Why Is Harbaugh Still Considered Superior Over Brian Kelly?

Power ranking season is officially here. The offseason is at the point where we are all clamoring for football but very little is going on. With the lack of stories, there has been plenty of talk about the top coaches for 2019. Athlon Sports and some experts at 247 Sports say Harbaugh is the better coach. Others seem to be torn on who is the better coach between Kelly and Harbaugh, but why is it a question?

The Bumpy Road Through Michigan.

If you were smart, you purchased stock in khakis when Harbaugh was hired because he was the savior Michigan needed. After the struggles of Rich Rod and Brady Hoke, it was time the program was relevant again.

Harbaugh brought with him consistency and solid recruiting. Pulling in top 15 classes and winning 10 games a season in his short time in Ann Arbor. Those are both tough feats and deserve praise as many struggle to repeat that production. The real problem is his late season struggles.

Harbaugh hasn’t played in a Big Ten Championship yet and he has gone 1-7 in the last two games of the season during his four years. For a reference, Brady Hoke 2-6. (More in-depth here)

Harbaugh has also gone 1-9 against top 10 teams during his tenure at Michigan. (Harbaugh was hired in 2015)

So he beats who he should for the most part, recruits well and pulls in 10 win seasons. But he can’t beat elite talent or Ohio State. His career bowl record is 2-4 and he still hasn’t been the QB whisperer we were all promised. So how does he keep getting a pass and put into categories as one of the best coaches in the country.

Blind Comparison

Here are the stats of a middle of the road coach in FBS over the last four seasons.

Coach One:

  • 37-16
  • 2-2 in bowl games
  • Big Ten Championship appearance
  • one 10+ win season.

Jim Harbaugh:

  • 38-14
  • 1-3 in bowl games
  • zero Big Ten Championship appearances
  • three 10+ win seasons

You can see that the two are almost identical. Coach one is Kirk Ferentz from Iowa. Iowa has been a solid team but I don’t think anyone would say Iowa is always a top 10 team and Ferentz is one of the greatest coaches in the game today.

Jim Harbaugh is almost identical to a good not great Big Ten team. The reason they are so close is that Michigan is a good Big Ten team.

Comparing Harbaugh to Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly gets criticized pretty heavily by the media and fans alike. Some of it is deserved while some is unfair. But Harbaugh being consistently put on a different level is just downright wrong.

Both have experienced success and failed to live up to expectations. Trying to revive blue bloods and return them to former glory has been an uphill climb, but only one has really come close.

Kelly has had an up and down career at Notre Dame. His first four years at Notre Dame brought a BCS Championship berth and a 2-2 bowl record. His last four brought 10 win seasons in three of the four and a playoff berth.

Kelly hasn’t reached the mountain top and has had some ugly losses over the years. But he has also experienced success at a school with the deck stacked against him.

Most of his career at Notre Dame had outdated facilities and academic hurdles to overcome. It is also one of the few schools that would suspend their starting QB the entire season for cheating on a midterm. The SEC typically suspends players for the first half against Furman after criminal charges.

So looking at the first four years of Kelly and Harbaugh shows a whole lot of similarities. Kelly went 37-15, went 2-2 in bowl games and one BCS Title game appearance. Harbaugh went 38-14 and 1-3 in bowl games.

All of this isn’t to say that Brian Kelly is on the same level as Saban, it is the fact that Harbaugh has been vastly overrated since his arrival at Michigan. While he has outperformed the last few predecessors, this isn’t the same one to keep deserving top 10 rankings every preseason.

Harbaugh is a very good coach and could one day win a title for Michigan. But maybe we should wait and see if he can win a Big Ten Championship or beat Ohio State before we crown him as one of the best.

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