Harbaugh on 2015 class: 'Way the pickle squirted this year'

BY foxsports • February 4, 2015

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- National Signing Day is always one of the stranger events on the sporting calendar, as huge numbers of fans wait breathlessly for high-school seniors to put on a baseball cap that indicates where they are going to college.

One of the highlights of the day was when four-star linebacker Roquan Smith held his announcement, complete with signs indicating his final three choices: Georgia, UCLA and the "Michigan University Wolverines." Smith, who was expected to pick Georgia, shocked fans by putting on the UCLA gloves. But after FOX Sports' Alex Marvez reported that the man who recruited Smith to UCLA, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, has been hired by the Atlanta Falcons, Smith has since told people that he's reopening his recruiting and then making a decision.

The strangest moment, though, had to be when Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh appeared on one of the many shows dedicated to breaking down every moment of Signing Day. This time, it was on CBS Sports Network, and he was interviewed by a studio crew that included, of all people, the man he replaced at Michigan, Brady Hoke. It was an eerie echo from 2011, when Hoke appeared on the same show as Michigan's new coach and was interviewed by the man he had just replaced, Rich Rodriguez.

It sounds like an awkward situation, but Hoke and Harbaugh handled it like two people who have been friends for years, which is true in this case. When asked how he planned to redecorate Hoke's office, Harbaugh said it was perfect and he wasn't going to touch it. He also thanked Hoke for building the foundations of a "tremendous team" and a "fantastic" recruiting class.

To be honest, it isn't a fantastic class. By the time the turmoil of last season had finished, from Shane Morris's concussion to the 5-7 record to Hoke being fired and the search for his replacement, Michigan was down to a handful of players.

Harbaugh was able to hang on to the star of the class, four-star quarterback Alex Malzone (Birmingham Brother Rice). But he couldn't convince New Jersey tight end Chris Clark and running back Mike Weber (Cass Tech), both of whom had committed to Michigan before backing away, to choose Ann Arbor for a second time.

"We're very excited about Alex, who has won at everything he's done for his whole life," Harbaugh said. "He's already enrolled, so he's been with us for three weeks and he doesn't seem like a freshman. Maybe he's got an old soul, but he's very serious about football and he's very serious about school."

Harbaugh also got Malzone some competition in the form of four-star QB Zach Gentry from New Mexico. They will battle Shane Morris and Wilton Speight for the starting job, although Gentry won't arrive on campus until this fall.

"Zach is another young man who works very hard on his skills, is very fast and has a lot of physical gifts," Harbaugh said. "They are going to have the opportunity to earn a spot, just like everyone else. We're going to roll out the footballs and let them compete. It is going to be fun."

Even after losing Weber and Clark, the quarterbacks will have skill-position help coming out of this group, with two highly rated local receivers: Brian Cole (Saginaw Heritage) and Grant Perry, who was Malzone's favorite target at Brother Rice. Harbaugh also added running back Karan Higdon, stealing him from Iowa on Wednesday.

Michigan added a familiar name at the last minute, grabbing four-star tight end Tyrone Wheatley Jr. away from UCLA more than an hour after Harbaugh's press conference. Wheatley was considered firmly committed to the Bruins until Harbaugh hired his dad as the new running backs coach, and he now joins a class that also includes another second-generation players, offensive lineman Jon Runyan Jr.

Several of Michigan's recruits were players who had already committed to other schools, something Harbaugh doesn't expect to happen as often in the future.

"That's kind of the way the pickle squirted this year, but I don't think it will be the case going down the road," he said. "We didn't spend all fall watching tapes and reading lists.

"When I got here, it was two days after I had been coaching the San Francisco 49ers, so I had to familiarize myself with the players and the high-school coaches."

But once that happened, Harbaugh slipped right back into the routine.

"There are a couple minor things that have changed since I was at Stanford, but the process is the same," he said. "You travel the country talking to kids and their parents. Those parents want to make sure their sons are getting the best possible situation, and we are able to provide that -- both academically and athletically."

Harbaugh turned that around, as well, selling the fans on the recruiting class.

"Everybody that loves Michigan is going to be proud to call these youngsters their own," he said.

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