B1G Advice: Enjoy the entertainment value of Jim Harbaugh
We appreciate personality in retrospect which is why my Kennedy Center Award will come posthumously. The present is full of too many sandwich debates and iterations of the CSI series to pay attention to the totality of anyone. We hear snippets of comments and without taking into consideration the full body of work, we pounce. Lead with the pitchfork, forgo the conversation.
In how we consume people in the public eye humor is confused for arrogance, same with bravado for brashness. It’s not until the individual retires or a lower wattage spotlight shines on them that we remove the white-knuckled grasp on our pearls, unstuff our shirts, and exhale to say, “Welp, he at least kept things interesting.”
Steve Spurrier earned scowls from most of the SEC for his visor-flinging Fun N Gun antics. That Spurrier? Far too arrogant when he gushed over playing Georgia early in the season and cut to the core of the fire that swept through the Auburn football dormitory.
It wasn’t until Spurrier found himself in retirement, not to be confused with the tail end of the South Carolina tenure, that the groundswell of support pushed him into the status of a national treasure. He needed to be out of the game to be fully appreciated for what he brought to the sport, the result of some in-conference and in-state animus lingering from the 90’s. We’re headed down the same road in the Big Ten.
John U. Bacon’s book, ““Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football,” hit bookstores, online retailers, and the Costco book section, though the last store cannot be confirmed since we have enough rolls of paper towel to make it through September, last week. Harbaugh was quoted as saying, “It’s hard to beat the cheaters.” As usual, any Harbaugh content is the best content and the detractors assembled at the ready.
The SEC fan base, a beehive of conference pride made more irritable when it comes to anything Harbaugh, took it as a direct shot. Bacon later tweeted that Harbaugh’s quote did not reference a program or conference but the state of the sport in general.
Harbaugh’s reign as the best source in the college football shares no armrests, though Mike Leach is in the seat next to him. In the case of Leach, his outpost in Pullman, Washington makes it difficult to maximize his listening audience. And, in his role of chief philosopher, Leach saves his best bits of wit and wisdom for topics unrelated to football. He does not irritate as much as he disperses his dogma on anything short of the game. Harbaugh is no Leach.
He is also no Spurrier. Spurrier irritated with quick funny swipes, paper cuts with a smile and aw-shucks demeanor. Harbaugh prefers a sledgehammer.
No subtlety, no inferences, just his cold and unvarnished beliefs, the sort of commentary that cuts against the grain to provide Smartboard material. Harbaugh is fodder out of his sheer willingness to tell the truth, marked by a Dwight Schrute level of honesty that stems from necessity, not convenience.
In his current capacity he can be both heel or face. The SEC, Ohio State, Michigan State, Cincinnati, those are some of his sparring partners. He is the sort of antihero in the vein of Stone Cold Steve Austin. No person, program, or administrative body too sacred or successful, no slight too minimal, though the lack of a Big Ten Championship or a national championship leave him more than a few knee braces and jean shorts shy of the comparison. Harbaugh is good for the sport in that he gets people talking.
Detractors talk of his failure to win against ranked opponents. Ohio State fans need to do little more than point to the head-to-head record between Michigan and the Buckeyes during Harbaugh’s tenure. Enthusiasts gush over his recruiting classes and his background as a Michigan Man. Unaffiliated observers wonder what sort of football fever dream he escaped from. Whatever variation of those feelings he draws out of fans just know it’s more than any coach in the country.
Due to the urgency to win in Ann Arbor and Harbaugh’s previous success as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, the NFL looms. Whether it’s after the 2019 season or five years from now, Harbaugh’s tenure will elicit raw emotion from people contested by few personalities associated with the game long after he leaves Ann Arbor.
Until then take in the quotes, the grimaces, the gripes, the beady-eyed look that culminates in a protruding jaw and find your villain, find your truth-teller, and appreciate the personality he injects into the game.