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A closer look: An overhyped Jim Harbaugh overshadows other Big Ten coaches

It’s time to debunk one the most ridiculous narratives in college football.

Michigan v Michigan State
Jim Harbaugh (right) and Mark Dantonio (left)
Gregory Shamus

The Big Ten is one of, if not the best conference in college football right now.

Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State are all legitimate contenders to make the College Football Playoff.

Powering those premier Big Ten programs are coaches. Not all are good at coaching, but coaches that are good at coaching, is good.

The conference has quite a few of those, including Mr. Michigan himself, Jim Harbaugh.

Harbaugh was a gem of a get for the Wolverines in 2014. He’s lifted the team out of perennial turmoil and finished each of his first two years at the helm with back-to-back 10-win seasons. It goes without mentioning that Harbaugh has been everything the folks in Ann Arbor hoped for.

But to say he’s definitively the best coach in the B1G second only to Urban Meyer would be a massive mistake, let alone a false statement.

His $7 million annual salary – second-highest in college football – is no indication of the on-the-field results.

It’s easy to ride the hype train and forget the facts. I get it. Harbaugh has won in college and in the pros. He has the recruiting knowhow and has backed it up with No. 7 and No. 3 classes during his first two full cycles. And pairing him with Michigan is a match made in heaven.

Harbaugh is great at what he does, no doubt. But better than everyone in the Big Ten besides Meyer?

I’m not so sure.

How Harbaugh Stacks Up

The third-year Michigan coach has built his brand revitalizing down programs.

He’s taken the Wolverines, Stanford, the San Diego Toreros (FCS Pioneer Football League), and the San Francisco 49ers and turned them all into viable entities.

At the college level, Harbaugh’s biggest victories are in the Orange bowl (2011) and the Citrus Bowl (2016). He’s yet to win his own conference and is on track to again finish third in the Big Ten.

Staying true to his career pattern, Harbaugh’s run in the NFL was successful, but short lived. He led a maligned 49ers team that hadn’t made the playoffs in nine years to the NFC Championship three consecutive seasons, not to mention a Super Bowl appearance.

Harbaugh went 44-19 in San Francisco before he and the team parted ways.

In his time at Ann Arbor, Harbaugh has compiled a 25-7 record despite being 1-4 versus his two main rivals, Michigan State and OSU.

Here’s how he stacks up against other prominent Big Ten coaches.

(Note: Records in the NFL and FCS are not included.)

Top Big Ten Head Coaching Records

Coaches Current Team Record w/ CurrentTeam Career Record Conference Titles Bowl Wins New Year's Six Bowl Wins National Titles Win-Loss Percentage
Coaches Current Team Record w/ CurrentTeam Career Record Conference Titles Bowl Wins New Year's Six Bowl Wins National Titles Win-Loss Percentage
Jim Harbaugh Michigan 25–7 54–28 0 2 1 0 0.659
Urban Meyer Ohio State 67–7 171–30 5 9 6 3 0.851
Mark Dantonio Michigan State 95–43 113–60 3 5 2 0 0.653
Kirk Ferentz Iowa 139–94 139–94 2 6 1 0 0.597
Paul Chryst Wisconsin 27-6 46–25 0 3 1 0 0.648
James Franklin Penn State 31–15 55–30 1 3 0 0 0.647
Pat Fitzgerald Northwestern 80–65 80–65 0 2 0 0 0.552

Compared to the field, nothing particularly stands out about Harbaugh’s resume.

He has just two career bowl victories, one of those being a New Year’s Six Bowl game. His collegiate-level numbers are dwarfed or equaled by some of his Big Ten counterparts.

The incredible job Mark Dantonio, who’s beaten Michigan eight out of the past 10 seasons, has done in growing Michigan State into a contender – coupled with his career record – makes him virtually incomparable to Harbaugh.

Paul Chryst has enjoyed a really nice run at Wisconsin for the past few years. Penn State’s sudden resurgence has James Franklin’s fingerprints all over it, and he has a conference title and Rose Bowl appearance that proves as much.

I’d still take Harbaugh over Kirk Ferentz any day, though.

What Sets Harbaugh Apart

He may be overhyped, but Harbaugh is one of the top coaches in college football today.

Not many are better at keeping their program relevant. He has an eye for talent and is as good a recruiter as you’ll find in the country. While Harbaugh hasn’t necessarily won big throughout his career, his teams have produced regardless if they’re in the FBS, FCS, or the NFL.

His ability to quickly implement culture change, bring in high-end players, and simply win games is matched by few in the Big Ten and beyond.


Coaches that dominate headlines usually aren’t great at the whole coaching thing.

Consider Harbaugh the outlier.

He does things his way, and his way works. Players flock to Harbaugh, teams improve under him, and program cultures change for the better because of his presence.

No matter how Michigan’s season ends – it was supposed to be a rebuilding season – Harbaugh remains unquestionably one of the best coaches around.

Not the best. Not even second-best.

But one of the best.


How would you rate Jim Harbaugh?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Overrated — Too much hype for the delivery.
    (348 votes)
  • 3%
    Underrated — Doesn’t get enough credit.
    (15 votes)
  • 25%
    He’s rated just fine.
    (122 votes)
485 votes total Vote Now