|Two great things close to Geoff's heart: the MMB and WWII military aviation. (Photo by Bryan Fuller)|
Michigan has been playing football since 1879. They claim the record for the most wins in college football. They are the second oldest program in FBS. During that time, they have won 922 games.
A lot has been made of how we motivate ourselves, the fixed mindset vs the growth mindset. It is possible, we cannot know for certain, that during the Hoke years, Michigan's football program was stuck in a fixed mindset, that they could only be so good, that talent was innate and not developed. It appears that in the Harbaugh philosophy is the growth mindset, never satisfied with being good enough, always looking for ways to improve.
For that mindset to work, you need motivation. Intrinsic motivation is good, because it is, theoretically, a never ending wellspring, always bubbling under the surface of one's demeanor. But most of us need extrinsic or outside motivation and if you can't find it, sometimes you have to make it up. If you're Michael Jordan, you turn virtually every time someone breathed incorrectly in front of you into a form of motivation. If you're Tom Brady, you're leaving a trail of devastation in your wake all in the name of the Ideal Gas Law. For each of us, the source and amount of the slights are sometimes a mystery. Molehills become mountains that spoke ill of your mother.
So when Rutgers decided to celebrate a field goal that brought them within 19, on a day where their only touchdown came on a kickoff return and said field goal was set up largely because the officials picked up a flag for targeting (while missing two blatant blocks in the back) on another return, it was opening a fuel line and dumping it directly in to Coach Harbaugh's internal fires of competitiveness. Michigan won the second half 14-0, playing its reserves only very late because the notion of Kyle Flood's players celebrating a field goal that didn't even change the fact that it was still a three score game in Michigan's favor must have been abhorrent to the competitive soul of James Joseph Harbaugh.
My favorite thing is the sense of wonderment some of the current Michigan players express towards Coach Harbaugh's competitive fire. These young men, by virtue of being Division I football players, are blessed with talent that most of us can never dream of possessing, and even then, they speak in curious, awed tones of just how competitive their coach is. It is not mocking, it is not reverent, but it is appreciative. It is "OK, this guy, wow, I can't be him, but maybe I can be a little bit like him." We're not all wired like that, and I think that's OK. Those who are need to find a way to channel that competitiveness in to positive avenues for growth, lest they become self-destructive. Coaching is definitely one of those realms where that competitiveness can be rewarded, as soon as you can get buy-in from those whom you lead, your players, your coaching staff, your fans.
Harbaugh's faith in Jake Rudock, the things seen in practice unseen in games thus far, resulted in Rudock's best game as a Wolverine. We probably haven't been fair to Jake Rudock, but then again, we're rarely fair to any athlete, but quarterbacks especially. We look at every pass, every handoff, every moment and critique, even though we know that cannot ourselves do better. But the game plan of this Saturday, the offensive game plan gave Rudock a lot of chances to look competent and he did just that. Screen passes galore, like the Rutgers defense had not heard of them. Snags by Jake Butt that made the simple seem sublime. Add it all together, throw in a nice little corner scramble for a TD and another for a "you did it to yourself, Rutgers" two point conversion and all of the sudden, your mind starts going "OK, it's Rutgers, but what if...what if..."
I do not know if Michigan can get better this season. The mastery curve, like below, reads like this:
The moves within "expert" are less noticeable because there is simply less room for improvement. It takes longer to go from great to sublime. But if Michigan can find a way to move into that third zone in the next three weeks, well, maybe Pasadena awaits. Who would have thought that a year ago today? Well, maybe some of us.
Until the next one.