A four-year, letter winner at University of Michigan, Jim Harbaugh was drafted by the Chicago Bears as the 26th pick in the first round of the 1987 NFL draft. During his 14-year playing career, in which he started 140 games and made the 1995 Pro Bowl, he amassed over 26,000 passing yards and was nicknamed “Captain Comeback” for his late-game, come-from-behind heroics.
After his playing career, Harbaugh then climbed the coaching ranks, eventually becoming head coach at Stanford University (2007-2010), followed by four seasons as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers (2011-2014), leading the team to Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. Currently the head coach at Michigan, Harbaugh is back in college football, making a splash in the recruiting scene by spiritedly traveling the country striving to bring his alma mater a 3rd (claimed) national championship (1948 & 1997).
— — —
Sean Ritchie: Originally from Toledo, Ohio, you’ve also lived in Kentucky, Iowa, Michigan and California growing up. Did living in so many different places provide any added perspective to your life and views?
Jim Harbaugh: It was always an adventure to me [to] find out what they have there. What else do they have? I remember moving from Iowa to Ann Arbor. They had little league baseball in Iowa, but in Michigan they had football. They had little league football. They had baseball. They had hockey. They had wrestling. I was very ecstatic about that. So, I looked at it always as an adventure. What new thing could I find or do? I also realized that every place, every place you live, has something really good about it. Every place has something good.
© Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
SR: Now, coaching at Michigan, your alma mater and high-school home, what’s something about the campus and surrounding area that stands out? What makes it a great place to watch a football game?
JH: Well, now that I’m working, they don’t let me out much. I work right here in the football building. It’s a great town in that people tell the truth. They’ll tell you when you’re doing right; they’ll tell you when you’re doing wrong.
Why is it a great place to watch a football game? Because there’s a really enthusiasm for football, the way it’s supposed to be — full stadium, no laser shows. It’s just genuine enthusiasm by people to fill the stadium — colors and the noise isn’t artificial. It’s genuine. That’s, to me, what makes it the best place to watch a football game.
© Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
SR: You’ve been heavily recruiting, causing you to travel the country, continuing the effort to bring Michigan Football back to prominence. How special is it to combine both sport and travel in that sense, while interacting with young adults?
JH: It really gives the perspective, when it comes to the recruiting, that there’s a lot of good people in the country, and great places all over the United States. There are good, genuine, down-to-earth people. They’re all of the commonality of wanting what’s best for their son. To be a part of that, to be a part of their family, part of that cause of a youngster that has an opportunity, which all we can guarantee is an opportunity, and them having the ability to have that opportunity to take their shot, to be a part of that there’s tremendous joy. It doesn’t even feel like working. It feels good.
© Ken Lund
SR: When you do have some downtime and are on vacation, or just have a weekend away somewhere, are you a beach guy, looking more for a countryside or in the center of a city?
JH: It all revolves around my kids and family. Showing them something new or different, or what they want to do. Something they’re excited for. I want to do things that they’re interested in, that they’re going to learn from. For me, I’m spending time with them and watching them grow. Just being around. Whatever I can figure out to be around my wife and kids for a vacation is what I’m after. Try and come up with new and exciting things that they’re going to be excited about. That’s it. That’s the only thing I want to do with my downtime.
SR: Paint the picture a little bit for a Saturday away game. When does the team usually arrive? What’s the preparation like leading up to kick off?
JH: Team usually arrives 4:30-5-6 p.m. the day before the game. That’s been preceded by a week of preparation and practice on our own campus. It involves meetings and meals. Last-minute preparations. Then, going to the stadium, getting dressed, warming up and playing the game. There’s no real sightseeing. There really isn’t the time for it. Laser-focused on the game. Putting the players in the best position possible to be successful.
© Ken Lund
SR: Past the competitive fire that fuels athletes and coaches to succeed, was the ability to travel and see the world also part of your motivation as a player and now coach?
JH: Travel and see the world? No, that wasn’t my motivation to play. For me, my motivation was to figure out healthy competition. I loved to compete. I wanted to be as good as I could be, or we could be as a team. That was my motivation. I wanted to be good at it.
I would say this, it happened for me, because of football, that we lived in a lot of different places. We got to travel, got to go to bowl games with my parents whenever my dad’s team was in a bowl. Then as a player, college player, pro player, I got to go to different countries. I got to play a game in Sweden, Australia, Germany and all the different cities you go to when you play professional and college football. It just happened. I realized in retrospect, it was all an educational piece. I want to do the same thing for my kids and my own players. Show them how valuable it is.
© Jason James
SR: Lastly, what are you looking forward to most about the upcoming season?
JH: The competition. Watching the guys compete.
— — —
For more on Jim Harbaugh and Michigan Football visit their website:
Cover photo © Brad Muckenthaler