Michigan Monday: ‘Til Death Do Us Part

They say it’s the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live. Well, if last Thursday was any indication, then business is about to pick up in the Ohio State – Michigan rivalry.

Speaking last Thursday at the Big Ten Media Days, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was asked by Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch what steps need to be taken in order for the Wolverines to beat Ohio State, Michigan State, and win the Big Ten.

Harbaugh’s response?

“Well, I’m here before you, I’m as enthusiastic, excited as I ever am, always am, even more to have at it, to win the championship, to beat Ohio. Our rival is Michigan State, everybody, that’s what we want to do. And we’re going to do it or die trying, you know.”

And as soon as that last sentence came out of his mouth, 100 reporters there in the room with him began tweeting out the quote, focusing on the key words, “We’re going to do it or die trying.”

Every person who tweeted out the quote was then deluged with responses of “RIP” or something similar.

But it doesn’t matter if the public at large refuses to believe him. It only matters if he believes it and those in his program believe it.

It also very much matters that Ohio State believes him as well.

If you go into a matchup and you don’t respect the desperation coming your way, you’re going to wish your arrogance had taken the day off.

Harbaugh then went on to talk about how he and his family were climbing a hill and how his daughter told him they need to get to the top of the mountain and they couldn’t turn back until they did. He has now brought that same mentality to Michigan football and the Wolverines’ pursuit of something that has evaded them for the better part of two decades.

Rare is the advice from a child that leads to a working motivational tactic, but any kind of motivation is better than no motivation at all.

My biggest criticism of Harbaugh’s program over the last few years has been simply the lack of energy or urgency, but after seeing Harbaugh last week, he seemed like a different guy to me. He has retooled his coaching staff and seems more energized than he’s been since his early days at Michigan.

The problem he still faces, however, is that even with this renewed motivation and energy, he’s going to try and beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten with a program that isn’t as talented as it should be.

Harbaugh likes to use the analogy of climbing a mountain, but after seeing him last week, I would take that mountain climbing analogy a step further. I think he might actually agree to saw one of his arms off with a pocket knife if it meant that his team would get a win over Ohio State.

Though I suppose if he came out at halftime at midfield this year and started sawing right at the elbow, the Buckeyes may be too ill to continue, leading to an Ohio State forfeit. With any luck, the doctors at Michigan would be able to save the arm before he was even 30% of the way through it.

Those who stay may need to sever some tendons.

I have been at media days in the past where Harbaugh viewed almost everybody asking questions as an adversary. Last week in Indianapolis, I didn’t see that at all. That tells me he’s more comfortable right now than he’s been in the past.

I don’t know if all of his hires are going to work, but some of them will.

The Wolverines have a fairly difficult schedule this year and Harbaugh and his staff are going to have to keep the players engaged. If things go south early, the entire coaching staff is going to be out of a job — which means the assistants could be more focused on their next job than their current job.

Players reflect the attitude of their coaches and if there are any vibes of desperation, they can pick up on that.

By all accounts, things are going well in Ann Arbor right now, but this is the time of year when that happens.

They’ve never lost a July. And they’re almost undefeated in August.

It’s the September, October, November that always trips them up.

I feel a lot better about Michigan’s situation right now than I did a week ago, and I’m only basing that on talking to the players and the head coach. This is the time of year when everything is great and grand, but yet that hasn’t always been the message Harbaugh has conveyed at these things.

To me, this is a different Jim Harbaugh. It’s certainly a different coaching staff overall — with some significant changes coming defensively.

The message being sent is a good one. The specter of death may sound like desperation, but desperation is a perfectly acceptable motivation when it comes to The Rivalry.

In fact, desperation is the greatest motivation between Ohio State and Michigan.

If you’re not desperate to win the game, you’re not taking it seriously enough.

Losing an arm via a pocketknife is a small price to pay, especially when others are willing to pay both an arm and a leg.

Harbaugh is finally saying all of the right things about The Rivalry and he is putting the acceptable weight to it.

Michigan is going to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten … or die trying.

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, are quietly thinking, “That can be arranged.”

The attitude and energy are both apparent, but now Harbaugh just needs to figure out how to maneuver through the existing talent gap.

The Wolverines have one or two players on their team that would start for the Buckeyes on offense or defense. That’s not exactly how a one-sided rivalry is righted.

But crazy things can happen on any given Saturday.

Especially if you have a really, really sharp pocketknife.