Jim Harbaugh’s way of doing things hit his new team squarely on the chin when it took the practice field for the first time last spring and didn’t leave it for four hours. It was a marathon session by most standards, considering most coaches choose to spend anywhere from a third to a half of the allotted practice time in the classroom. The resulting discontent on the roster was palpable.
“The first time we seen it… I’m not going to lie… everybody was kind of (upset),” Michigan senior linebacker James Ross said. “But the seniors got everybody on (track) and said, ‘just follow the path that they’re laying out for us. Do what they say to do. In order for us to be successful we have to change the things that we’ve done in the past.’ Once we got onboard with that everybody was fine.”
“At the very beginning you’re going to have guys that are not sure, but it is up to the seniors to get them on the right track and get them focused, which we did a great job. Everybody is onboard now.”
It wasn’t long before the practice routine that was initially a source of a great deal of consternation became the source of a great deal of pride.
“Maybe midway into spring practice (the feeling changed),” said Ross. “When we’re going four hour practices and we’re suffering and we’re going through the things that we’ve got to do… there were not a lot of teams in the country doing what we do, if any. You get a type of confidence about yourself and you get a type of assurance that you’re working harder maybe than everybody in the country. That’s what (Harbaugh) is all about… hard work.”
That was exactly the tone Michigan’s new headman was/is looking to set, but the same can be said for most coaches. The hard part for most is establishing the kind of player to player accountability necessary for that type of culture to take hold. Ross disagreed with the assertion that his former coaches were lax in the accountability department. He assigned blame on that front to a different culprit.
“I just feel like a lot of (players) didn’t hold the team accountable,” Ross explained. “You would see a guy messing up and you won’t say nothing about it and he would think that is acceptable. That is the way the culture was, just worry about yourself and don’t worry about the team. I feel like that has definitely changed since Coach Harbaugh has been in the program. Now everybody is holding each other accountable and we expect so much from certain guys that if you don’t produce we’re going to call you out on it. (And) not in a negative way. Last year when we called somebody out, it was negative. It was bashing. Now it is like, ‘come on, you’ve got to pick it up, we need you. We need you on the team and we need you to produce.’ I feel that is the difference.”
While some of that can be attributed to the changing of the guard, some of it is also due to the maturation of the roster. To Ross no player is a more vivid example of that than junior signal caller Shane Morris.
“When you’re a freshman and just coming in, you think you’re almighty #1,” said Ross. “When you finally get there, you get humbled. You understand that it is way tougher than (you) thought. It is not high school anymore and you’ve got to change the way you do things. He has definitely changed the way he has done things. He is having a more serious approach. A lot of guys have seen that and respected that and follow him and his leadership, we’re ready to play.”
“I guess one thing I can say is that he critiques himself very well. Throws that he might complete, if it is not the right way he wanted it, he will critique himself and be upset about it. He wants to be great and I think that is the whole (goal for) everybody, to be great in their own individual way and as a team.”
Whether this new collective mindset will translate to wins remains to be seen. That said, it’s already clear that the foundation for improvement has definitely been laid.
“At the end of the day it is up to us,” said Ross. “We have to police ourselves and hold ourselves accountable to certain situations and don’t let anything slip.
“We had player led practices (during the summer) and coaches aren’t allowed to be there, but we made sure every guy was there each and every time and if he had something that he had to do, he would let us know and made it up. That’s something different that we didn’t do in years prior. We didn’t hold guys accountable like we do now.”
’I feel like that is the start of (growth) right there.”