Jim being Jim: Love him or loath him, Harbaugh is not like the rest of the pack
INDIANAPOLIS — There is only 1 Jim Harbaugh.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing is a matter of personal taste, though it does seem fair to say it would be a bit overwhelming if he was cloned like Michael Keaton’s character in “Multiplicity.”
From his mannerisms to his expressions to the way he steps out on a variety of limbs, very little about Harbaugh seems simpatico with his peers in the coaching fraternity. That much is evident from watching his sideline demeanor, but it becomes all the more clear at a setting like Big Ten Media Days where he’s surrounded by fellow coaches.
The guy doesn’t march to the beat of his own drum; he uses an instrument all his own.
Perhaps it’s a xylophone. Some find it charming, while to others it is cloying.
Either way, it’s 100% unique.
How to speak Harbaugh
Back when he was only known as charming and quirky, former LSU coach Les Miles had a way with the language that didn’t necessarily cooperate with Queen’s English.
Harbaugh comes from the same school of verbal idiosyncrasies. Literally, in this case, since both graduated from Michigan.
Harbaugh described the upcoming start of preseason practices with “Biological clock is ticking, and we’re ready to start training camp.”
He also spoke of “using your noodle” when discussing how players could replicate the success of departed stars like Aidan Hutchinson, Dax Hill and David Ojabo. Noodle, in this case, being a euphemism for your head.
“‘Hey, I remember how they worked. I’m going to do it just like that,'” Harbaugh said about the mindset of current players. “That would be ‘using your noodle.’ Pretty smart.”
When talking about running back Donovan Edwards, Harbaugh ended up on a strange tangent about dreamers.
“I can’t have an any more favorite player than Donovan Edwards. He’s one that comes along every generation or so, so to speak. He’s super special,” Harbaugh said. “You don’t know what he’s going to do. … Incredible speed, vision, balance, toughness.
“We have a bunch of guys like that. They’re the dreamers. They just dream big. They’re the ones that usually make it in this business.”
Harbaugh described defensive tackle Mazi Smith as a “real deep, real cool guy. The type of guy you love to chop it up with, as young people say.”
Any time a guy in his 50s drops a phrase followed with or preceded by “as young people say,” the result is comedic every time. And chuckling at moments where no comedy was intended is definitely part of the in-person Jim Harbaugh experience.
Such as when he says David Ojabo’s name. Harbaugh doesn’t just say it, he also chants it like the Michigan student section.
“It was a great defense last year. We talk about some of the stars like Aidan Hutchinson and Dax Hill and David Ojabo. You know, O-jab-o,” Harbaugh said. “Coming here last year, there was no talk of David Ojabo. Then by the end of the year, it’s O-JAB-O. There’s some real stars there.”
The Vikings thing
At various points on Tuesday, it was clear why the Minnesota Vikings were drawn in by the prospect of hiring Harbaugh this offseason. In addition to his success, his manner of speaking demands attention.
At the same time, you can also understand how the interview with the Vikings went south. It’s pretty easy to envision someone from Minnesota’s front office wondering if Harbaugh is off his rocker after spending a day with him.
A good example? Harbaugh describing his decision to return to Michigan.
“I couldn’t leave our team,” he said. “With the players on our team right now, it would be like losing a body part to not be able to coach them.”
That may read like a one-liner, but it was delivered in a way that made you wonder if he would actually prefer chopping off his pinky toe to leaving Michigan. Personally, I’m betting he’d rather be known as Nine-Toes Harbaugh.
Whatever happened on his interview in the Twin Cities, it sounds like he prefers it never happens again. And he definitely wants you to stop talking about it. In his very differently-wired mind, all that’s ancient history.
“I don’t apologize for staying at Michigan,” Harbaugh said. “There was one day, Feb. 3, where I was doing the interview. I told the players ‘Here’s what’s happening. We’ll know by tomorrow.’ ” They didn’t have any control over that. That was the only day. One day the entire offseason where there was a little uncertainty.
“That was so long ago that it’s not even relevant anymore. Everybody knows where everybody is at.”
Unafraid to speak his mind
Few coaches have a desire to step out on controversial social or political limbs, and for good reason. The risk decidedly outweighs the reward.
Whether it’s a high-powered booster or the family of a top recruit, there’s a chance of alienating someone who might contribute to the program. That’s generally not a risk worth taking for a football coach.
Harbaugh isn’t wired that way.
This spring, he infuriated many ideological conservatives by inviting Colin Kaepernick to speak with the Wolverines and have an on-field workout at halftime of Michigan’s spring game. This summer, it’s liberals directing their ire at Harbaugh thanks to his vocal support of the pro-life movement.
Harbaugh will always say what he believes without consideration to how it may impact your personal view of him.
“What kind of person would you be if you didn’t stand up for what you believe in and fight tooth and nail for it?” he asked rhetorically.
For Harbaugh, that includes talking about things that make his employers unhappy.
Harbaugh’s abortion stance is at direct odds with university leadership, which publicly pledged commitment to continuing the procedure at university hospitals after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
In Harbaugh’s worldview, this disagreement is not a problem, but a strength.
“That’s one of the things I love and respect about the University of Michigan. They encourage people to share their opinions. They welcome it. There’s even forums for it,” Harbaugh said. “It’s always been like that at the University of Michigan.
“There’s a university policy and I have a different view. But that’s what I love and respect about a place like Michigan. You talk about a longstanding tradition of creating those forums and welcoming people to speak their mind.”
It’s impossible to imagine, say, Paul Chryst making these waves. And Wisconsin fans are surely glad that’s the case.
There’s only room for 1 Jim Harbaugh in the Big Ten. And whether Wolverines fans like it or not, Michigan is the place he best fits.