"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Jeff Holzhausen first walked through Forest Hill cemetery over twenty years ago. He wanted to honor two Michigan legends during The Week before The Game, and he decided the best way to do so was to visit their graves. Holzhausen led his first tour group on that same walk a few years later, and he’s been doing so ever since. I went on the grave walk last year, and afterwards I wrote a piece that was (thankfully) never published. The thesis was basically that Michigan fans had too tight a grip on the past and how that grip would need to slacken if the football program was ever going to become healthy again. It took one year, one speech, and one chance encounter with Jim Harbaugh to show me that I entirely missed the point of the grave walk.
“We want the Big Ten championship and we're gonna win it as a team. They can throw out all those great backs, and great quarterbacks, and great defensive players, throughout the country and in this conference, but there's gonna be one team that's gonna play solely as a team.”
The University of Michigan is brutal. You will come in idealistic and looking down innumerable paths as realistic options and at some point you will be a confused shell of that self, drained and defenseless and lost, wondering not only what your next move is in the bigger sense but what you’re going to do just to get to the next break. Michigan is more than those who have downed a pot of coffee because how else are you supposed to prep for that orgo exam and an econ exam and finish this stupid worksheet for Spanish? That’s a college experience, but it’s not unique; you can find that at almost any campus across the country. At Michigan, there comes a point where you will look around and feel like everyone is better than you; Michigan’s seeping into your soul in that moment as much as it ever will.
“No man is more important than the team. No coach is more important than the team. The team, the team, the team, and if we think that way, all of us, everything that you do, you take into consideration what effect does it have on my team?”
No one associated with Michigan takes the “Leaders and Best” line lightly. The power in that comes from a bunch of high strung, neurotic, obsessively achieving individuals working toward common goals. The goals aren’t the same; the endgame for a research team investigating the genetic causes of a certain mental health issue is different than it is for the football team, but the overarching theme is the same: use your collective talents to achieve something great.
“Because you can go into professional football, you can go anywhere you want to play after you leave here. You will never play for a team again.”
Michigan has a fortunate history of having the right person show up at the right time, a new captain to right the course of a ship just slightly off course. At the same time, Michigan has had leaders in place that have had an ability to spot a fine-drawn mistake in course; Yost was hired after the dissatisfaction born of four losses and a tie in the twenty games played in 1899 and 1900.
The expectations for on-field performance have been high for over a century; expectations for traditional football powers will always have death-and-taxes status. Somewhere along the way, though, a new component of those expectations was wrought. It’s not enough to win at Michigan. It has to be done with integrity, honesty, and through a ceaseless pursuit of perfection.
[After THE JUMP: Schembechler, Yost, Ufer, and an unexpected guest]
The Highlights: WolverineHistorian
The Setup: Although Michigan finished second in the Big Ten to Iowa, their victory over Ohio State earned them a top-notch bowl bid; the fifth-ranked Wolverines would face off against the sixth-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers, who'd climbed as high as #2 in the polls before falling to Oklahoma in their regular season finale.
The Wolverines were looking for their tenth win of the season. Bo Schembechler also wanted to improve his 2-10 bowl record. He'd have to do it in his first matchup against Tom Osborne.
[Hit THE JUMP.]
“I guess it isn’t holiday break, everyone’s here. Thank you for that.”
“It’s great to be with all of you today, and I want to welcome all of the people here who come from all over the place to report this important news and I’d like to single out some people here that I think are quite special, and they made a special effort to join us. You’ve heard we have former coaches from Michigan in Lloyd Carr, Gary Moeller, and Jerry Hanlon. The Michigan faithful will always stop to shake their hands and thank them for all that they’ve done over the years for this great university. Let me do that as well, as they unselfishly helped me in thinking through this coaching transition.
All of these gentlemen coached under the late, great Glen E. “Bo” Schembechler, and with a simple phone call we have Bo’s wife, Kathy Schembechler, here, who made a huge effort through holiday break and snow storms in Denver to join us for this celebration today. Thank you, Kathy.
We also have here today Michigan Regents Kathy White, Larry Deitch, and Andrew Richner, all of whom have been so helpful in the process that we’ve constructed that resulted in this great outcome. And while I’m mentioning the top leadership at the University, let me also thank our President, Mark Schlissel, who had just arrived less than six months ago this summer. He was terrific to me in counsel, as a person to brainstorm with, and more importantly as a touchstone of what the University seeks in its destiny of being leaders and best in academics and athletics. And finally, I invited members of my team, two of whom have knocked themselves out since we started this project: Chrissi Rawak and Mike DeBord, plus Tim Lynch, who’s the VP and General Counsel; whenever you do a deal like this there’s a lot of legal work. Thanks to all three of them.
As you hear of my selection for our head coach you should also know I broke one of the cardinal rules of negotiation; I fell in love with the guy on the other side and his name’s John Dennison, and he played an enormous part in bringing the coach home.
