Jim Harbaugh's Nightmare: Explaining the State of the Michigan Football Program to Mentor Bo Schembechler

By David Regimbal on February 20, 2021 at 4:30 pm
Jim Harbaugh's Nightmare with Bo Schembechler
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Jim Harbaugh wasn't sure how he ended up at the 50-yard line of Michigan Stadium. A moment ago, he had been relaxing in his home office rewatching COPS for the 30th (maybe 40th?) time.

There was a fog followed by a flash, and here he was — standing on the field that meant so much to him. From his playing days in college to his coaching stint that nearly ended after this disastrous season, the sight could still take his breath away.

He had to be dreaming, right? The horizon beyond the top stands had that blueish hue that you only see in a dream state.

His suspicions were confirmed a moment later when a thunderous boom from the famed field entrance shattered the still, calm environment. Smoke billowed from the opening, then something Harbaugh knew he'd never see again emerged. 

His old coach and mentor, Bo Schembechler, materialized and walked directly toward him at midfield with a smile on his face. It wasn't the old Bo from his final days — it was the younger (but mature) version Harbaugh grew to love while playing for the hall of fame coach in college. 

"Hey there young man," Bo said in his booming voice. "It's great to see you again."

Still in shock, Harbaugh searched for not only the right words, but any words. "Hey coach," was all he could manage.

Bo clapped his former quarterback's shoulders and laughed. "Calm down Jim I'm not a ghost. I get to visit someone in a dream every few years, and I grew tired of haunting Woody's family. Wells do go dry, I've learned."

Regaining his composure, Harbaugh offered, "It's great to see you, coach." 

Bo nodded and the two made their way to the sideline to take a seat. "I don't hear much about what's going on down here. We've got a great bocce ball court setup and Woody and I have gone back and forth in our series. They're calling it the 15-year war up there."

The two laughed and Bo continued.

"But I heard you took over the program a few years back, and someone told me there's a top-five matchup with our rival this weekend, so I thought I'd come and offer you some encouragement. We're No. 3, so we should have a case to go to the title game if we win, right?"

Harbaugh shuffled uncomfortably before answering, "Well, actually, that's our basketball team, coach. They're being led by another former player here, and they're doing really well."

"Ahh," Bo drew out the word. "It's nice to see they're still carrying their weight around here. They were pretty good back in my day, and it's a nice balance even though we're a football school."

Harbaugh shuffled again, and this time Bo noticed. "What's the matter, Jim?"

Resigned and in need of direction, Harbaugh responded, "I'm feeling a bit lost coach. This last season didn't go so well, and next year might be do or die for me."

"What do you mean when you say the season didn't go so well? Did you lose a few games?" Bo asked.

Harbaugh didn't see any sense in lying to his hero. "We only won two games, and the only reason we didn't finish last in the conference is because we didn't play enough games to qualify for last place. The only good thing that happened all year was we didn't have to play Ohio State."

Bo stared at Harbaugh for a long time. It could've been 15 seconds or 15 minutes, he wasn't sure. Harbaugh's vision began to tunnel and he got the sinking feeling you experience in dreams when you think you're moments away from death, only to violently jerk back to reality and gasp in sweat-stained sheets. 

Bo finally asked, "How could this be?" 

Harbaugh started from the top, talking about his rebuilding year in 2015 and how he was a bad call and a foot away from a program-defining win over Ohio State in 2016. He took out his phone and showed Bo the Youtube video he'd bookmarked and watched hundreds of times over the last four years.

He went on and explained the quarterback carousel that took place in 2017 and how the following two years faltered late. He couldn't bring himself to tell Bo the scores of the last two games against the Buckeyes. 

After wrapping up with the 2020 season and explaining the COVID-19 outbreak, both Harbaugh and Bo fell into an uncomfortable silence.

"So Michigan has you, a Toledo, Ohio native who played part of your high school ball right here in Michigan, and Ohio State has a coach in Urban Meyer who was also born in Toledo and raised in Ohio," Bo was talking more to himself than Harbaugh. "Two coaches who understand the rivalry —who were born in it and grew up in it."

"Well, that was the case my first four years here, yeah," Harbaugh admitted. "Urban retired and his offensive coordinator took over."

"Who's this coordinator? Did he grow up in Ohio, or did they poach someone from Michigan?" Bo asked.

Harbaugh told him about Ryan Day and his background, and by the end of it Bo looked ready to throw up.

Confused, he asked, "So Jim, are we a basketball school now?"

Harbaugh didn't know how to answer. All he could offer was, "I mean... if the basketball team can manage to beat Ohio State on Sunday, then maybe?"

Bo dropped his head and muttered something Harbaugh wished he hadn't heard.

"I should've just stuck to scaring Woody's grandchildren."

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