If Harbaugh’s Not Good Enough For Some UM Fans, Who Would Be?

Hello, Loyal Readers!

On TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7, at 7 p.m. at University of Michigan’s Rackham Auditorium, we will launch my next book THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism. The great Cynthia Canty, host of Michigan Radio’s Stateside program, will introduce me. Admission is free, and Literati Bookstore will have hundreds of books available for purchase, and I’ll sign them all, just like last time. More information on the book is below.

Hope to see you there! Tell 100 friends!


Listen to the commentary by clicking play.

After the Michigan Wolverines lost to Michigan State, they travelled to Happy Valley to take on Penn State, looking for a little redemption.

Or a lot. Penn State entered the game ranked second in the country, first in the Big Ten.

What a difference a year makes.

When Penn State visited Michigan last year, the Wolverines whooped ‘em, 49-10. The outcome left only two questions: Would undefeated Michigan run the table, and when would Penn State coach James Franklin get fired?

But that’s not how it played out. Over the next ten games, Michigan lost four – while Penn State lost only one. Their fortunes had flipped.

The Wolverines sought to flip them back last weekend against Penn State. But the Lions were having none of it, crushing Michigan, 42-13. Michigan’s vaunted defense, which some called the best in the nation, was torched for two touchdowns — in the first five minutes.

All this dropped Michigan out of the rankings, out of the race for a national title, and probably out of contention for a Big Ten title, too.

That left Michigan fans heartbroken, which is understandable. They have high expectations, going all the way back to 1898, when Louis Elbel penned the Victors’ lyrics, “Leaders and Best.”

The fans have every right to criticize the poor play, and the results. It’s a big boy business, after all, but a fringe invariably takes it too far.

I’ve always believed college football produces the most passionate fans of any sport in the world, which is one reason why I love it. And you will not find more passionate fans than Michigan’s.

But that passion often comes with impatience, which was on display after the loss. Some fans were apoplectic, tweeting about “accountability,” declaring the results “unacceptable,” and a few even calling for head coach Jim Harbaugh’s job.

What does all that mean?

Is anyone in America more accountable than a college football coach? These guys get fired faster than people who screw up the response to natural disasters. Every aspect of their performance gets scrutinized on radio, TV, and the internet – and no one, in pro or college, gets more than Jim Harbaugh.

This is the same coach who led stunning turn-arounds at the University of San Diego, Stanford, and the San Francisco 49ers. That’s why this native son was received as a savior when he took the Michigan job in December of 2014 – not even waiting to hear the much higher offers from NFL teams.

Yes, Harbaugh is paid extremely well, about seven million dollars a year – but the NFL would pay him more. In his first year, he promptly doubled Michigan’s victories from 5 to 10, and won 10 more his second.

Harbaugh’s quick success probably led many fans to believe the Wolverines would return to the promised land this season – despite having the youngest roster in the country, and now a back-up quarterback.

But if Harbaugh’s not good enough, who would be?

The good news for Michigan fans is Harbaugh’s not going anywhere. His players have been exemplary off the field – and the few who haven’t quickly parted ways. The team is setting records in the classroom, too, trailing only four other schools in the Academic Progress Rating.

Harbaugh is more immune to public opinion than any coach I’ve seen since his mentor, Bo Schembechler. Bo once told me, “I fundamentally don’t give a rat’s ass about the opinion of anyone outside our locker room.” I don’t think Harbaugh does either. When  criticized by the fans, I’ve never seen him pass the buck, or bite back.

Harbaugh has had great success everywhere he’s coached. It’s very difficult to believe his alma mater will be the exception.

His team will get there – just not as fast as some fans would like.

  • * * * * *



The most destructive moment of World War I occurred far from the Western Front, in Canada, where an explosion blew a city apart but propelled two nations together. John Bacon, a superbly talented historian and story teller, has rescued from obscurity an astonishing episode of horror and heroism.


-George F. Will, Pulitzer-Prize winning Syndicated Columnist


The Great Halifax Explosion is absorbing from first page to last. With deep research and evocative writing, John U. Bacon has brought back to life this devastating wartime event and illuminated its lasting meaning.

-David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of Once in a Great City


Fans of Ken Burns, Daniel James’ The Boys In The Boat, and John McPhee’s Hiroshima will find in John Bacon’s meticulous reporting a story that literally rocked the world. What Bacon does so humanely, so expertly, and so compellingly is bring this story back from obscurity, into vivid life. Bacon sets the clock in motion, it’s literally ticking as we wait. That is the thrill of this book; to learn to care about these people under Bacon’s expert artistry, and to see this calamitous event rippling through life today. This a story with an enormous heart; this is an author with astounding range as a journalist and page-turning storyteller.

-Doug Stanton, New York Times Bestselling author of The Odyssey of Echo Company


When I first encountered the Halifax Explosion, I knew immediately it was a tick-tock of a story just waiting to become a book. John U. Bacon is clearly the perfect writer for the job, able to keep you awake reading ho­­­urs after your spouse has turned out the lights. In this suspenseful tale of heartbreak and heroism, Bacon deftly recreates a world at war and sheds new light on one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.

-Beth Macy, New York Times Bestselling author of Factory Man and Truevine


John U. Bacon’s The Great Halifax Explosion is the seminal account of one of the bloodiest man-made disasters in world history, which killed some 2,000 people.  This is a riveting, well-written and researched World War I book.  Highly recommended!

