Opinion: Harbaugh has the right to question being questioned on play calls


The great, great Tom Petty said it best: “No, I won’t back down.”

Maybe the honeymoon is over in Ann Arbor. Maybe his tough, intimidating attitude is getting old. Or just maybe the media is tired of not getting straight answers to straight-forward and often fair questions.

Note to Coach Jim Harbaugh: Bo Schembechler lost 48 football games at Michigan. It happens. And I know it’s hard to believe but it will happen again…and again…and again.

On Monday, the media met with the fiery, popular and sometimes agitated coach Harbaugh. And it seemed both sides were channeling Petty. Neither wanted to back down.

Q: After watching the film, would you have liked to have gotten the ball to Karan Higdon more? He was averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Should he have gotten the ball more, especially in the rain and the wind?

A: “Uh, yeah, he had … Karan played well.”

Q: But no answer to my question?

A: “What do you, you want to question the play-calling? That usually is the case when something doesn’t work, so…”

Q: But you don’t question that, how much he got the ball there or don’t want to with us?

A: “No. What I want to do is … I want to look at the film. I want to learn from it. I’m not going to get into questioning the play-calling.”

Harbaugh makes sense when he finally gets around to the appropriate answer to the question: “It’s a very convenient thing, right? Play worked and ‘hey, it was a great play because it worked.’ Play doesn’t work … would you wish you had done something else, had a different play call? Sure, that’s very easy to do. That’s a very … hindsight is 20/20.”

Harbaugh is not going to question the play-calling on a Monday and throw his coaching staff under the bus or even take the hit himself.

Harbaugh went on to say it’s the media’s right to question the play calling – very true. But let’s face it, it’s the easiest thing to do. And because one play works one time doesn’t mean it’s going to work again – different situations, different alignments, different everything.

It’s like in baseball when a player doesn’t advance a runner to second and the next guy knocks a base hit that would have scored that runner had he been at second. “Oh, now not getting over the runner really is costly,” the announcer will say. But because the runner wasn’t at second the factors all changed. The pitcher might have thrown a different pitch. The shift might have been different. The batter might have had a different approach with a guy in scoring position. Different situations, different alignments, different everything.

It’s fair to ask a coach to explain why he or she called a certain play in a certain situation and get their take on what the deciding factors were in calling play Z instead of play X. But questioning play calling two days later in a game where a team commits five turnovers, makes several mental mistakes and gains just 102 yards on the ground is a little silly.

Not giving the ball to Karan Higdon more is not why Michigan lost. And can you guarantee that Higdon wouldn’t have fumbled on his 13th carry. And if he did, would you be asking coach Harbaugh why did they not throw in that situation.

Over to Harbaugh:

We should have thrown it or should have run it; if you threw it and it didn’t work, you wish you would have run it. If you ran it and it didn’t work then hey, would have been better to throw it, and you’d be right.”

Over to Petty:

“You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.”

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