This will initially appear like a random post, but (1) I went to college at the University of Michigan and (2) I used to be a fan of the athletics programs, but felt recently they were corrupted and mishandled over the past decade. While it will take a while to reinvigorate my interest overall, I definitely followed Michigan’s pursuit of now ex-49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was announced in the role today. Today in Ann Arbor, “it’s morning in America again.”
The head coach of Michigan’s football team is arguably the one of the most important jobs in the entire state. Deconstructed, it’s both an organizational and athletic role, but also a political leadership role — schmoozing with fans, recruits, boosters, regents, students, media, and everyone else. The fishbowl is a bit smaller, but it’s a large bowl. And, that’s what struck me about today’s press conference — I included the video above and would encourage you to watch it, not because you care about football, but because Harbaugh’s speech was a master-clinic in authentic yet appropriate public relations. He was honest. He admitted some mistakes. He never brought up negative things about the past — either the 49ers or previous Michigan coaches. He is both serious, self-deprecating. and makes sure to personally acknowledge, by name, nearly everyone involved in recruiting him now or coaching him and/or at the University before him.
The most interesting angle for me, however, is that while the past is over for Harbaugh, it is also prologue. He invokes nostalgia from his own youth in Ann Arbor, and ties it together with his run as the Michigan quarterback in the mid-80s, and now his own kids will be, like him, kids running around Ann Arbor during football season. If you listen to Bay Area sports radio right now, the 49ers faithful are stunned that their organization would let a guy like this go, but in the end, watching this on my Virgin America flight today in real-time, Harbaugh in Ann Arbor just feels more natural.
He’s got a number of great, reflective lines in the video, but my favorite, in response to a reporter who asked him whether he thought this day would ever come: “I thought about it. Then, I started to dream about it. And, now, it’s time to live the dream.” Harbaugh has a rep that he rubs people the wrong way because of his competitive nature, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of him throwing anyone else under the bus. It’s competitiveness, but with class.