watch a game? -- @tallanmars

A: Of course, Tom. You know I'm charitable with my time when it comes to those woefully deficient in college football knowledge. But maybe you should pay this time. After all, your taste is as expensive as your football knowledge is weak!

Thanks for the questions. I'm out!