Jim Harbaugh told us nothing about Michigan at Big Ten Media Days
CHICAGO -- As a player, Jim Harbaugh earned the nickname Captain Comeback. As a media figure, just call him Señor Stream of Consciousness.
Harbaugh, who's garnered endless social media attention the past six months -- from shirtless practice-field photos to befriending Peru banana farmers -- did not disappoint Friday at his first Big Ten Media Days appearance. You never know what's coming next.
His very first question involved how exactly he planned to refer to the Wolverines' hated archrival. The Team Down South? Ohio?
"Just Ohio State," Harbaugh replied matter-of-factly before quickly turning his attention to the larger ballroom. "Great to see everybody this morning," he said with a smile. "Glad everybody could be here. Wonderful turnout."
When a reporter asked about his former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, Harbaugh just happened to have a custom Ditka jersey ready for the occasion. (The two dined at Ditka's restaurant the night before.)
When a longtime Columbus Dispatch writer asked a nebulous question about culture change, Harbaugh deemed it more interesting to inquire about the '70s-era Big Ten media bus caravan. "I read about that," said the coach. "I would have loved to have been there."
And a question about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry evoked tales of his childhood Sherriff's All Stars-Baskin Robbins American Legion rivalry.
At one point Friday, Wolverines linebacker Joe Bolden told a table of reporters, "I'm constantly wondering why you guys are so obsessed with our head coach." It's because he's so entertainingly odd.
But it's easy to entertain in the offseason, when you're still undefeated. Once Sept. 3 comes, the only way Harbaugh will continue to cause a stir is to win the season-opener at Utah. And then to win a whole bunch more after that.
And while Harbaugh is happy to gab about Mike Ditka or Judge Judy, he's not one for specifics about his actual football team.
"It's a work in progress, every single season, every single year," he said. "And that's what we're enjoying doing. And it's coming along."
Utes coach Kyle Whittingham is surely scrambling to revise his scouting report.
Michigan fans assume it's only a matter of when, not if, Harbaugh engineers the same kind of resurrection he did at Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers. If anything, it should happen quickly, they believe, because ... well, they're Michigan. Never mind the past eight years of mediocrity under a trio of predecessors.
But Harbaugh faces a host of issues, starting with a budding quarterback competition between incumbent Shane Morris and Iowa transfer Jake Rudock. He needs to fix an offensive line that's been downright woefeul the past two years and rediscover a running game. He needs to replace key players on what has been a moderately athletic defense.
And he's offering almost no clues to this point as to how it's all going.
For example, a reporter asked how similar or different the rebuilding process at Michigan has been to the one he undertook at Stanford in 2007.
"Very similar," he replied. Next question.
How about the Rudock-Morris competition?
"We're going to roll the balls out there and let them all compete," he said. "Whoever is playing better will be our quarterback."
Over a nearly hour-long session, the most engagement expressed at a team-specific question involved keys to developing a solid O-line.
"Precision. Those five offensive linemen working in conjunction," he said. "When we get back on the practice field, it's critical for our football team that everyone is focused on doing just that -- playing very precise on offense."
Perhaps it just adds another layer of mystery to college football's reigning Enigma Man. We may really have no sense of the 2015 Wolverines' identity until they take the field Sept. 3.
If, as most expect, this proves another rebuilding season before the real progress begins, Harbaugh may finally see a dip in the massive popularity he's enjoyed these past seven months. Of course, a guy who brought his own Ditka prop to a press conference also swears he's not interested in popularity.
"Anyone who is popular is bound to be disliked," he said. "Just coaching football."
That first part, as one reporter aptly noticed, is a famous Yogi Berra quote. Which led to an inevitable follow-up: Is he OK with being disliked?
"I'm not trying to peel back the onion on that one," he joked.
He's not peeling back much of anything yet.
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.