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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh brings "weapons-grade intensity" to Ann Arbor

Mar 13, 2015

Jim Harbaugh greets the crowd at a U of M basketball game on December 30, 2014.
Credit MGoBlog / Flickr

When Jim Harbaugh was a freshman quarterback at Michigan, he showed up a few minutes late for his first team meeting – a definite no-no.

Bo Schembechler screamed, “You will never play a down at Michigan!”

The seniors knew Bo didn’t mean it, but Harbaugh didn’t – and he was never late again.

Harbaugh is not likely to be late now, either, as Michigan’s head coach. His father urged his kids to “attack every day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind!” and Harbaugh does.He once said, “I don’t get sick. I don’t observe major holidays. I’m a jack-hammer.”

Weapons-grade intensity is back in town.

Harbaugh and his staff are staying at a 3-star hotel, while their wives shop for homes. They don’t have time to look. They meet in the lobby each morning at 5:45, eat some oatmeal, then carpool to Schembechler Hall, because the head coach still doesn't have a car. They work until midnight, carpool back, get up, and do it again. 

Harbaugh told me, “It’s been a fun way to get to know each other.”

Michigan fans have given Harbaugh a reception like no other. When Michigan hired Schembechler, the fans famously responded, “Bo who?” Lloyd Carr was hired on an interim basis. Rich Rodriguez came with high expectations, but was also an unknown outsider. Brady Hoke arrived with a 47-50 career record. 

Not Harbaugh.

When Michigan started looking for Hoke’s replacement, Harbaugh was Michigan’s Great Hope – the native son they dreamed would come back to return their team to glory. If you asked Michigan fans for their top three choices, they would have said Jim Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh - and probably Jim Harbaugh.

Three months ago, I said if Harbaugh had gone to New York or Chicago, he’d be a great coach. But if he returned to Michigan, he’d be a savior. It turns out, that was an understatement. 

When Harbaugh first addressed the Michigan fans at half-time of a basketball game, the students wore khakis in his honor. “Maize, Blue and Khaki” is now a popular t-shirt.  So is, “Welcome to Ann Harbaugh.” 

Last week, Harbaugh unwittingly threatened to elevate his status to sainthood when he witnessed a car roll over on I-94, then jumped out to help two older women out of their crushed vehicle. The women later admitted they had no idea they were being helped by Harbaugh, but reportedly stopped short of asking, “Who was that masked man?”

His wife Sarah told me everyone has shown him so much love, they remind each other that he's not actually a king.

Harbaugh already has more twitter followers than any coach but Urban Meyer – who just won a national title.  Judge Judy returns his tweets. Over the weekend, Harbaugh popped up again like Forrest Gump, coaching first base for the Oakland A’s. That set off another round of blog entries. “Is there anything this man can’t do?”

His wife Sarah told me everyone has shown him so much love, they remind each other that he’s not actually a king. But during a recent dinner, college student came up to show him his bracelet, which said, “Hail Harbaugh.”

She thought, “Kid, you’re not helping!’ But I don’t feel like we would get a reception like this anywhere else.  This was meant to be.”

Harbaugh and his staff work all day, so they’re oblivious to most of the buzz. But he did tell recruits there’s a lot of hunger for Michigan football right now.

“And hungry dogs hunt best.”