Unusual, competitive, ingenious, disruptive – CBS Detroit

While working for Jim Harbaugh, sometimes it’s hard to know when the conversation is over.

Florida Atlantic coach Willie Taggart was Harbaugh’s assistant at Stanford for three seasons and recalls sometimes approaching his boss for a chat in the hallway or at the office. Without warning, Harbaugh’s mind might rush somewhere else and he would pull away, often only to come back in 10, 15, maybe even 30 minutes later to pick up where it left off – as if it didn’t. had never left.

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INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – DECEMBER 04: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines walks the field after winning the Big Ten Championship soccer game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 04, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline / Getty Images)

It took some getting used to, but Taggart was clear: don’t let Harbaugh’s whims distract you from his most important trait: “He’s a winner.” “

Harbaugh has been college football’s most scrutinized coach for seven seasons, defined by his failures despite a successful CV.

Now that he’s kept his promise to his alma mater – beat rival Ohio State and lead the second-seeded Wolverines to the college football playoffs and a date against No.1 Georgia. Friday night 3 – the idea that he was ever questioned seems almost silly.

In 17 seasons as a college and NFL head coach, Harbaugh is 156-65 (70%). If you want to know what makes Harbaugh so successful, the answers will come from those who played for him, worked with him and were the recipients of his recruiting arguments.

The characteristics that make Harbaugh seem a little weird – wearing khakis every day so he doesn’t have to think about his wardrobe, for example – well, his followers will tell you they’re resourceful. The glint in his eyes makes you wonder if he’s really listening? It’s a sign of an overactive mind, always working on the next thing. The slogans and sayings that seem out of date? Heartfelt mantras from a guy who loves competition more than anything.

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – OCTOBER 23: Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh watches while playing the Northwestern Wildcats at Michigan Stadium on October 23, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 33-7. (Photo by Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

“Put simply, what drives him is competition and being the best version of yourself, so when you’re trying to distill his principles, why he’s been successful as an athlete and why he’s was successful as a coach, it’s because of that relentless positivity and enthusiasm. and competitiveness, ”said JT Rogan, who played for Harbaugh in San Diego and worked as director of communications in Michigan.

Jack Harbaugh, who coached John Elway at Stanford over a four-decade career, instilled in his son a desire to improve himself every day. This led Jim Harbaugh to Michigan, where he started as Bo Schembechler’s quarterback in the mid-1980s, secured a victory over Ohio State in 1986 (and then delivered him) and became a pick. of the Chicago Bears first round.

During a 15-year NFL career, Harbaugh was a more useful starter than a star. He earned the nickname “Captain Comeback”, but also built a thick skin.

“He’s been criticized his whole life if you think about it,” said Taggart, who played Jack Harbaugh’s quarterback at Western Kentucky. “As a quarterback you’re always going to get that criticism. I think he’s probably immune to all of this.

MADISON, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 02: Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh walks down the sideline after a 34-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter from the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on October 02, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher / Getty Images)

As a coach, Harbaugh’s resume is Hall of Fame worthy. At San Diego, a school that had little history of success before he arrived, he went 22-2 in two seasons. UCLA staff member Tim Drevno spent 14 years working for Harbaugh as an assistant coach, starting at USD.

“I’ve never been around a guy who motivates a team better than him the day before the game. He’s really special in this area, ”said Drevno, who remembered Harbaugh reciting a poem from the top of his head about going into battle before San Diego plays a game at Dayton. “He makes it really fun.”

Harbaugh then knocked down a Stanford program that had bottomed out in the Pac-12. After four years, he got the Cardinal in the Orange Bowl and finished No.4 nationally in 2010.

He made a similar turnaround in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, taking a struggling franchise to three straight NFC Championship games. Longtime NFL running back Frank Gore said Harbaugh immediately changed the culture of the 49ers, moved away from a loser mentality and made them against the world.

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ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – SEPTEMBER 25: Jim Harbaugh warms up with the players before the game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Michigan Stadium on September 25, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gaelen Morse / Getty Images)

“If you don’t like football it’s going to be tough to play for Harbaugh,” Gore said.

Taggart said you know where you are when you work for Harbaugh.

“Jim is not a BS’er. He’s going to give it to you as it is,” Taggart said.

Chris and Mya Hinton found Harbaugh sincere, but couldn’t help but notice his mercurial side when he recruited their son, Chris, who is starting on the Wolverines’ defensive line.

“We heard he was a little weird,” said Chris Hinton, who was a Pro Bowl offensive lineman with the Colts and Falcons during a long NFL career.

Mya Hinton added, “I think her mind never stops working. And so sometimes you can be on a topic and it triggers something else in him and it seems like he’s going off on a tangent, but by the time he’s done you realize it’s all connected.

STATE COLLEGE, PA – NOVEMBER 13: Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh reacts to a game against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the second half at Beaver Stadium on November 13, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)

The Harbaugh process can be disruptive and difficult to maintain. He exhausted his reception with the 49ers front office and even at Stanford there was a feeling that Harbaugh’s departure and transition to David Shaw was good for the program.

So when Harbaugh didn’t reach Michigan’s heights in his first five seasons – no Big Ten titles, no wins over Ohio State – after so much noise about his arrival, it became easy. for critics to dismiss his “Unknown to Mankind enthusiasm” as more selling point than substance.

When Michigan went 2-4 in the abridged 2020 season, it looked like Harbaugh’s tenure had already reached its peak. Surprisingly enough, Michigan brought it back with a cut pay and a buyout. If 2021 doesn’t go well, Michigan could move in a much more affordable way.

Instead, with a team that for the first time under Harbaugh didn’t have a preseason standings, it all came together.

“I know how happy everyone was to have done this for him just because he’s an easy target, especially in recent years,” said star defensive end and Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson.

Getting Harbaugh to speak for himself may be more difficult than blocking Hutchinson. Reviews? What reviews?

“What they say to me has always been completely irrelevant. It doesn’t mean that they are saying anything right or wrong about you, ”Harbaugh said. “All I know is there’s a foxhole, we’re there.” And wherever the fire comes from, we want to face it. “

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