Douglas Brinkley, New York Times Bestselling author of Cronkite



A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
Author: John U. Bacon

A history of the destruction of a Canadian city by an explosion as powerful as a nuclear weapon. In 1917, the thriving seaport of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was leveled by a munitions explosion of unprecedented force when two ships collided in the city’s harbor. One carried 2,925 tons of high explosives; 494 steel drums of combustible airplane fuel; 250 tons of TNT, and 2,366 tons of the unstable, poisonous chemical picric acid, even more powerful than TNT. The ship was bound for France via Halifax as part of a convoy, the better to avoid German U-boats, until miscalculations ended in a devastating “awkward, dangerous dance.” Synthesizing locally published sources, a family archive, and World War I histories, Bacon (Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football, 2015, etc.) documents the terrifying incident in vivid detail: events leading up to the ships’ arrival; a capsule history of Halifax and a reprise of the start of World War I; the nail-biting collision; and its gruesome, horrific aftermath. Fires blazed, fueled not only by the explosives, but by overturned stoves and furnaces in homes; shock waves blasted out windows, spewing glass; railroad tracks were thrown up, factories crushed, wooden houses reduced to kindling. A tsunami, created by the air waves, quickly followed. Many who survived the conflagration were caught in the undertow and drowned. The explosion, Bacon writes, “destroyed 6,000 buildings, rendering 25,000 people—almost half the population of Halifax—homeless in one-ear-splitting whoosh” and killed 1,600 instantly. Corpses, many dismembered or burned beyond recognition, were scattered everywhere. Survivors at first assumed that the city had been attacked by Germans; years later, trials revealed the culpability of the ships’ captains. When word spread—by telegram—to other Canadian cities and to Nova Scotia’s American neighbors, help was immediate and generous. Boston, especially well-prepared because of the war, sent doctors, nurses, medical supplies, and many millions of dollars in aid. Since 1976, Boston’s annual Christmas tree has been a gift of thanks from Halifax. An absorbing history of disaster and survival.




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5 comments Leave a comment  

  • Jim Weir October 27, 2017 at 6:14 am

    Well said, John. I’ve been saying to all the naysayers here in the South (both Blue fans and these SEC heathens – I’m lookin’ at you Paul Finebaum) that if your anointed “savior” isn’t good enough, where exactly do you turn? We have a man – an alum & one of our greatest QBs – who deeply cares about the program, cares about the team, and cares about the school. Oh yeah, and he has won everywhere – including Ann Arbor – he’s been.

    We’re gonna get there, people. Let Coach do his job. GO BLUE!!!

    (sidenote: Congrats on the new book, John! I look forward to reading it.)

  • Rock Westfall October 27, 2017 at 8:30 am

    As a Badger fan who has also fervently followed Michigan since the days of Bo I believe Harbaugh is the last best hope on Earth for Michigan. He is among the greatest coaches in football and really gets it when it comes to recruiting and making his program appealing to recruits.

    Harbaugh’s biggest challenge is overcoming a culture of entitlement and inevitability in which too many people still believe that if you scream “THIS IS MICHIGAN” enough times it will mean instant success.

    Every program gets big money and tries these days and the Big Two and Little Eight are dead and buried. The Michigan program is still not fully purged of its soft culture, despite winning just one half of a natty since 1948.

    Bo’s teams were tough as nails and that is what it will take for Michigan to return to glory. If Harbaugh fails (which he won’t) who else could possibly turn it around? Nobody!

    Michigan is lucky to have Harbaugh and will eventually bust through for consistent success.

  • Bill Richardson October 27, 2017 at 10:20 am

    I hope Warde Manuel is a student of recent Wolverine football history. I call it the “…Michigan football 3rd year syndrome.” You call it “Three and Out.” Look how Brady Hoke took Rich Rod’s 4th year recruits and turned them around to a 11 and 2 season. By his third year Denard was gone and his recruits were just getting going. Had to start some freshmen. There he goes just like Rich Rod after 3 years. Now Harbaugh is in his third year and there is a similar lull. He’s starting a lot of freshmen just like Hoke. Neither Rich Rod nor Brady got a chance to play the guys they were developing. I lobbied to give them at least a fourth year. Neither Brandon or Hacket paid any attention to my several emails. Too much pressure from fans and the bean counters. To MSU’s credit they gave Dantonio multiple losing seasons to develop his team. Now Manuel needs to take heed and do the same with Harbaugh. Otherwise, as you have said, who else would they get?

  • Tim October 28, 2017 at 1:50 am

    Losing to the number 2 team is one thing, but losing to a mediocre MSU team is another. How do we beat the Buckos then? This QB Whisperer better spend this offseason searching the ends of the earth to find someone who can beat the rivals.

  • John W minton Jr October 29, 2017 at 6:33 pm

    Some people would not be happy if you hung them with a gold rope. Lou Saban has a big money but he can’t win them all. Harbaugh will install a program of integrity and players who come for an education. Fans whose only interest is in winning every game should transfer to the NFL. As a Woody Hayes fan, I was delighted when Harbaugh came back to his alma mater to restore the class it once had and lost. He may not win all his games, he will not always beat Ohio State and he will never fail to play the best that he has. I was a Michigan fan because of the school and what it stood for, not how it played against Penn State. Cream always comes to the top
    if you have the right cows and a good bull.


    PS: How quickly the whiners forget.


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