Big Ten Media Days: Jim Harbaugh comfortable with expectations, stands by comments on Urban Meyer

Jim Harbaugh does not have a problem with his team being the Big Ten favorite.

“That's where I would pick us,” the Michigan coach replied matter of factly when asked about the Wolverines being a popular choice to end their 14-year conference title drought.

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He also stood by a comment he made a day earlier on a podcast with Tim Kawakami of The Athletic.

“Urban Meyer's had a winning record,” Harbaugh told Kawakami of the former Ohio State coach who retired in January. “Really phenomenal record everywhere he's been, but also controversy follows everywhere he's been.”

That set off a wave of reactions Thursday and added a layer of anticipation to Harbaugh’s scheduled time at the podium Friday morning at the Hilton Chicago.

When a reporter asked Harbaugh if he had any regrets about what he said about Meyer or if he wanted to add any context, the Michigan coach replied no.

“I don't see any — no context you should know about,” Harbaugh said. “I don't think it was anything that was anything new or anything of a bombshell. It's things that many of you all understand and have written about.”

Meyer went 83-9 at Ohio State and won three Big Ten championships and the 2014 national championship. All seven of his Buckeye squads beat Michigan (including a 4-0 mark against the Wolverines with Harbaugh at the helm) and won at least a share of their Big Ten division title.

Including stops at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, Meyer went 187-32 as a head coach, and his .853 winning percentage is the third-best of all time.

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He won a pair of national titles at Florida, but his program also had a reputation for harboring bad actors during Meyer’s time in Gainesville.

His last year at Ohio State was marked by an investigation into how he handled allegations former assistant coach Zach Smith abused his then-wife. Although Meyer was cleared of that, he missed all of the 2018 preseason and was suspended for three games after being found to have mismanaged the employment of Smith.

He has been replaced by Ryan Day, who was an assistant on Meyer’s staff the past two seasons and served as interim head coach during Meyer’s suspension.

The change at the top and need to find a new starting quarterback could open the door for the Wolverines to make their first Big Ten championship game, expectations Harbaugh embraces.

"I feel like our team is in a really good place,” Harbaugh said. “Young, enthusiastic team with players with a lot of good experience. I feel really good about our coaching staff, and like I said, I feel like it's good, it's tight, and we're proceeding on a daily basis to make it even tighter, even better.”

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The Wolverines return eight starters on offense but only five on defense.

Much of the excitement around the team centers on the return of quarterback Shea Patterson, who will be operating what is expected to be a more open offense installed by new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.

Gattis, who was co-offensive coordinator at Alabama last season, is one of three news assistants on Harbaugh’s staff.

He also had to replaced Greg Mattison and Al Washington after the pair opted to join Day’s staff in Columbus, something Harbaugh was not interested in discussing Friday.

“I don't really have any thoughts on that anymore,” Harbaugh said. “I'll just refer you back to the comments that I made about I really love our staff at the University of Michigan right now.”

To fulfill its expectations, Harbaugh’s team will in all likelihood have to beat Ohio State for the first time since 2011 when Kettering native Brady Hoke led the Wolverines to a win over a Buckeye team led by interim coach Luke Fickell.

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“That's the goal,” Harbaugh said of beating the Buckeyes, winning the Big Ten and making the CFP. "That's what drives you. That's what starts you off. That's what gets you moving. And then how you go from there is on a daily basis, you are focused, with disciplined thinking of the task at hand and the process, the process of realizing those goals and making those goals happen.

“Yeah, doing that (requires being) better disciplined thinkers, better focus on tasks day by day. That's how we're going about it.”

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