This year’s event seemed to be focused more on the internal stars, if you will—brining out the coaches, introducing the alumni, all that. What was the decision behind that and what do you think of this event compared to last year’s?
“Yeah, that was really it. It was just a thought that I had, we had, to make it more about Michigan, from the band, the cheerleaders, the drum line, coaches, players, parents. Just make it about the family, make it about the family that we are at the University of Michigan.”
Why did you want to make that change compared to last year?
“I just thought it’d be better. Not comparing the two; I think they’re both great. Just kind of the direction—it just felt right. That was the ‘why.’”
Does that reinforce the family atmosphere here at Michigan?
“It means so much to me. Never has that resonated more; brought home our seventh child yesterday. Came right out, gave it to Eddie McDoom on a fly sweep. They were giving it to us. Had to take it. There’s no better word in the English language to me than ‘family,’ this family of ours, the University of Michigan.”
/Ambry Thomas sneaks up behind Harbaugh
“Compete, Coach! Compete!”
JH: “Compete! Compete! Compete! Was that good? Good job, Ambry.”
You touched on it up there, but the combination of this receiving class you’re brining in and Pep Hamilton moving forward with that group.
“It’s a very dynamic group. Wonderful guys, you know. Really talented people, and just thankful. Today is a day I thank the guys. I thank ‘em for coming to the University of Michigan, for choosing Michigan. I thank the parents for trusting us with their children. So, it’s a day to be thankful. It’s a day to celebrate, and very happy. I mean, this is Michigan. I want just to come be great. I want them to take advantage of everything Michigan has to offer. So, a lot of emotions, but mostly joy.”
Can you talk about the trip to Italy and your reaction to the NCAA ruling that this is the last year of spring break camps?
“Yeah, we’re not going during spring break, so…[/smiles]. We’re going at the end of the term, so it’s compliant with all rules or new rules that have been made. And let’s talk about what mainly it is: it’s an unbelievable opportunity for all of us—youngsters and adults alike—to have an educational opportunity, to connect with the people from another country, to study in terms of study abroad. Most all our players are going to have that opportunity to study abroad, do internships, do service.
“We’re going to Italy, we’re gonna be there for a week, we’re going to practice, but from there all our players are going to be able to branch out all over the world. Thinking that the classroom—the world is our classroom. And they’re going to be going to Iceland, Belgium, Japan, Israel, South America, Puerto Rico, all over the world to do their classes in May. It’s so phenomenal that I can’t wait to get there.”
[After THE JUMP: Tom Brady, HC; loading the Jim Harbaugh Coaching Express; future trips abroad]
Have the dates for Italy been confirmed yet?
When are they?
“April 22nd to April 30th, and it’ll depend for some of the players when their last final is but anybody who’s had their last final done by April 22nd will go as early as then.”
Do you want this to be an annual thing or once every couple years of how do you plan on this going forward?
“I envision this annual. I’ve got my places planned for year two, year three, year four.”
Did you choose Italy because of your family connection?
“Uh…no. Because of my fam—what family connection? Because my grandfather, Joseph Cipiti, it Italian and I’m one quarter Italian? It was really—this is all centered around the study abroad, that we’re going to give our players off all of May to pursue their study…abroad. I thought that was a good center spot.
“Year two, I wanna go to South Africa. Year three, I want to go to Japan. Year four, I want to go to Israel. Year five…not totally determined yet but New Zealand or London, one of those two. The possibilities are limitless and the educational opportunities for our players is to the moon, so that’s where we want to go.”
Did you guys go out and fundraise for that? Did you ask donors for help on this, and how was it received overall?
“Yeah, it was one person. One person has donated to make this happen. He hasn’t given me the clearance yet to make that—for me to say who that was, but one incredible guy, one incredible supporter. One incredible Michigan man.”
Every year is it going to be the same guy supporting you?
“That hasn’t been confirmed yet. Hopefully.”
You had a lot of former great players from the school here today with your future players. Talk about a little bit and what that meant to you today to see that.
“It felt great. It’s great to see Braylon. It’s great to see Funchess. It’s great to see all the Michigan players, and a lot that weren’t on the stage, so many guys that we were teammates with. Triando Markray’s son, got to meet him for the first time today. That chance to connect, that chance to reconnect, also this serves as a tremendous opportunity to do that.”
This study abroad, practice abroad, the NCAA can’t stop this, do you think?
“I don’t who would have a problem with that or how they could unless they’re not for student-athletes. This is—this is bringing athletics and academics together. This is what being a student-athlete’s supposed to be. It’s one of the reasons we’re so excited about it.”
You had some staff openings this year. You got a little different, a little creative with Greg [Frey]. Talk us through the plan there, the idea, to bring in another offensive line guy overall.
