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MLJ’s Blog: The many influences of Jim Harbaugh

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Our guy is back and our rivals are in trouble. But how did he (and we) get here?

NCAA Football: Michigan Spring Game Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When you think of the inputs that made James Joseph Harbaugh, a.k.a. “Captain Comeback” the man and the coach he is, you have to start with his father, Jack Harbaugh. Ol’ Jack was a great football coach in his own right, and he raised a couple pretty good ones as well. With the iconic phrase he invented (as far as I know) “Who’s Got it Better Than Us?” he taught them to make the best of their opportunities and never take life for granted.

The two future NFL coaches shared a bedroom for a long time, much of that time spent in Ann Arbor where Jack was an assistant to the legendary Bo Schembechler. I have heard that Jack told the boys that sharing a room would allow them to share their dreams. I’m not sure if that was history or legend, but the recipe worked for the two Harbaugh brothers. All three of these coaches still live by their mantras, including attacking each day with “An Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind”.

BO SCHEMBECHLER WOLVERINES

Next on the list of influences, Glenn Edward "Bo" Schembechler Jr. Or as Meechigan legend Bob Ufer often referred to him, Bo “George Patton” Schembechler.

Bo was huge in Jim’s development. He was a ball boy for him while his dad was an assistant coach, and he played QB for Bo from 1982-1986. Then when Jim first became a head coach, at the University of San Diego in 2004, Bo was one of the first people he went to for advice. Bo asked him if he was going to have a FB and a TE on the field, and when JH answered in the affirmative, Bo had very little else to say. I guess he’d passed the test.

To me, one of the important traits that JH shares with Bo is this: OK, I love Ann Arbor, I love the laid back, academic, pleasant attitude that permeates the area, but I have to separate the football team from it. Despite the fact that I don’t partake, Ann Arbor has been famous for the annual “Hash Bash” long before every community and state in the country began legalizing cannabis, and I think that’s pretty cool. But, football is not really conducive to that type of attitude. Tuscaloosa is a breeding ground for a serious football attitude. Columbus and their “100,000 truck drivers” filling the horseshoe (another famous “Ufer-ism”) and Oscar Meyer’s exhortation of his troops through “Stupid strength” – those are football breeding ground attitudes in my opinion. For a football coach to be successful in AA they have to appreciate the local culture but divide the team from it to a great extent. Bo had the knack for that and so does JH.

I can’t honestly say that I know Vince Lombardi was an influence in JH’s life, but the old Packer coach sure reminds me a lot of him. Some of Lombardi’s iconic quotes, such as “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” and “There’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything. I do, and I demand that my players do.” – JH reminds me an awful lot of Lombardi. He’s a throwback. He doesn’t care what people think about him – especially those outside his organization. He cares about results and he cares about the young men he leads into battle. Like Lombardi, JH is rather intense and single-minded.

Vince Lombardi - United States Military Academy- File Photos
Vince Lombardi (fourth from left) was an assistant at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from 1948 to 1952.
Photo by U.S. Military Academy/Getty Images

One more comparison and this one may be reaching a bit. I was a member of the USAF, once upon a time, and one of the people we studied in AF history was General Billy Mitchell. He is known as the “father of the USAF” in many circles. Mitchell was an Army General and left the service more than 20 years before the USAF was formed.

But it was his highly determined purpose to inform all his military and civilian superiors that air power was the future of warfare. In fact he was so adamant in asserting his opinion it led to a messy trial by court-martial and his resignation. In often repeating his prophetic message, “Air power is the future” – he may sound more like Mouse Davis or Mike Martz – but I’m thinking more about how JH sticks to his guns when he is convinced of something. He will fight the SEC, the NCAA and anyone else, when he thinks he is right. Lucky for him, and for us, the U of M has gone through some hard times since Lloyd’s retirement and they are more willing to listen to their brash young former QB than they were back then. And JH has certainly proved himself out in the world.

JH landed in A2 with a very friendly regime, including interim AD Jim Hackett, and several M legends in support of his hire, including Lloyd Carr. He had a lot of ideas about turning things upside down - satellite camps, unprecedented overseas trips. Whatever his “Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind” prompted him to do to establish and increase “The Michigan Difference,” he did it. To channel Bob Ufer a little bit more, I believe this is a match made in “Meechigan Valhalla” and I think that we true blue Michigan fans are in a glorious period of history here. I hope you enjoy my take on that history half as much as I love sharing it.

Some have worried about the state of our rivalries. Sparty is down and likely soon to be out. The Bucknuts are next on the list, though that nut should prove harder to crack. After them, Nick Saban and his little buddy Paul Finebaum will be in the crosshairs. Be patient M fans, Rome wasn’t built in a day and these guys had a big headstart on us, but momentum is on our side.