Jim Harbaugh isn't reluctant to speak what's on his mind.
And that makes him unique in today's college football landscape.
We immerse ourselves in a bubble of college athletics where media and public relations departments attempt to have total control of the message that their athletic teams emit. Coaches have coachspeak. Players have clichés. They're coached, taught, programmed, and wired to seem interesting to the media and public while saying nothing of substance.
"Don't reveal too much."
"Don't provide bulletin board material."
"Don't rile up the masses."
"Don't be controversial."
"If you must, be boring."
This doesn't apply to Harbaugh.
Harbaugh has been in the eye of a media hurricane since Michigan announced him as their new football head coach on December 30, 2014. Things may seem calm to Harbaugh when he sits in his office, preparing for the 2015 season, but, outside the walls of Schembechler Hall, the media and the public buzz about him on a never-ending basis.
One reason: Michigan has one of the nation's most prestigious college football programs, and Harbaugh has been tabbed as the savior that left the NFL's "greener" pastures to return to his alma mater and lead Michigan's climb from mediocrity back to the pinnacle.
Another reason: Harbaugh is a fascinating quote and a master of hyperbole.
And everyone reacts to whatever comes out of his mouth. Always.
In many cases, the universal reaction is positive. People were energized when he noted that he planned to attack a day on the recruiting trail with an "enthusiasm unknown to mankind." They laughed when he claimed Cracker Barrel is his favorite restaurant because who in their right mind lists Cracker Barrel as their favorite restaurant? They chuckled when they learned that he is a die-hard Judge Judy fan and congratulated her when she received a contract extension. They snorted when he described the first day of spring practice as your birthday, New Year's, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the first day of school "all rolled into one." Even his tweets were ranked by CBS Sports!
But Harbaugh isn't afraid to poke at the hornets' nest either.
When former Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton bolted for the Chicago Bears one day after he convinced running back recruit Mike Weber, who had no knowledge of Drayton's imminent move, to stick with the Buckeyes rather than sign with Michigan, Harbaugh turned up the heat on the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry by firing off this tweet:
Thought of the day - What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive! - Sir Walter Scott— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) February 7, 2015
No, it wasn't an explicit shot at Ohio State, Urban Meyer, and Drayton's deceptiveness in Weber's recruitment, but, given that Harbaugh hit the send button just one day after Drayton's move to the Bears was made official, it was clear as to what he was referring -- even if he claimed to Tim Kawakami it was nothing more than a "Thought of the Day."
Michigan fans and the national media ate it up, but Ohio State fans weren't thrilled. At all. Just take a look here, here, and here. It even agitated Ohio State Director of Player Personnel Mark Pantoni to the point where he felt the need to respond to Harbaugh with a subtweet of his own. Former Ohio State offensive coordinator and now-Houston head coach Tom Herman and Meyer's wife, Shelley, couldn't resist chiming in either.
And Harbaugh has angered more than just rivals when he's opined on social issues.
Two weeks ago, a controversy brewed on campus when Muslim and Arab students pressured the university to cancel a screening of the film American Sniper because they believed it had anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiments. The next day, Harbaugh made it clear where he stood when he sent this tweet to the 215,000 followers he had at the time:
Michigan Football will watch "American Sniper"! Proud of Chris Kyle & Proud to be an American & if that offends anybody then so be it!— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) April 9, 2015
Four hours later, Michigan reversed course and stated it'd show the film as planned.
While some lauded Harbaugh for his patriotism, others weren't pleased with how Harbaugh handled the situation. Student activists felt that Harbaugh used his position and influence to bully the university into showing the film. Others respected his opinion but believed that he should have empathized with the activists' concerns and exhibited more verbal tact, rather than rattle off, "if that offends anybody then so be it!"
Then, this week, Harbaugh caused a stir when his featured segment on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel aired. Near the end of his interview with Andrea Kremer, as he's discussing how much he loves football and the struggle of it, Harbaugh declared this:
I think [football]'s the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in males.
This comment rubbed people the wrong way. Some thought it was sexist, arguing that it implies that toughness is inherently male because football is a sport played almost exclusively by men. Others concluded that it was hogwash because male toughness exists in more capacities than just the physical and outside the realm of athletics.
Heck, even this comment rubbed me the wrong way. I disagree with those claiming it was sexist because whether or not men are tough is irrelevant to whether or not women are tough. However, it is hogwash for Harbaugh to exclaim that football is "the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in males." You know who's tough? A father that works two jobs in order to earn enough money to put food on the table for his family each and every night. A student that works a full-time job to put himself through school. A brother that remains optimistic after he's been diagnosed with cancer or another life-threatening illness. A friend that uses everything he has to fight a debilitating addiction and better his way of life. They all exude toughness. And none needed to play football.
But guess what? I bet it won't be the last time Harbaugh rubs me the wrong way.
Harbaugh is Harbaugh, and neither is he ashamed of it nor will he hide it. He won't be politically correct. He won't avoid the sensitive subjects. His speech won't be curtailed by the media relations staff. He will say what he wants to say whether you like it or not. And, in a world where most coaches are robots at the podium, it's a breath of fresh air.
Not all agree. Many, particularly those affiliated with the Scarlet and Grey and the Green and White, have developed a strong distaste for Harbaugh and his words. Frienemy Joe Tuohey, who's the managing editor of The Only Colors, which is SB Nation's Michigan State team site, tweeted that "Harbaugh is everything that is wrong with collegiate athletics." Though Tuohey later admitted he purposely went over the top, especially when one recognizes that such a statement is asinine when college athletics has been the backdrop for the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the Dave Bliss scandal and re-hire, and the commercial exploitation of student-athletes as MGoBlog's Alex Cook noted, it reveals that Harbaugh has begun to irritate others and his words have played a significant role.
No longer does Michigan have the head coach that everyone refers to as a "great guy."
And Harbaugh isn't going to change. So you might as well get used to it.