Thursday, December 14, 2017
Colleges

Harbaugh could learn from his players on how to handle loss

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jim Harbaugh couldn't help himself. He was bitter. And he let the world know about it. Several times, in fact.

"Outrageous," the coach said at one point, describing the officiating that he thought cost his Wolverines the game at Ohio State Saturday afternoon.

Maybe it did. Maybe it didn't.

It doesn't matter. What matters is how you handle a brutal loss when you speak to the public. What matters is what you show them.

Harbaugh didn't show much grace.

His senior defensive lineman, however, Chris Wormley, did.

"There's a few calls that I thought could go either way," he said. "You've got to play through those types of calls, handle adversity."

Yes, you do.

And if you can't, you say exactly what Wormley said. Because in football, when games end on the last play of the game, there are always calls that could've gone either way. Because games are officiated by actual people, who make mistakes, just like players, but you won't hear a coach walk into a news conference and tear into his own players' mistakes, and blame the loss on them.

Not coaches who want to keep their jobs, anyway.

Which is why it was startling to hear so much bitterness come out of Harbaugh. His team got out-played late in the game. His offense couldn't move the ball for much of the second half. That's why they lost.

Not because of a bad spot. Yes, from my view, J.T. Barrett's run on fourth down in overtime looked a few inches short. But plenty of other people saw it differently. Including the refs. And there was not enough evidence on replay to overturn it.

Harbaugh would be furious if he were on other end and a call was overturned without incontrovertible proof. He just wanted to protect his players. That's admirable.

It just shouldn't come at the expense of the referees.

"I'm bitterly disappointed with the officiating today," he said more than once.

Well, who wearing maize and blue on Saturday wasn't?

This was the best game in this rivalry in a decade, and Michigan came up a few inches short. Harbaugh certainly wasn't the only person in the postgame locker room who was heartbroken. Or seething.

Think about Wormley. Or senior linebacker, Mike McCray, whose father played at Ohio State, who said after the game that he wouldn't be able to go home for a while because he couldn't take the pain. Or the joy some in his Columbus-based family would exhibit.

McCray, by the way, was everywhere Saturday, and hounded Barrett for much of the game.

He, along with most of the front seven, had just played the best game of their careers. They'd helped sack the Ohio State quarterback eight times. They'd held the Buckeyes' explosive offensive to 10 points in regulation. They'd made play after play after play, even as Michigan's offense struggled in the second half.

"That's one of the best defenses we've ever gone up against," said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.

Still, as good as the defense was, it wasn't enough, and Wormley and McCray and their fellow seniors had lost to Ohio State again, some of them for the fifth time in their careers. They don't get another chance to change that. Not ever.

Harbaugh, meanwhile, gets another crack at the Buckeyes next November.

Yet it was McCray, not Harbaugh, who said "I'm not gonna say I feel robbed at all. The refs made a call … we didn't get the call we wanted."

No, they didn't. Not this time. That's part of football. And part of football is accepting it.

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