“Just a great coach. Just looked at getting a great coach. I think a book was written on that, ‘Good to Great,’ getting the right people on the bus and then finding the seats for them. He’s a tremendous coach. Of all the coaches in the Big Ten over the last two years, it was Indiana and what they’ve done offensively, what Greg Frey has done, that I’ve been most impressed with. Of any coaching job, it’s what I think Greg Frey’s done over the last two years that I’ve witnessed.
“I recommended him to Willie Taggart and my brother John, who was looking for a coach, a line coach. Said, ‘I would find out who’s at Indiana coaching their offense, coaching their line.’ They didn’t hire him, so I said, what the heck, I’m gonna go after him. That’s the way it worked.”
You mentioned those linemen out there and how important it was getting linemen in the class. How important is it moving forward because you’re replacing a bunch, on the offensive line especially, to get that rebuilt?
“Yeah, always gonna be a priority. Always gonna be a priority to have offensive and defensive linemen with length, athleticism, size, strength, and there could be more. As you noted, we need them. Had offensive and defensive linemen graduate; seven, eight starter-caliber guys on both sides of the line. Maybe a fifth-year. Maybe a transfer. We’ll see. Don’t know. But would certainly consider that.”
This is your school’s highest-rated recruiting class in almost 14 years. What does that say about the future and the direction this program’s going?
“I feel great about it. Give a lot of credit to our university, to our coaches, to our current players that help recruit these youngsters and their families to choose Michigan. It’s the lifeblood of a college football program is your recruiting class, and I’m thrilled because of the kind of people they are. Yeah, they’re big-time players. They’re big-time people, too. Extremely excited. From big-time families. That means so much.”
When you move someone like Jay [Harbaugh] to running backs coach from a different position, how much of an adjustment is that? Does he have a background with the running backs or is that something he can pick up just from being on the offense?
“Again, just being a good coach. I mean, that’s, I think, the most important point. You read the book ‘Good to great’? They talk about getting people on the bus and then finding the right positions for them. I think Jay’s really smart. Really good football coach.
“I was looking at my brother John’s career. He started as a tight ends coach and then he went to running backs. Coached running backs for quite a while, then moved to outside backers, then defensive backs, then he was special teams coordinator, then head coach. So, yeah, if a guy can coach, he can coach.”
You’ve got 11 early enrollees this year. Is that something you specifically wanted to do with all the openings coming up in the starting lineup, and how much does that help?
“I think it’s good. I think it’s individual, based on the youngsters coming out of high school. Some like to come right away at the midyear, some like to go through their final semester in high school. Fortunately we had a lot of spots to accommodate those that wanted to come at the midyear.”
I don’t think you’ve talked about Dylan [McCaffrey] yet. Do you like where your quarterback position as a whole is going here?
“Get that arm loosened up, Dylan! Get that arm lubed up!”
It’s been two, three years and you’ve brought in a lot. Do you like where you’re going there with the stable in that room?
“Yeah, definitely really like our quarterbacks a lot. Dylan will be a great addition. Big, tall quarterback who has great stature in the pocket. Also very athletic and he’s going to be able to move. Going to be wonderful to work with. Very talented. Comes from a great bloodline of athletes: dad, mom, and his brothers, of course. Well documented how good they’ve been. Smart, smart. In the high threes with the grade point.
“That’s been a consistent thing for this class. There’s guys that are in the high—3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9 range. Speaks volumes on the kind of things they’re trying to accomplish. They’re trying to be great.”
With Pep [Hamilton]--
Warde said he was happy you guys were able to just go get who you needed to get. You got a sitting NFL coordinator, basically, to coach your quarterbacks. How excited were you for that?
“Well, we had some—Jedd Fisch—we had some great coaches that were here. Really felt like our staff was extremely strong the last two years. Jedd did a great job. Great recruiter, great guy, good friend. At first it goes how are you going to do better? Pep coming is tremendous. I have experience working with him; I know what kind of coach he is. Already has brought tremendous energy to the position, along with Greg Frey. So, feel like we’re very strong as a coaching staff.”
Is Drake getting a sixth year?
“Yeah, I mean, I think it’s practically…I don’t know if anything’s ever foolproof when you’re doing an appeal, but he’s had two lost opportunities to play, two years where he hasn’t been able to play due to injury. So, I think that’s a no-brainer, but we shall see, as they say.”
Did it just pop in your head, ‘Hey, let’s go to Rome,’ or how did that come about?
“Yeah, it popped in my head. I was on a flight from Ann Arbor to Baltimore and it just hit me right in the middle of the flight and I started really getting excited about it. Then Biff Poggi picked me up—we were going to do a satellite camp in Baltimore—and I said, ‘Biff, what do you think of this idea?’ I was really excited, he loved it.
