Jim Harbaugh makes himself, Michigan at home in Florida
BRADENTON, Fla. — Michigan was 1,200 miles from home on Monday, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at its head coach. Dressed in his usual attire — even though it was 75 degrees in Bradenton — Jim Harbaugh did on Monday what he’s been doing ever since he took over the Wolverines.
He made himself at home and acted like he owned the place.
It’s those two things that have made him such a lightning rod for discussion since the season ended two months ago. The SEC complaints and the off-handed jabs about his recruiting tactics from intra-conference coaches all helped turn Harbaugh into the villain.
But Monday wasn’t the time or place for that to be addressed. After all, Monday was one of Harbaugh’s two favorite days of the year (the other being the beginning of fall camp, of course). And frankly, why wouldn’t the mood be a relaxed one?
Michigan had what was virtually a four-hour walkthrough in perfect weather. ESPN’s Marty Smith was there, as was a significant media herd that was all documenting Michigan’s highly-anticipated spring debut. Even ESPN college basketball color commentator Dick Vitale had a front-row seat for the (non) action.
Harbaugh has people interested, and after the way he dodged questions about his hotly debated spring break trip, he’ll keep them interested. He came into Monday knowing that he would do just that.
When asked about when he thought of the idea to come to Bradenton, Harbaugh played dumb.
When asked about if the trip could help in recruiting, Harbaugh said that he couldn’t see that.
When asked about if he heard people were upset about the trip, Harbaugh said that he hadn’t.
After all of those questions, Harbaugh had perhaps his most honest response of them all.
“You good? You’ve got your quote?” he said. “You’ve got your headline? You need something else?”
If there’s one thing that the college football world has learned from Harbaugh since he came back to Michigan, it’s that he picks and chooses his spots. Whether or not he’ll admit it, he was in complete control of the quotes and headlines written before his team’s trip to Florida. The official Bradenton announcement on National Signing Day, the subtweets about Greg Sankey and the direct tweets about the Georgia coach were all calculated moves he made so that all eyes would be on him in Florida.
To the surprise of no one, they were on him Monday.
But rather than continue his us-against-the-world battle, Harbaugh put down the guns. As he said, Monday was about “assignment, alignment and technique.” He didn’t even want to talk about position battles yet because the Wolverines are still in the lightest stage of practices.
Instead, Harbaugh talked about how the team was going to watch “Remember the Titans” that night. He talked about the spring training game they would attend on Wednesday and about them having a “sober, healthy, productive spring break.”
All fun, all positive, all the time.
Compare that approach to the one Ohio State had last February. Three players dealt with the most highly publicized offseason quarterback battle in college football history. The rest of the team dealt with overwhelming preseason expectations to repeat and many had their draft stocks to worry about, too.
Michigan, on the other hand, only has to deal with Harbaugh making headlines. If you asked him, that’s probably exactly the way he likes it.
The expectations will be there for Michigan in 2016. The talk of the program’s College Football Playoff berth will dominate headlines as August ramps up. Harbaugh quickly put the Wolverines in position to be associated with that lofty goal.
But those questions will be asked six months from now. Dealing with them in February isn’t going to do Michigan any good.
Harbaugh knows that. His approach on Monday proved it.
“We’ve always had the philosophy of a plane going down the runway,” Harbaugh said. “You build up speed, you glide to it and you take off.”