Jim Harbaugh has a way of saying things that ruffle feathers when he speaks his mind and gives his honest take, but his words have once again drawn a discussion in the lead-up to the football season. The Michigan Football head coach was asked about his thoughts on players skipping bowl games to avoid risking NFL Draft stock and he believes that it does hurt how players are viewed on the way out the door.
“Yeah, I do, and I think it hurts their legacy, too – just what they’re about,” Harbaugh told Barstool Sports’ Pardon My Take podcast. “A competitor is gonna compete. They’re gonna go out there and compete. Everyone talks about it. ‘They’re a competitor.’ ‘I’m a competitor, I’m gonna compete at anything. I’ll compete at golf. I’ll compete at tiddly winks.’ You hear people say that all the time. But then, they actually don’t go play in a football game, to me, now you have a problem with who you are as a competitor and your legacy.
“I’ll put it this way: Ted Williams. You’ve gotta love Teddy Ballgame. So, Ted Williams, goes into the last game of the season hitting 399-point-6. Everybody tells him, ‘Don’t play tomorrow. You’re already at .400. You’ve got it. You don’t have to do it.’ People would have agreed with that. But no. He went out and played. It was a doubleheader. He went 6-for-8. Ended up hitting .406 for the season. Now you’re a legend! Bat 399.6, round it up to .400 with an asterisk by it – he went out and hit .406. That’s how you go out and get to legacy/legendary-type status.”
It’s pretty disappointing that Harbaugh said this publicly, and he’s far from the only coach that believes it, but it’ a bit of a slap in the face of the Devin Bush-type players of the world. Or a guy like Karan Higdon, who was a senior that could not do much to boost his stock and further and has a daughter to provide for.
Those guys went out every Saturday and gave it everything they had and decided that when the season was over — because let’s not kid ourselves, if you are not in Indy, the season is over — they wanted to protect their financial future. They earned that. They deserve that chance. There is not a bowl game in the world that isn’t the College Football Playoff or the Rose Bowl that’s worth the risk involved.
Legacies aren’t made in the Bahamas Bowl, or the Cheez-It Bowl, or the one that’s sponsored by a credit union.
The most recent Michigan example of this is Jake Butt, who would have been one of the first tight ends off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft if not for a torn ACL he suffered in Orange Bowl in 2016. Whether he regrets that decision or not, it cost him millions of dollars and, quite frankly, cost him a legitimate shot to get his NFL career off on the right foot. He still has not recovered from it.
The point of anyone’s collegiate experience, athlete or not, is after four years (or however long it takes you to graduate) your school has you prepared for success in a professional environment. Whether you’re an accountant or a football player, that is the end goal. Do players leave before graduating? Sure, it happens all the time, but it tends to happen when a multi-million dollar future is promised to them. Your obligation as a university is to best-prepare your students for what comes next and being that the football and athletics program is an extension of the university, that applies here.
At the end of the day, whether a guy decides to sit out or not, I respect the decision because it is their decision to make. I don’t sit on one side of the argument here even if it seems so, but I definitely do not agree with the legacy stuff on the way out the door.
I’m not going to take the low-hanging fruit and go down the road of dogging Harbaugh for his big game woes or his record against rivals like some of the radio shows around here or national media will because I legitimately think he’s a good football coach and that the best is still ahead.
What I will say, however, is that given how things have played out to this point with him at the helm of the program and a lot of the sideshow stuff and disappointing ends to seasons, it’s just another exercise where I’ve nothing to do but shake my head and repeat to myself, “For the love of God, just win.”