Jim Harbaugh's ref rant was peak Harbaugh

November 26, 2016, 8:21 PM

— -- COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jim Harbaugh wants the whole state of Michigan to know he gives a damn. Those from O-HI-O, too.

Harbaugh gives a damn about the way Saturday's Michigan-Ohio State game was officiated. He gives a damn about The Spot, the latest indelible moment in college football's greatest rivalry. He gives a damn about several other calls, too.

"I'm bitterly disappointed in the officiating," Harbaugh said. "Can't make that any more clear."

Harbaugh's barrage fed the fury of Michigan fans who felt the same way about the calls. Coaches asked about controversial calls often hold their tongues, sensing the fines and other repercussions for publicly berating officials. Most coaches often qualify their statements, saying it didn't cost their team the game or noting that the opponent deserves credit for winning.

There was none of that from Harbaugh. He expressed pride in his players. But he spent much more time discussing the men in stripes than those in Maize and Blue or Scarlet and Gray. He seemed too peeved to state a playoff case for his potentially deserving team.

"Two penalties called all day [on Ohio State]," Harbaugh said. "Multiple holding penalties let go, multiple false starts. The official on my side, who is supposed to be watching that, is concerned about whether our coaches are in the [coaches' box] or not. Their coaches were on the field, practically in the huddle at times.

"I'm bitter."

Is that the look Michigan wants to see from its coach after such an incredible game? Maybe in the short-term. Maybe Bo Schembechler or Woody Hayes would have gone off, too. "Bitterly disappointed" was a Bo phrase, after all.

Maybe Harbaugh's not giving a damn about what he says or how much it costs him or Michigan -- both are flush with cash, by the way -- are what college football needs rather than clich?s.

"There were some outrageous calls," he said, "including the one that ended the game."

Truth No. 1: Samuel's run through the Michigan defense ended the game. Truth No. 2: Michigan had chances to put away the Buckeyes in a contest it controlled for nearly three quarters.

Road teams that lose the turnover battle 3-1 and throw pick-sixes from their own end zone rarely win. If Ohio State's Tyler Durbin had connected on field goal attempts from 37 and 21 yards out -- Durbin's only miss entering the game was the infamous block at Penn State -- Michigan would have lost in regulation. If Michigan didn't throw from its own end zone with a quarterback ( Wilton Speight) coming off of an injury, maybe Ohio State never scores. Michigan's defense was brilliant most of the afternoon, but Barrett and the Buckeyes found cracks in crunch time.

"To my view, it didn't look like [Barrett] got the first down," Wolverines linebacker Mike McCray said. "But the refs reviewed it and came up with, that he got it. You've got to move on to the next play, and we didn't capitalize on stopping them. And that's that."

Defensive lineman Chris Wormley also thought Barrett was short, but added, "You've got to play through those type of calls and handle adversity."

McCray later said Michigan's players would back up Harbaugh on what he said, but it's notable when teenagers and 20-somethings are more measured than their 52-year-old coach.

But that's Harbaugh. He complained about the officials after Michigan's loss to Michigan State last year. He said of a replay reversal near the end of Michigan's 33-point win over Illinois on Oct. 25, "I've never seen a worse call."

If Harbaugh is asked about officiating, he doesn't hold back.

It's refreshing, to a degree. But this game, on this stage, with these repercussions, demanded a wider view from one of its leading men, a greater acknowledgement of what had taken place for 3 hours, 51 minutes before a record crowd of 110,045.

The Big Ten likes to hold itself to a higher standard, and while coaches have expressed displeasure with officiating, Harbaugh's tirade is unprecedented in recent years. The last Big Ten coach fined for ripping officials? Former Nebraska boss Bo Pelini. It tells you something.

The spot certainly could have gone Michigan's way. But without overt video evidence, replay officials aren't going to overturn what's called on the field in a situation like Saturday's. Harbaugh had a point on the two pass-interference rulings, a foul on Michigan's Delano Hill and a non-call on Ohio State's Gareon Conley in the second overtime. Both calls mattered. As for the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Harbaugh? He was warned. As a national officiating source told ESPN.com on Saturday, "You can't be throwing stuff. He's always toed the line."

Harbaugh left Ohio Stadium bitter and outraged. He also left having done a masterful job to get Michigan on par with its archrival in only his second season as Wolverines coach. The canyon separating these two teams last year in Ann Arbor has closed quickly.

This game was another amazing chapter in a rivalry full of them. A little acknowledgment from Harbaugh would have gone a long way.

That's bitterly disappointing, too.