UM athletic director Warde Manuel confident in Harbaugh's continuing leadership

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said he is confident football coach Jim Harbaugh, who, as he enters is seventh season recently signed an extension that takes him through 2025, is the right fit for the program.

Manuel, appearing on the “In the Trenches” podcast on Saturday with Jon Jansen, said he is “happy” with the extension that Harbaugh signed earlier this month. Harbaugh has since overhauled his coaching staff.

“I believe in him and his ability to lead this team to great success,” Manuel said on the podcast. “He understands that and believes that as well. As a former captain and quarterback here, he knows exactly the expectations of Michigan and Michigan football, and the things that are expected in terms of success. Looking forward to his leadership for years to come.”

Head coach Jim Harbaugh

Michigan has gone 49-22 during Harbaugh's six season, including three 10-win seasons and also last fall’s 2-4 record — Michigan had to cancel its final three games because of a COVID-19 outbreak. The Wolverines under Harbaugh are 0-5 against Ohio State and 3-3 against Michigan State.

Manuel was asked with Harbaugh in place and a coaching staff that got significantly younger — the average age is 36 — with the offseason hires, if he believes the Wolverines have taken a big step toward reaching the goal of a Big Ten championship. Michigan has not won a Big Ten title since 2004.

“The goal here is not going to change. The goal here is to win those rivalry games and to win the Big Ten, and that is not going to change, and that quest continues,” Manuel said. “I believe in Jim as the leader of this program, and I believe in this staff that he’s put together.

“We need to continue to have that focus. We need to have that focus in the weight room, in spring ball, in offseason workouts, when we come into fall, and we need to make sure that we’re putting them, and coaching them, to be in the right positions to win.”

Defensive coordinator Don Brown was fired in December after five seasons, a move made while Manuel and Harbaugh were discussing his extension. Harbaugh has hired 34-year-old Mike Macdonald, most recently linebackers coach of the Baltimore Ravens, as defensive coordinator. Maurice Linguist was hired as co-defensive coordinator and will also coach defensive backs. George Helow was hired from Maryland to coach safeties.

Cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich, quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels, and offensive line coach Ed Warinners did not have their contracts renewed.

While there have been significant changes on the offensive staff, overhauling the defense was a priority. There were glaring losses to Ohio State the last two meetings, 62-39 in 2018 and 56-27 in 2019.

“We struggled this year,” Manuel said of the defense. “We have struggled in bigger games with our defensive philosophy, and the way we approach it, and I think our fans are going to see us play a different style of defense and really have the ability to have multiple ways to attack an offense or defend an offense, so I’m looking forward to that aspect of it.”

On offense, Harbaugh returns to coaching the quarterbacks, Sherrone Moore is coaching the offensive line and is co-coordinator with Josh Gattis, and Jay Harbaugh moves to coaching tight ends and special teams. Harbaugh has hired former Michigan players Mike Hart, the all-time leading rusher, as running backs coach, and Ron Bellamy, who recently led West Bloomfield High to a state title, as receivers coach.

“I’ve been impressed with what they’ve done in their careers,” Manuel said of Hart and Bellamy. “If I was a running back here, if I was a wide receiver here, knowing what I know about those two, I’d be super excited about the elevation they’d bring to my game.”

Harbaugh is 57, and linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary is 45. The rest of the assistant coaches are in their 30s.

“I don’t think we set out and said, ‘We need to be younger,’” Manuel said. “We said we wanted some of the best in the business, and I think when you look at some of the commentary that has been said about the coaches that we’re bringing in, it’s that they’re up-and-comers, they’re stars-in-the-making, and those are the things we’re looking for. Solid coaches who know the game, know how to teach the game on the field and in the classroom.

"Those are the things we’re looking for in terms of driving our success. For me, age doesn’t matter. If we can have success, I don’t look at how old someone is, or how young.”