Jim Harbaugh surprised many football experts when he became the head coach at the University of Michigan, where he played quarterback under Bo Schembechler. Some said Harbaugh would never give up the National Football League to return to the college game. Others said the sting of losing a Super Bowl to his brother John’s team, the Baltimore Ravens, would motivate Harbaugh to seek another NFL job after leading the San Francisco 49ers to an NFC championship. Most were sure they knew what he wanted.
It turns out they didn’t know Jim Harbaugh at all.
Since returning to his alma mater, the Wolverines have won 24 games and lost six. The maize and blue are ranked among the top 10 teams in the country as they prepare for their annual rivalry game against Michigan State on Oct. 7 in Ann Arbor.
Angelique Chengelis covers U. of M. athletics for the Detroit News. She’s written a book called “Michigan Man: Jim Harbaugh and the Rebirth of Wolverines Football.” She says it didn’t take long for the coach to win over his players.
“I mean, he talked about how he wanted to build the program for them,” Chengelis says. “I’ve never thought of calling him a players’ coach, but I think he might be.”
Harbaugh’s intensity — what he calls “an enthusiasm unknown to mankind” — may have caught players off guard at first, but Chengelis says it’s been rubbing off on them, especially on game days.
“I think initially, when they saw him lose it on the sideline, they were kind of like ‘who is this guy?’ Then they realized, ‘hey, he’s got our back, he will do anything for us.’”
One of the things he did for his team recently was taking them to Rome in 2017. Private donors paid for the trip, which raised the public profile of the Wolverines and their coach. In his first season, he set up satellite camps for high school players across the country. The move didn’t sit well with other coaches, especially those in the southern U.S. Some felt he was encroaching on their recruiting turf. Harbaugh didn’t back down from his critics, and has often responded to them on Twitter, where he has more than 2 million followers.
Chengelis says the hype might have died down a little this season, now that Harbaugh is settled in. But she doesn’t think he’s done taking “little swipes here and there” at his critics.
“Maybe he’s hibernating a little bit, I don’t think he’s done doing it,” Chengelis says. “I think the bear will be back.”
The former Chicago Bears quarterback is bound to be mentioned whenever a head coaching job opens up in the NFL. But Chengelis says Harbaugh is happy in Ann Arbor, and so is his wife, Sarah. She was the reason why many pundits thought he wouldn’t return to Michigan.
Again, they thought wrong.
“A lot of people thought ‘no way’ would she leave California, she’s a California girl,” Chengelis says. “But her point is, ‘I’m from Kansas City, I’m a Midwest girl.’ She wasn’t tied to that area.”
And Chengelis says Harbaugh’s own ties to Michigan will keep him here for a while, though she wouldn’t rule out a return to the pros someday.
Click on the audio player to hear the conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller.
|2004-06||University of San Diego||NCAA||29-6-0||2 Pioneer League championships|
|2007-10||Stanford University||NCAA||29-21-0||2011 Orange Bowl champions|
|2011-15||San Francisco 49ers||NFL||44-19-1||2012 NFC Champions, lost Super Bowl XLVII|
|2015-present||University of Michigan||NCAA||24-6-0||2016 Citrus Bowl champions|
Winner takes Paul (Bunyan trophy)
WHO: Michigan Wolverines (4-0) vs. Michigan State Spartans (3-1)
WHAT: 110th meeting between rival schools.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.
WHERE: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: State bragging rights and possession of Paul Bunyan Trophy.
WHO WON LAST YEAR?: UM, 32-23 at Spartan Stadium, East Lansing.
WHO LEADS ALL-TIME SERIES: UM, 69 wins, 35 losses, 5 ties.
The Spartans and Wolverines will “plow” into each other once again.