Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 31 of 163

30 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW Harbaugh finished second nationally in pass efficiency the following year, guiding the Wolverines to an 11-2 record and the Big Ten championship. That senior season, he captured the Chicago Tribune Big Ten Most Valuable Player award, while finishing third in the Heisman vote and garnering first-team All-America honors. He went 387-of-620 passing (62.4 per- cent) for 5,449 yards over the course of his career, with 31 touchdowns through the air and a dozen more on the ground. He led the Wolverines to a 21-3-1 record over those final two seasons, including the 1986 game at Ohio State — the endlessly recounted "guarantee" game. Michigan lost a stunner at home to Min- nesota the week before, 20-17, spoiling a 9-0 record and No. 2 national ranking. In the misery of that postgame review, Harbaugh couldn't help himself. "We're going to play in the Rose Bowl this year — I guarantee it," Harbaugh as- sured. "We'll beat Ohio State. We'll be in Pasadena on Jan. 1." Such swagger produced all the expected headlines, along with a variety of responses from Schembechler. According to Jerry Han- lon, his position coach at the time, Schem- bechler told the team: "Jimmy went and shot his mouth off. Now we've got to back him up." Longtime equipment manager Jon Falk noted Schembechler told him, out of earshot from anyone: "At least he didn't say we were going to lose." At any rate, Harbaugh didn't face the ire from his head coach, as he had on other oc- casions. Not under these circumstances, with the Buckeyes waiting. "It might have been the only instance in the history of Michigan football where a player, on the cusp of the game, guaranteed victory," Thornbladh recalled. "That's exclu- sive to Jim. "Now Bo would get extraordinarily mad if someone said anything in the press that might inflame or ignite the passions of the opponent. You kept your mouth shut, and you approached the game with a grim de- termination. Then you executed your domi- nance on the field. "Normally, if someone did that, I'd think the old man would bite their head off. But Jimmy is the only person who could do that. Bo didn't get upset. He supported Jimmy." Harbaugh lived up to his end of the bar- gain, completing 19 of 29 passes for 261 yards in the 26-24 victory. Tailback Jamie Morris ran for 210 yards and two touch- downs, and Harbaugh added a piece to his legend that has been cited ever since. "Jimmy was the most competitive foot- ball player I have ever coached," Hanlon assured. "It came from wanting to succeed, wanting to be the best. That all stemmed from his family, his relationship with his dad, watching him coach, his relationship with his brother, always trying to be better than he was. "It carried over into when he started play- ing competitive athletics. He wanted to be the best there was. That competitiveness, if it's guided in the right direction, can be a powerful influence on not just you, but everybody around you." Pros To Ground-Floor Coaching Harbaugh burnished his competitive im- age in the NFL, first under the fiery Mike Ditka in Chicago. He led the Bears to 11-5 records in 1990 and '91, taking them to the playoffs both seasons. In 1994 with the Indianapolis Colts, he led the NFL in passer rating, talking the Colts to the doorstep of the Super Bowl. Only a bat- ted-away Hail Mary pass in the final seconds of an AFC Championship Game loss to Pitts- burgh barred the Colts from the title contest. Harbaugh earned honors as co-NFL Comeback Player of the Year, garnering a Pro Bowl selection. He continued his ca- reer through the 2000 season, finishing with 26,288 career passing yards, 129 touch- downs and a 58.8 completion percentage. But in those latter seasons with the Colts, Harbaugh was already laying the founda- tion for a coaching career. By this time, his dad coached at Western Kentucky, but not for long, it appeared. The administration over the Hilltoppers declared the program defunct. "They dropped football," Jack Harbaugh recalled. "They packed the uniforms away. It was over. 'Tell your coaches to find new jobs, and we'll keep the players on scholar- ship for a year, then they're gone.'" Although his youngest son might have enjoyed easier offseasons in those days, he wouldn't tolerate such a development. "He came through," Jack Harbaugh said. "They kept football, and we were flounder- ing. He became a full-time coach at no pay, and was on the road for three or four weeks every January, down in Florida, from Or- lando to Tampa. "He loved recruiting. He and I would get in the car in January, and he would drive and I would ride. We would visit seven, eight kids a day. We'd visit them at night, and he knew where the houses were, he knew their names, he knew the moms' names and their dads' names." That's when the fledgling recruiter proved both highly animated and effective, and Western Kentucky's head coach saw some- thing building. "He had researched, and he knew," Jack Harbaugh said. "I would come into the house, and I was like a guest. I'd sit, and he would orchestrate the meeting. He would be jumping around, demonstrating technique, showing them how you're going to do this and that. "I realized then, this guy loves recruit- ing. Western Kentucky ends up winning a national championship [Division I-AA in 2002], and there were so many different parts of it. Certainly that was one of the most important ones." Once Harbaugh retired from the NFL, he rose up the coaching ranks with the same alacrity and deftness he showed in moving about a recruit's living room. He coached quarterbacks for the Oakland Raiders in 2002 and 2003, then took the head coaching job at the University of San Diego, guid- ing the Toreros to a 29-6 record over three seasons. His team went 11-1 in each of those fi- nal two seasons, capturing Pioneer Football League championships. His dad joined him as the offensive backfield coach the first season there, getting paid slightly more than Jim earned as a volunteer at Western Ken- tucky, the elder Harbaugh offered, with a laugh. "But not a helluva lot more," he quipped. That experience provided ground-level insight into his son's ability to deal with a team as head coach. "I had a chance to watch, and I was amazed," Jack Harbaugh said. "His great Harbaugh was head coach at the University of San Diego from 2004-06, guiding the Tore- ros to a 29-6 record over three seasons. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO

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