“And Biff Poggi has done legwork, organized, planned, since that day in June, since that June 6th day. We owe him an incredible debt of gratitude. I mean, he’s talked to the Department of Defense, he’s talked to—he’s had meetings in Rome, he’s talked to the Italian ambassador, he’s talked to people at the Vatican. Originally he put the hotel down on his own credit card, really before it was approved by the University of Michigan, Biff Poggi put his personal credit card down. I told him I would put mine down with him. Then when it came time to do it I was like, ‘Ahh, I don’t know where me wallet is, Biff!’ [/laughs] The two of us said if it doesn’t get approved we’ll take all our family and friends to Rome. He’s a guy that’s incredible. A lot of people ask: what does he do here? He does a lot for our players, for our program, for me. That was one of the many things he does behind the scenes. Big debt of gratitude to Biff Poggi.”
Do the players have to get their passports?
“Yeah, we all have to get our passports.”
Do they have to get them themselves or does the NCAA allow you to pay for them?
Dave Ablauf: “Yes.”
JH: “Yes. What’s that?”
DA: “Yeah, the ruling is—”
JH: “Dave Ablauf, everybody! NCAA allows us—”
DA: “Through the study abroad program.”
JH: “Isn’t that awesome?”
Any pick in the Super Bowl?
“I think it’ll be a great, unbelievable game. Yeah, I’m excited about it. And Tom Brady. Unbelievable. I don’t think he gets the credit that’s due to him. People compare him to other people; he is the greatest football player of all time, and he’s not getting that. That’s his due. He doesn’t quite get it the way he should. Can’t wait to have an opportunity to watch him play.”
If he wins Sunday, will he get it?
“He’s already got it. That’s the point! Tom Brady is the greatest football player to ever play. When you can play that good that consistently great year after year after year, game after game after game after game, nobody’s ever done it. Nobody’s ever done it like Tom Brady. He’s the best of all time.”
Would you like to see him as your quarterback coach here one day?
“That would be phenomenal. That would be phenomenal. Head coach here somebody. Quarterback coach, coordinator.”
Will he kick you out?
“For Tom Brady—for Tom Brady, I will give him a deep, long bow, shake hands, and, uh…I’ll coach the quarterbacks for him.”
You’ve seen a lot of players in your day. Donovan [Peoples-Jones] and Tarik [Black] seem to have sort of an uncommonly mature demeanor. What have you noticed about their personalities?
“Well, they’re go-getters, first. Secondly, they’re both humble and they’re both hungry. They both have great people skills. They’re roommates. I see them going a lot of different places on campus. They’re figuring it out and they’re figuring it out together along with their teammates. There’s a real good fire there to be really good. There’s a real big challenge ahead of them. Both are serious students that are going to be going after serious degrees and to compete in the classrooms at Michigan at that high level and also to compete in football is not an easy chore, but they’re attacking it with what I like to say [is] an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
Did you ever think Donovan Jeter was related to the other Jeter? He said he gets that all the time.
“At first I asked him if there was any family relation. Have you met him yet? He’s a phenomenal personality and a rock-solid guy. Very mature, very much a leader. Great qualities. Plus the quality of getting after the quarterback and hitting the quarterback. That’s a great quality, too.”
When are you starting spring? When’s your first day of spring ball? Do you know?
“Yeah. March 24th.”
Ben Mason seems like a pretty intense guy, too.
“Yeah. Ben Mason; he looks like Andrew Luck to me. They’ve got the same personality in the face. Very intense, 4.0 student. A real go-getter. Great personality. Connected right away. Made friends with him right off the bat, like I did with so many of these youngsters. Just good people. Really good people up there. Another shining example of that today.”
[Can’t hear all of the question but it’s something about whether they intended to break camp up or] Is that just how the calendar worked?
“It was conscious, it was conscious. The way it’s set up with getting the five weeks of training, then spring break and then getting another two weeks before spring break started appealed to me and then all of May off for the players to pursue travel and study abroad and then come back in June, July, and August. There seemed to be some symmetry there to me. February, March, April and then June, July, August to get ready for the season. It felt right.”
So what’s next? You’ve done Signing of the Stars, you’re going to Europe, you’ve got the satellites, so what’s next? There’s got to be something up there that you’re concocting.
“Can we have a surprise?”
“We’ll surprise you.”
And you checked to make sure—basketball teams are only allowed to go overseas once every four years, but you guys are good to go every year?
“The rule’s written as ‘competition.’ There won’t be any competition taking place; we won’t be playing any other teams, so that rule does not apply.”
MGoQuestion: Given the turnover that you’ve had on the staff and the roster, do you anticipate making more changes than usual to the offensive playbook this season or are you pretty set with the system?
“Yeah, I mean, keep evolving. Keep evolving.”