I’m sorry for the preamble because I know you want me to get on with it, but this part of the program is really what it’s about being at Michigan; we recognize the team first. On December 3rd I asked you to be patient with me as we started this search, and we pledged to you a deliberate nature of our work, and we discussed how broadly we were going to search for this coach. We did that. We went through a deep think phase that led to our point of view today. Many fans, alumni, past players, they took the time to give me input. I even talked to our current team twice about this decision. Safe to say I heard from lots of people. So today, I’m very pleased and proud to announce the 20th Head Football Coach at the University of Michigan, Jim Harbaugh.
The real talent in the family is Sarah Harbaugh, who’s here with her children Addie, Katie, Jack, and Jimmy and Grace, and Jim’s brother-in-law John and niece Kennedy are here. Welcome to all of them, and a special welcome to Jack and Jackie Harbaugh. Jack was a coach here at Michigan for a number of years, and his wife Jackie- they were both incredible assets to our Michigan family as they were building what seemed to be a cadre of exceptional leaders in athletics.
Now, Jack was a coach when I played here and as I told Jim, he never had a bad day. He was such a positive influence and I’m glad he’s back around our program. Thanks, Jack.
I mentioned that I talked to lots of people, and one particularly famous pro coach who has done broadcasting for many years told me this: “You know, Jim Hackett, you didn’t just get a great coach. You got the best coach in football today, college or pro, in Jim Harbaugh.”
You know, there are a lot of great coaches out there. He has a brother who’s one, and we had many of them on our list. But when you ask how many of these coaches won at all levels, college and pro, it’s hard to find someone to compare it with. In my upbringing I remember my dad talking about Paul Brown, because he excelled at all levels. This guy’s just like that. I could go on about him. He won 49 games in four years with the San Francisco 49ers. Just amazing. And considering that he had really strong competitors in that league, including another one with the initials JH, he faced a lot of competition in the pros and amassed a fantastic record.
I think that Jim likely- no, surely- was a candidate for any of these pro jobs that opened yesterday, and yet he chose to come home. At Michigan Jim will make the same salary he was paid with the Niners. Jim has signed a seven-year deal, and a year from now I will review the football program’s progress and the University will determine and appropriate deferred compensation arrangement, which I have to take into account market conditions at that time. As you know, there’s a lot of opportunity out there for talent like this, but I don’t plan on talking more about pay because I’m totally at peace with the fact that we have a win-win deal here. When we thought about a way to signal Jim’s coming home, I looked around campus and realized maize is everywhere so today I’m wearing a maize watch and I gifted these to the family and friends as a reminder of this very special day. Our guy came home. Please join me in welcoming Jim to his first press conference as the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Coach at the University of Michigan- Jim Harbaugh.”
[HARBAUGH after THE JUMP]
Signing Day: It Happened, I Guess
OFFICIALLY OURS NOW
By the time I was able to get my laptop to start yesterday*, Michigan had already received LOIs from every committed prospect, and Malik McDowell had announced his intention to attend Michigan State. Brandon caught up with all the freshly inked signees on Tuesday night; other than the usual coachspeak-filled presser, there was little else of note to happen on the recruiting front yesterday for the Wolverines.
Of course, there's the McDowell situation, which is a mess. He committed to MSU in a ceremony at Southfield High School. His father attended, though he's still not a big fan of the decision; his mother did not. As of now, McDowell's LOI remains unsigned, and potentially could for a while:
“I’m not legally able to do it because I’m not the custodial parent,” Greg [McDowell, Malik's father] told The Detroit News, noting that Malik is only 17. “[Joya Crowe, Malik's mother] has to sign it and I have to sign it, too. I don’t know when it will happen. Malik has to handle that with his Mom. I’m willing to do whatever my son wants. It’s been a long process and an uneasy process.
“That’s something he’ll have to deal with, because at the end of the day it’s all about him and he has to work it out.”
State's coaches sounded confident that he'll be a Spartan eventually—if worst comes to worst, McDowell doesn't even need a LOI in order to get his scholarship and enroll in the fall, though that leaves MSU in the unenviable position of hoping he sticks to his commitment without any binding document.
Could Michigan potentially get back into his recruitment in the meantime? It's highly unlikely. Malik is obviously intent on going to MSU; if he's forced to compromise with his mother, FSU and OSU are also possibilities—and there's also the matter of whether or not the coaches would want a player who may not really want to be in the program. Usually in these types of situations, the prospect eventually gets his wish, and that's what I expect to happen here.
As for actual newsworthy bits regarding Michigan's commits, there's one worth reprinting: Drake Harris, who missed his senior season with a torn hamstring, is "feeling more and more 100 percent," according to Jeff Hecklinski, and should be healthy for spring practice.
[Hit THE JUMP for a great Bo Schembechler story, Bo Pelini's unusual recruiting methods, lolTimBeckman, actual evidence that tweeting at recruits doesn't work, and more.]