Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh was a guest on Colin Cowherd's The Herd radio show this morning, and -- let's not mince words -- it was an utter trainwreck. I hate watching awkward. I hate it. I can't watch the television show, The Office, because watching more than one minute of Michael Scott makes me cringe and forces me to leave the room. This was that. It was that awkward.
But I made it through and listened to the whole segment. And I have plenty of thoughts.
If you want to watch the interview, we have you covered here, via The Big Lead:
If you are unable to watch, here is a full transcript of the interview:
Cowherd: I think I've only met Jim Harbaugh once or twice. He's very intense, but I like intense. Most of my friends are intense. I'm kind of intense, and he's the head football coach at Michigan. People have to be realistic about this. He didn't get a huge class last year because he came in a little late. Never forget: Pete Carroll was 6-6 his first year at USC. You know, you can't turn stuff around overnight. Let's not be unrealistic here. But will he turn it around? Oh, absolutely. Michigan's a traditional power. He can recruit. He knows quarterbacks and that drives the sport. Jim Harbaugh's joining us. When are you at your least intense because you are a pretty intense guy?
Harbaugh: Well, good morning, Colin. How are you?
Cowherd: I'm great, Coach. How are you?
Harbaugh: Good to hear your voice.
Cowherd: Well, thank you so much. Is there ever a moment in the day when you're like, "Oh, man, I'm cupcake. I'm soft. I'm easy-going"? When's the part of the day when you're a pushover?
Harbaugh: Uh, I don't know. I don't know. I guess, I don't know. Maybe ask Sarah, my wife. I don't know.
Cowherd: When you go to Michigan, and you take over a program, and you're starting out, like, like, when you're flying there to take the gig, do you have a yellow pad and you're like, "I'm going to do this, this, this," what was the first thing you changed at Michigan?
Harbaugh: I don't know the very first thing that was changed or maybe altered, but it was just a conversation at a time. You get to work. I remember that first day and press conference, and then we got to work, hiring the staff, recruiting players, recruiting players that were already on the roster. One conversation at a time. That's how you get to know people.
Cowherd: I watch you on Instagram, and I watch you on Twitter. You're very much into the community. It's not like you weren't everywhere else, but it does feel differently at Michigan because of your history there. It does for me when I watch you. You really seem to be all in.
Harbaugh: Yeah, I would agree. Can't get to [inaudible].
Cowherd: Jim, I didn't think you would go to Michigan. What was the day like when you decided? Where were you?
Harbaugh: Look, there's a day, or a place, or a time. What I felt in my heart was what I wanted to do. I love Michigan. I love football. I love coaching football. I feel very blessed. Guess I have an attitude, gratitude that I'm able to be a part of this game and be a part of this great university.
Cowherd: What are realistic expectations?
Harbaugh: Realistic expectations are that we are going to be better today than we were yesterday, be better tomorrow than we were today. That's our plan for success. So simple: just by work.
Cowherd: College football coaches and NFL coaches, Jim, I don't know the difference hours-wise. Is your day that much different college-to-pro?
Harbaugh: Yeah, I don't know how much different. There's more similarities than there are differences actually, Colin.
Cowherd: Like how? You basically get in early and leave late. It's the same thing.
Harbaugh: [laughs] Yeah, that'd be a similarity. Coaching football. Building a team. More similarities than differences, I would say.
Cowherd [emphasis mine]: Future of the Big Ten: you're at Michigan, Urban Meyer at Ohio State, James Franklin (at Penn State). When I look at these coaches, I say, "Elite recruiters. Elite coaches." I said this yesterday. The Big Ten feels like it's a buy for me. Do you have a sense of that and a feel for the conference overall?
Harbaugh [emphasis mine]: The Big Ten feels like a bye to you. How does it feel that way?
Cowherd: You don't see that?
Harbaugh [emphasis mine]: Explain that to me. What do you mean by "bye"?
Cowherd: Let's be honest. Michigan's a heavyweight. Ohio State's a heavyweight. They both now have great coaches. It feels like the Big Ten is on the come. It feels like there's momentum in the conference.
Harbaugh [emphasis mine]: Oh, a buy. Like you something you buy as opposed to sell?
Harbaugh: I thought, "Bye week." Like a bye.
Cowherd: No. That's what it feels like to me. Does it feel like that to you?
Harbaugh: It feels very competitive to me at the highest level of college football.
Cowherd: Season opens September 3rd at Utah. Coach, when do you put in the gameplan? How does it work?
Harbaugh: It's a process. It's been going on for months and will continue over the next two months.
Cowherd: You're not a rearview-mirror guy, it doesn't seem like. You kind of forge your way ...
Harbaugh: This feels like one of those where you ask, like, 50 questions on a ...
Cowherd: Well, you're giving me slow ... you're not giving me a ton to work with, Coach. So I just want to find something out about Jim Harbaugh, the human being.
Cowherd: I want to find out about Jim Harbaugh. I'm a player right now, and I want to play for a bunch of schools, and I'm listening to Jim Harbaugh. I want to play for Jim!
Harbaugh: Do you have any eligibility, Colin?
