Column: Harbaugh's media lockout won't change anything for Wolverines
For all the attention Jim Harbaugh has been receiving, a good amount of it hasn’t been his doing. That might sound hard to believe. Whether it’s analysts anointing him the best coach in college football, or the bus made in his likeness, it seems like we’re having daily doses of Harbaugh shoved down our throats.
But for Michigan media, real life doses of Harbaugh have been few and far between. The last availability was media day on Aug. 6, when Harbaugh charmed the nation with his milk-drinking advice. While that moment was transparent, everything else he did was closed off. His answers were vague, just like his clunker heard round the world.
Sure, a select number of students got to experience a UM practice, but cell phone use was prohibited. Some, like the Detroit News, hired students to make notes in practice. Others went this route.
Dear Michigan students, if Ruddock starts the scrimmage, send out the white smoke.
— Solus (@wolverinebutter) August 22, 2015
The Big Ten Network couldn’t even get Harbaugh to talk on TV, the first time in the history of its preseason tour that a coach refused to talk on TV. When Harbaugh said his team was going to “bunker down” following media day, he meant it. When he said he was “transparent as a baggie,” he didn’t mean it.
He knows how bright the spotlight is. Harbaugh going to do everything possible to try to limit distractions, but the reality is, banishing media won’t do anything for his program.
Do you think the Wolverines have avoided the spotlight in the last two weeks? Think again. Let’s look at all the national attention the program has been associated with in that stretch.
-Aug. 12: The university’s football and basketball official Facebook accounts are hacked. Twice.
-Aug. 12: Report comes out that Colin Cowherd will be reuniting with Harbaugh in the season opener
-Aug. 13: An excerpt from the book on Michigan’s fall and rise is released, documenting the entire process it took to hire Harbaugh
-Aug. 13: Michael Jordan himself announces UM will be first football team to be repped by Air Jordan
-Aug. 13: A Michigan assistant further breaks the internet by tweeting photos of possible UM Jumpman shoes
-Aug. 14: Fox Sports announces it has a “Har-bus” that will resemble Harbaugh’s likeness to promote Michigan’s Sept. 3 opener at Utah
-Aug. 14: Michigan coaches release new all-white road uniforms for 2015, sending UM fans into a frenzy
-Aug. 17: An Air Jordan billboard goes up outside the Big House, sending Wolverine fans into an even bigger frenzy
-Aug. 19: A Fox Sports college football analyst calls Harbaugh the “best coach in college football,” sending Buckeye fans into the biggest frenzy
That was just one week in August. They haven’t even started playing football yet and Harbaugh is a national headline nearly every day. Can you imagine what the reaction will be when the Wolverines have actual games to play?
It won’t matter. Harbaugh’s Wolverines are a never-ending cycle of news, one that the media doesn’t need access to in order to cover.
Does Harbaugh have a method to his madness? Of course he does. He understands that he has a young team that is going to be dissected at every turn. He wants to establish a culture that’s as tight-knit as possible, one that doesn’t show immaturity whenever a camera is turned on.
This is also Harbaugh’s way of asserting his power. The reason he left San Francisco was because of disagreement with the front office. He had a way he wanted to run his team and management had its way. That’s the appeal of Ann Arbor.
He recruits the guys he wants, he decides who plays without any outside pressure and he speaks to the media when he wants to speak to the media. No media relations director is going to tell Harbaugh when he has to take the podium. It isn’t arrogance. It’s control.
Sure, there are things that the media would be rightfully asking Harbaugh in regular pressers.
“Has either quarterback separated himself from the other?”
“What are you looking for out of a feature back, or would you employ a two-back system?
“What kind of progression have you seen from Jabrill Peppers in all phases?
For most programs, those type of questions are needed to fill the sports pages and air time. Journalists have every right to be frustrated with the situation because they aren’t getting the insight that 99.9 percent of programs across the country grant during fall camp. But with Harbaugh-mania in full effect, there’s plenty of coverage to go around.
There’s no end in sight to the media lockout. Who knows? Maybe Harbaugh doesn’t speak publicly until game week. Maybe he decides to make it a semi-annual event and host his pressers in the Big House before a crowd of 100,000 media members.
Harbaugh can do all he wants to try to steer his program in the right direction. But he can’t stop people from making buses in his likeness and talking about it. The Har-bus left the station last December, and no media lockout is going to stop it from hitting every household in America.