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For unbeaten Michigan, good feelings are leading to good results

Ann Arbor — The Michigan players have been describing the change since earlier this year. A new energy. A rejuvenation, thanks in large part to a younger staff. The players also are having fun, which they often mention.

While it is a small sample size through three games this season, all of that has been evident. No one knows how that will translate going forward this season, but the guts of the season begins Saturday when No. 19 Michigan (3-0) plays Rutgers (3-0) in the Big Ten opener, before the Wolverines finally leave the comfort of Michigan Stadium and play back-to-back road games against Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Michigan offensive line coach Sherrone Moore, who also carries the title of co-offensive coordinator, said this week it’s not really a swagger the team carries. That often suggests cockiness and that’s not what he has seen.

“With the team, I think it’s really the culture that we’ve built and tried to implement,” Moore said. “The guys, when they walk in the building, they’ve got life about them. They’re high energy. And the practices are super fun and the guys are enjoying them.

“Whenever kids are enjoying something and putting their all into it, you get a great result, which is what you’re getting right now. I think the new staff has been awesome. Everybody’s like brothers. It’s a fun staff to be around, and the players really feed off of that. I think they can see that and feel it. So that’s all been great. I think the culture has really implemented that part of it.”

Defining culture is a tough thing.

“It’s something you feel, something you see,” Moore said. “It’s the identity of your team, the identity of everybody in the building. Everybody is rolling in one direction. It’s alignment. I think that’s what we have. Alignment is really the key piece of it.”

Moore once read a study about the alignment of business that translates to running any sort of team, athletics or otherwise.

The 10-80-10 model features a circle in the middle with 10% of, in this case, players, who are completely bought in, are tremendous leaders, and work incredibly hard. That group is surrounded by 80% of the players who work hard and are reliable. Then there’s 10% who are out of touch and don’t have the drive.

With this model in mind, it’s about getting the overachievers and leaders in the inner-circle 10% to draw the 80% their way. The more that 80% adds to the 10%, the better performance a business or team will find.

“And I think we’re pretty close to that,” Moore said. “I think we’re there, which is why you’re getting the results.”

Ron Bellamy played at Michigan and coached West Bloomfield High the last 11 years before joining Jim Harbaugh’s staff first. He was hired as receivers coach, but then moved to safeties to make room for the hiring of quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss.

Bellamy said the key ingredient for making football fun again for the Michigan players may sound hokey, but is very simple.

“Make sure they understand they’re loved,” Bellamy said this week. “We tell them we love them every day. You just build that trust. They know we have their back, and they have our back, and it’s a brotherhood.

"They understand we’ve been through what they’re going through and we’re going to lean on each other. There’s no finger pointing. We’re going to pick each other up. You make a mistake, let’s figure out why we made the mistake, clean it up, pick each other up, hold each other accountable and let’s play ball.”

Bellamy explained that by telling the players every day they’re loved encourages positivity.

“You want accountability and positivity,” he said. “One of the things is, we’re going to lift our brothers up. By doing that, they know how to check each other in a respectful, positive way. It’s a system we have in place. So far, so good for us.”

Following the win over Northern Illinois last week, Harbaugh spoke of the morale of the players and the excitement on the sideline as he liberally substituted in players who rarely see the field. But Harbaugh also is seeing and feeling something similar among the coaches. He revamped his staff in the offseason, overhauling the defensive staff, while adding key pieces in former Michigan players, Bellamy and Mike Hart.

“I also see a really great morale amongst the coaching staff, offensive staff working great together, humming,” Harbaugh said. “Same with the defensive staff, working really well. There’s great camaraderie and great morale on those sides of the ball. Whether it’s coach-to-coach, player-to-coach, coach-to-player, it’s super encouraging.”

That's what they intend to rely on as the challenge of Big Ten play begins Saturday.

Twitter: @chengelis

Rutgers at No. 19 Michigan

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: ABC/950

Records: Both teams 3-0

Line: Michigan by 21