Cowherd: No, and I can't play worth a damn. But I want Jim Harbaugh, the guy, because I bring all these coaches on and I want the guy. I'm a 4.3 wide receiver. Why should I play at Michigan?
Harbaugh: You are?
Cowherd: No. If I was?
Harbaugh: [laughs] [silence]
Cowherd: This seems terribly difficult, Jim. This is just not working. I love you to death. I really do, but it seems like we're going nowhere with this. And I love you. I'm a huge Harbaugh fan.
Harbaugh: What can I do to make your interview better?
Cowherd: You can't. I'm just asking open-ended questions, and you have not much to say. I want you to sell your program. That's why I bring Urban (Meyer) on, I bring Steve Sark(isian). I love you guys. I want you to sell your program.
Cowherd: Listen, I love ya. It's not working. I appreciate you stopping by, Jim Harbaugh. [motions to drop call] I've been in the business 10 years, folks. That was a clunker. There's not much I can do about that. I tried! I asked every open-ended question I could. He had nothing to say. There you go. I'm getting these emails, "God, this is painful." Yeah, it was painful for me. I love him! I love Jim Harbaugh. I was trying to go somewhere. He didn't have anything ... pauses. I was going back to my interview tricks: why, what, how, what, why. Nothing to say. Listen, he's a very intense guy. He's different. People in San Francisco said, "You know, he's difficult." You know what's going to be funny? The two or three guys I know in San Francisco that don't love Harbaugh, I guarantee, will text me, "That's why he didn't last in San Francisco. You can't have a conversation. He's very intense." I really like him and think he'll turn it around, but, when I bring Urban Meyer on the show, and Nick Saban on the show, and Sark on the show, they figure out how to sell their program. They figured it out. I mean, Bob Stoops comes on this show, he's unbelievable. The Bob Stoops that beat Alabama. Nick Saban is unbelievable on the air. Steve Sarkisian is unbelievable on the air. I've been doing this 25 years. That's the clunkiest interview I've ever had.
Needing to fill in the slot after cutting his interview with Harbaugh short, Cowherd continued to discuss the awkwardness of the interview and then said this:
"If I'm an 18-year-old kid and I just heard Jim Harbaugh on this show, I'd go with Urban Meyer." -- @ESPN_Colin— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) July 1, 2015
Yes, because I'm sure an awkward radio interview is going to be what determines where an 18-year-old football recruit will choose to spend the next four years of his life. Totally.
Neither Cowherd nor Harbaugh looked good in the radio segment.
In addition to being a conveyor of scorching hot takes, Cowherd is a professional interviewer. He's been doing this for 10 or 25 years according to him. It's his job to know and prepare for the subject he is interviewing. That does not just mean that he needs to know information about the subject, but he also needs to know the subject's personality and how to engage that subject in a conversation. It's no secret that Harbaugh is not your typical interviewee. On the day Michigan announced it had hired Harbaugh, Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee wrote a comical article titled "Congratulations on the Purchase of Your New Harbaugh," which detailed that "[t]here are still a few bugs in [his] answer-response system." This is true. Harbaugh tends to pause for long periods while responding to a question, leaving the interviewer to think he has completed his answer when he hasn't. And Harbaugh doesn't deal with bullshit questions. This was evident during his initial presser and has been in subsequent interviews. But not to Cowherd.
Cowherd opened his interview with Harbaugh with an off-putting remark about how he won't be able to turn around Michigan overnight, which I'm sure put the uber-intense, ultra-competitive Harbaugh in the proper mood to start. Cowherd then proceeded to his first question, asking Harbaugh when he feels like, "I'm soft. I'm a cupcake." And you can just sense Harbaugh thinking to himself, "What the hell is this?" Then Cowherd's third question wasn't even a question, stating that, based off his Twitter interactions, Harbaugh seems into the community, to which Harbaugh agreed with no further explanation because, well, there wasn't a question. From there, the interview unraveled because Cowherd continued to ask poorly-phrased concept questions with ambiguous language (buy vs. bye), which he tried to justify by claiming that he was lobbing softballs for Harbaugh, and, as he has time and time again, Harbaugh had no interest in them.
But that's the problem. While Cowherd needed to know about the subject of his interview, Harbaugh also needed to know about Cowherd's style as an interviewer. This isn't the first time that Cowherd has asked lazy, off-putting questions like this, and it certainly won't be the last. Harbaugh needed to understand the interview into which he was getting and either play along or not come on the show at all. But Harbaugh chose neither option. And, rather than Harbaugh using the opportunity to redirect Cowherd's questions into answers about his players' progress or his excitement for the season, we have an eight-minute video clip of Harbaugh bumbling through an awkward interview.
But, hey, it wouldn't be the summer of 2015 if Harbaugh's name wasn't in the headlines.
And, ultimately, none of this matters in the grand scheme of things. Cowherd still will deliver hot takes and be a professional interviewer, and Harbaugh still will win games at Michigan. That's what Michigan is paying him to do: win games, not radio interviews.
UPDATE: Even Harbaugh agrees:
In my experience of participating in interviews, I've found it takes 2 to produce a clunker! I'll take 50% responsibility 4 this clunker.— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) July 1, 2015