CHICAGO — Buried deep within one of his characteristically long, winding answers to a reporter’s question here Monday, Jim Harbaugh uttered five words that fairly well sum up the persona he’s cultivated over the course of two offseasons at Michigan.
“Everybody has critics,” he said. “Screw ‘em.”
College football’s most entertaining and polarizing social media phenomenon came to Big Ten Media Days visibly looser and more comfortable than his first go-around a year earlier. Which just continued the recurring theme of this Summer of Harbaugh, where the quirky Wolverines coach — who appeared here wearing a suit and a Block M baseball cap — is seemingly having more fun than any of his colleagues.
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He’s not about to apologize for that, just as he’s not going to apologize for taking shots on Twitter at the likes of Ohio State AD Gene Smith, Alabama coach Nick Saban and others (Tennessee’s Butch Jones, Georgia’s Kirby Smart) who dared question the overnight explosion of satellite camps that he helped popularize.
Jim Harbaugh made plenty of headlines this offseason, whether he realizes it or not. (David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)
“I don’t think there’s any apologies necessary there,” he said. “You do the best job you possibly can, and there’s not any apologies for those specific tweets.”
Harbaugh clearly came armed with specific one-liners — not talking points, per se, but sentiments that clearly entered his often wandering mind at some point prior to Monday’s event.
Whenever someone asked about lofty predictions for the 2016 Wolverines, Harbaugh answered with some version of trying to set one’s own expectations “so high that somebody will laugh at them.”
And he got no shortage of questions about a rap video he recently appeared in entitled “Who’s Got it Better Than Us?” What some might see as a dorky guy in khakis mouthing the rapper Bailey’s Michigan-themed lyrics, Harbaugh perceived as “a respectable song and video.
“All cool people like it. Only uptight white people don’t like it.”
A little golf at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am was just part of Harbaugh’s offseason itinerary. (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)
Clearly, the guy marches to the beat of his own drum, as exhibited in this bizarre story from cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
"He hopped in one of the player’s cars," said Lewis. "They were going somewhere, and he goes, ‘Well, let me go too.’ They went to CVS together. I’m like, ‘Why is he doing this?’"
So while it would be tempting to say that Harbaugh is embracing his inner-villain, the things he does that engender divisive reactions are mostly just innocent bouts of spontaneity. When a reporter started to ask a question about being in the headlines all the time, Harbaugh shot back: “I’m not in the headlines all the time.” Apparently he does not visit sports web sites.
But where other coaches lamented missing out on family time in order to travel for satellite camps, Harbaugh clearly had a blast instructing high-school kids at more than 20 stops from New Jersey to Hawaii — and brought along his wife Sarah to several of them. She called them “the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.”
A 10-3 season last year givesÂ Harbaugh’s crew reason for optimism in 2016.Â (David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)
“As I look back on [the camp tour] — it was all good,” said Harbaugh. “It was good for the the student-athletes, the youngsters and their families, good for the coaches, good for competition. Anyone that had questions about it — people were talking about the sky is falling, it would be the Wild West — it wasn’t. It was much to-do about nothing. Those complaints have all proved unfounded.”
Worth noting, the Wild West comment was Saban’s.
But even as he drew by far the biggest media throng of the six coaches that appeared here Monday (Ohio State’s Urban Meyer appears Tuesday), it’s apparent that much of college football is reaching the point of Harbaugh Fatigue. The sooner the actual season gets here, the less coverage you’ll see of tweets and rap videos. The focus will become actual football.
Much the same thing happened a year ago, as Harbaugh went into media silence for much of training camp. And after an offseason of buildup, attention surrounding Michigan quickly faded once the Wolverines lost their opener to Utah.
Harbaugh will have a keen eye on John O’Korn in the lead-up to kickoff. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)
While Harbaugh’s team went on to achieve a surprising 10-3 season, the most coverage they got all season was for their implausible last-second loss to Michigan State on a dropped punt snap returned for a touchdown. Nemesis Ohio State delivered a humbling 42-13 defeat at the Big House in the regular-season finale before Michigan turned around and throttled SEC East champ Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl.
That bowl performance coupled with the Wolverines’ 14 returning starters are contributing to the considerable preseason hype surrounding Michigan, who will likely approach the top five in the initial polls, but mostly, it’s about Harbaugh, who’s won big at every previous stop.
Harbaugh on Monday raved about new defensive coordinator Don Brown, formerly of Connecticut and Boston College — "He’s a legend in my mind" — and versatile preseason All-American Jabrill Peppers. The three players Michigan brought to this event, Lewis, receiver Amara Darboh and tight end Jake Butt, will all vie for first team All-Big Ten honors.
Michigan’s biggest unresolved question by far is at quarterback, where Wilton Speight and Houston transfer John O’Korn will likely compete throughout fall camp — a.k.a. “the funnest time of the year,” per Harbaugh, where “the sun shapes the body and carves the mind.”
Under that searing heat, the transition begins from Summer of Harbaugh to Autumn of the Wolverines. We’ll see who’s laughing come season’s end.