CHICAGO – Jim Harbaugh is excited. As excited as he has ever been about a football season, he says.
But that is nothing new for Michigan’s football coach.
“I’m as excited as I’ve ever been as a player or a coach for the start of a season,” he said at the Big Ten Football Media Days on Friday. “But I say that every single season.”
Until the last few years, Michigan had the kind of football program that expected to win every single season.
But since Lloyd Carr retired after the 2007 season, Michigan has barely been above .500 with a 46-41 record. And an 11-2 record in Brady Hoke’s first season as coach in 2011 is the only thing that prevented that record from looking much worse.
Also, the Wolverines’ biggest rivalries have turned one-sided in the wrong direction. Ohio State has beaten Michigan 11 of the last 13 times they’ve played and Michigan State has won 6 of the last 7 against the school that used to say it was the Spartans’ big brother.
Harbaugh was brought in to restore Michigan football to something like it once was. Only a few doubters think he won’t.
Harbaugh was the show everyone wanted to see at Big Ten Media Days and he took those who came to see him on a sometimes quirky, quick change of directions ride through the past, present and future.
One minute he was talking about driving the same streets to work that his coach at Michigan, the legend Bo Schembechler, used to take to work because his house not too far from where Schembechler lived.
“If we could do it the way Bo did it that would be something to aspire to. Not a day goes by really where I don’t think about Coach Schembechler from the time I leave my house to go to the office.”
The next minute he was talking about going to France with his wife this summer and eating dinner Thursday night with his former Chicago Bears coach, Mike Ditka, at Ditka’s restaurant and holding up a Ditka jersey.
Then he was back in the 1970s to tell a Woody Hayes story. A few minutes later, he was talking about how he will pick Michigan’s starting quarterback.
“We’re going to roll the balls out there and let them compete,” he said about the quarterback competition.
Dull has rarely been a word associated with Harbaugh. And that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is obviously excited to add Harbaugh to the football renaissance the Big Ten thinks it began last year with Ohio State’s national championship and big bowl wins by Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Delany called Michigan getting its quarterback of the mid-1980s to leave the NFL to come home “a head-turning hire.”
“It was important for them to make a great hire and Jim is a great hire,” he said.
Michigan linebacker James Ross also is very positive about his new coach.
“Coach Harbaugh is awesome,” he said. “You can see his personality. If you’d come to one of our practices you would see how enthused he is and how into the players he is.
“A lot of guys ask me what kind of guy he is. If you go up to him and ask where you stand in the program, he’s going to give it to you,” he said.
Ohio State’s players at media days said they think bringing Harbaugh to the Big Ten could liven up the league.
Offensive lineman Taylor Decker said he hopes Harbaugh can turn Michigan around.
“I really hope he does. It’s good for our conference. It’s really good for us as individual players to play against a team that is performing at a high level. And it’s good for the rivalry,” Decker said.
Linebacker Joshua Perry said, “I think it is going to be really good because you’ve got two really good coaches going at it, two interesting personalities going at it, two good recruiters and two good competitors and that can only be positive.
“I’m interested to see how it goes because I know both of those guys (Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and Harbaugh) are a little bit different in the way they handle things – unorthodox if you want to call it that. It’s going to be a really good thing,” he said.
Maybe not everyone feels the same way.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, on the other hand, approached the subject of Harbaugh as carefully as a rookie member of a police bomb squad would move toward a suspicious package on his first day on the job.
“I’m not reading all the articles, I’m not on the websites. I don’t know what’s going on outside of Michigan State circles. I really have nothing to say about that,” Cook said.
Harbaugh played 14 years in the NFL and was a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 1987.
As a college coach, he was 29-6 in three seasons at the University of San Diego and 29-21 in four seasons at Stanford. He was 44-19-1 in four years with the San Francisco 49ers, including a trip to the Super Bowl and two losses in NFC championship games.
After seven months on the job, he already has restored one thing to the rivalry before he has even coached a game at Michigan.
With Harbaugh in charge, Ohio State has its full name back in references by Michigan’s head coach.
Hoke always referred to OSU as “Ohio” instead of Ohio State and Meyer calls Michigan “that team up north.” When Harbaugh was asked Friday what he will call the Buckeyes, he said, “Just Ohio State.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.