“It was my dad, and then it was Bo (Schembechler) for me.”
Coming right off the holiday weekend of celebrating our fathers, Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh touched on just how special of a relationship he had with both his father and the legendary head coach who was his mentor for years while in Ann Arbor on the first episode of former Michigan assistant Jed Hughes’ podcast.
Harbaugh lamented on the days where he got to work with one of the greatest coaches in the sport’s history and what he took away from Bo:
Nobody is perfect. Right? Nobody is 100% right in their decision-making. But everything that I have heard from my dad, and I played for Coach Schembechler for five years, and it’s staggering when I go back and look at the thousands of decisions that he made along the way, and how many were right. I’m not sure if it was 99% or 99.9%, but he made a lot of tremendous decision. He gave me a real template. I always thought, ‘I’m playing for the best coach.’ Through the years we’ve all taken so much of the good we saw in Coach Schembechler and the way he always looked at things from a team aspect. How to run a team, how to be on a team and how to be a member of a team, and so many things that way.
Schembechler was extremely influential from a young age to Harbaugh who was constantly around the facilities at Michigan and was even a ball boy for the team when his father Jack was an assistant with the program. That familial bond with Michigan was a major reason why Harbaugh craved a reunion with Michigan, but more on that later.
First, Harbaugh spoke of his first coaching at a time where Jack Harbaugh was a head coach at Western Kentucky and the school board had recently voted to eliminate the football program. With only four coaches on staff with Jack, Jim came up with a creative idea to help his father out and get some experience in the recruiting field before his career started as a coach, “The opportunity to coach with my dad came up when Western Kentucky had voted to get rid of football at WKU... I said, ‘hire me as an unpaid assistant. I’ll hit the road and go down to Florida.’ I got some recruiting lists from my brother. I was able to take the recruiting test and become a coach on (my dad’s) staff. I did that for seven years while I was playing the last seven years of my pro career... It cemented it even more. I was already 100% sure I wanted to coach when I was done with football, and now, I’m still 100%.”
After a few stints in the collegiate arena, a trip to the NFL, and even a Super Bowl appearance against his brother, Harbaugh had the opportunity to return to where his love for football began, the University of Michigan. Hughes mentioned how big of a media craze his return had, and Harbaugh mentioned how he cherished every moment of becoming the head coach at his alma mater:
(It’s) not easy to put into words. It was thrilling. It was like Forest Gump again. (It) was amazing. I walk by that Bo Schembechler statue every day and the memories are thick. You pour your heart and soul into it again and (I’m) just lucky to have the opportunity to be associated with Michigan. I mean it’s the winningest football team of all-time. I don’t think any program has ever won more games. I know for sure in college. Harbaugh said, “It’s a place of integrity and good values. I know those are in very high standards. Where else would you want to be? That’s how I’ve always approached it and felt. It’s personal. This is where I grew up. This is where I went to college. This is where I graduated from. I want to do the very best job possible.
Like his father, his second father (Schembechler), and now his brother, Jim Harbaugh spoke of the privilege he has to be a head coach, not just for the glory that comes with football, but for the impact that he gets to have on the lives of young men. He spoke on the impact that he wants to have every day, “When you’re a coach there is a real platform there. I think it is an opportunity from God to... help those young men or turn those young men into courageous, virtuous, and great leaders.”
But this idea does not come from within, this is something that he has learned from the men who came before him, “I don’t take credit for that, I got that from Bo Schembechler, I got that from my dad. You have those opportunities on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis as a coach to try and instill those leaders qualities into those men on your team.”