Coach Jim Harbaugh - A True Michigan Man
By Joey Johnston
Say what you will about University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh - and many already have - but one fact remains undeniable about the charismatic, energetic and polarizing figure who has injected life into the Wolverines' program.
This is a Michigan man.
Through and through.
He lives in a maize-and-blue world, where "Hail To The Victors'' is the soundtrack, where tradition counts for something, but innovation might be the method that leads Michigan football back to glory.
Harbaugh said he believes the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl, when the Wolverines (8-4) meet the South Carolina Gamecocks (8-4), can be the perfect punctuation mark on this season. He's seeking a pathway to 2018, when the Wolverines have designs on contending for the Big Ten Conference championship.
This isn't just a job. It's his life, his passion - and his destiny.
"Michigan football is part of me on a very deep personal level,'' Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh's father, Jack, serve on Bo Schembechler's Michigan staff from 1973-79. Harbaugh then played quarterback for Schembechler from 1983-86, earning the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player award and first-team All-American honors, while finishing third in the 1986 Heisman Trophy voting.
Harbaugh had a 15-year NFL career with five different organizations. He was head coach at Stanford and the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, where he reached Super Bowl XLVII.
But Michigan was always home.
So when the call came on Dec. 30, 2014, Harbaugh followed his heart back to the Wolverines. With a three-season record of 28-10 - including an 18-8 mark in the Big Ten - Harbaugh is chasing loftier accomplishments.
"Jim is one of the faces of what a Michigan man looks like,'' said Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, who played defensive line for the Wolverines during the 1988 Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa, when Michigan defeated Alabama. "He loves the place and will do anything to help our student-athletes succeed.
"I see a lot of Bo (Schembechler) in Jim. It's the preparation and fire he brings to our team, the expectations he sets in place, and the family atmosphere he builds in our program. People may read something about him, see a tweet or have some perception about what he's really like. I do not share those perceptions. Jim is a tremendously committed coach and a caring person. I love working with him. He's a tremendous asset for our university. He is Michigan.''
To some, Harbaugh is the man who established satellite camps around the country, ruffling the feathers of other coaches who felt he had overstepped his boundaries.
To others, he's the person who took his team to Italy and had an audience with the Pope. He's also the colorful and caustic guy who had memorable news conference statements or calculated Twitter exchanges.
Who is Jim Harbaugh?
"I'm a coach,'' Harbaugh said. "I just want to coach the team.''
The satellite camps?
"It was great for football,'' Harbaugh said. "It was great for the families, great for the student-athletes. The pushback was from coaches who didn't want to work in the month of June and do camps.''
And the public persona of Harbaugh, who comes off as outspoken and controversial?
"I think that people think that (I'm controversial),'' Harbaugh said. "I'm a counter puncher. I'm like Sugar Ray Leonard. I don't start it. But if somebody punches us, I will punch back.
"If somebody shoots one over our bow at our football program or university, if somebody starts saying our name on something that's not factual, when they really shouldn't be talking about us, then one is going to be shot back over your bow. I'm a counter puncher. And we have responded.''
Michigan remains more than a job.
It's his life.
"I love it when our players succeed in football and in life,'' Harbaugh said. "I love recruiting and connecting with families because I'm a people person. It's great to watch them grow and reach their goals.
"We have a lot to offer at our program and our university. We have the highest expectations and I'm excited to take those expectations on each and every day.''
Spoken like a true Michigan man.