The national championship is just a day away. It'll be Michigan vs. Washington on Monday night in Houston. On Sunday morning Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer had a joint news conference previewing the matchup.
Here's everything Harbaugh and DeBoer said.
JIM HARBAUGH: I want to start by saying thank you to the CFP staff, their entire organization. It’s been a phenomenal experience, last week, this week, everything conducive to getting a team ready to play in such a huge game.
Also want to congratulate University of Washington, coach Kalen DeBoer, his staff. Truly nothing but respect for the job that they have done, that Coach has done. Truly a remarkable coach. I’ve followed your career. Amazing job at Fresno State. And what you’ve done at Washington in a short period of time is truly amazing.
And we’re honored to be here. We are going to have to play really good. We’re going to have to play really good. And I think our team is ready. Still the hay is not in the barn. It never is for us. Still polishing. Still working. But super excited, super excited to watch our players go out there and compete tomorrow night. Thank you.
KALEN DEBOER: A lot of things I’d echo as well. Just the whole week and a half here, everything leading up to the semifinal and the championship here, thanks to the CFP, and just making this an awesome experience for our guys, something they’ll never forget. Making memories and all of that.
And Coach Harbaugh, I’ve broke down a lot of film of Coach Harbaugh’s teams over the years, not just Michigan, but others as well. And just sharing with him. I can remember a lot of the big plays he’s been part of at different places.
But amazing football team that they’ve put together here over not just one year but many years and building up to this point.
So it’s going to be a great game, and we know we need to be at our best. Proud of our players and our staff for the way that they’ve just continued to grind here, going into the last couple of weeks.
It’s been a quick turnaround going from the semifinal game and a couple of flights back and forth to Seattle. But our guys have just kind of taken it all in stride and done a great job just being in the moment and understanding the preparation is critical to success on game day.
So we’re looking forward to a great game. But congrats to Coach and everything that Michigan and his staff have done.
Q. Kalen DeBoer, can you talk a little bit about what you’ve done off the field to ensure quality young men and your players in the age of NIL and portal and endless options for players to leave, what have you done to keep players around your program?
KALEN DEBOER: Well, I think, fortunately, we had a lot of the players in our program already that understood and were passionate about being great football players, but they were guys that truly in their heart were guys that wanted to make a difference beyond the field as well.
Just a lot of credit to even some of the coaches that came before me that brought in great men, and have been fortunate, along with our staff, to be able to work on building better men. That’s one of our slogans we have in our program.
And just challenging them to be their best on the field, but really them understanding that at some point football is going to come to an end. And the moments that they’re going through, the things that they’re learning and the impact they’re having in our community or on campus, it says a lot about them and who they are. And I’m very proud of them and everything they’ve done in all those areas.
Q. Jim, I understand that your brother might be here on Monday night. I imagine your parents will be here along for the ride. Your kids are here with you. Jay’s coaching in the game. When you step foot on the field for the national championship, in what ways will family be in your mind and play a factor in your job?
JIM HARBAUGH: My two great loves, the family at work — our players, our coaches, our staff, their families, their parents, their grandparents, they’re parents, they’re brothers and sisters. And my other great love is my family at home. Wife Sarah, the seven kids all are going to be here — mom, dad. Blessed. And brother, sister. We’ve got brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, the whole family all coming together in the same spot. It means the world to me.
Q. Understand that some things were done a little bit differently in terms of a different approach, in terms of your players getting rest. Can you talk a little bit about that?
JIM HARBAUGH: We decided to fly right back after the game in Pasadena. Felt like it saved us some hours, get back to Ann Arbor, get rest in our own beds. Allowed a lot of the guys to sleep in each day.
And then Friday traveled here. That approach really, it was the same — we try to duplicate an in-season week as far as the preparation, what we do on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.
And it had been about a month since we had done it that way. But I think it was good. I think our guys really handled their business well. Have been feeling right, getting their rest, getting their sleep, hydrating, putting in the game plan and practicing it.
I think we’re in a good place. I feel like we had a really good practice yesterday. Guys were in rhythm, ready to go. And one more day to polish and we’ll sleep in tomorrow, see if we can’t cut the day a little bit in half, and make it into our routine for game day. But that’s probably more similar than it was different.
KALEN DEBOER: I think with our Sugar Bowl being such a late game and us actually gaining hours going back to Seattle, we just stayed the night there. Sent the coaching staff back early, right after the game, let them get to work on the plan.
And then much like Coach Harbaugh said, I think I felt the same way. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, trying to make it as familiar as we have, just like we’ve done the entire season, the last two years.
Being in our own beds and being around our own facilities, just the efficiency that it allowed us to have. We felt that was the best-case scenario.
And then getting down here. It’s been good. Had a good practice yesterday. Get in the facility there and get a feel for that, brought some good juice to our guys and had a nice, clean practice. And gotta continue to build and have a great day today leading up to tomorrow.
Q. Jim, I have a scheduling question. Texas reached the CFP for the first time by winning the Big 12 and of course beating Alabama. Texas plays Michigan next year week two. In the 12-team format that we’re going to have, do you think we’ll see more or fewer great non-conference games like that? And do you specifically look forward to coaching in that game?
JIM HARBAUGH: Well, really just not thinking past this game. I don’t really have any thoughts about what will be different about the 12-team playoff next year.
Just really happy where we’re at, and our mindset is — it’s a one-track mind. Win the next game. That’s been our goal the entire season, and we are really locked in on that particular mindset.
Q. Coach Harbaugh, if you decide to take a head-coaching position with the Panthers, Patriots or Chargers, whoever it may be, what would be your farewell message to this team? This is a special group of young men who you’ve helped groom these young boys into young men, and now they have this chance to possibly win you your first national championship. What would be your message to this group of special young men?
JIM HARBAUGH: My message to our guys is going to be play as hard as you can, as fast as you can, as long as you can and don’t worry. And just go have at it.
It’s been a group of guys that I’ve had to pull them back at times. Have never had to talk them into anything. And I just can’t wait. I can’t wait to watch them compete, watch them have at it. That’s going to be my overwhelming feeling is, let’s just go let it rip.
And we’re going to have to play well. This is a tremendous, tremendous team that we’re playing. Just thorough in every way.
Can I talk a bit about the Washington team for a sec? I know people are trying to talk about this as a match-up, their quarterback versus our secondary. That’s just one. It’s a thorough team. They are really good in the offensive line. Defense is physical and tough. A secondary that’s active, productive.
The takeaways that they’ve generated — and a lot of them come from the linebackers as well. Really good running game. A quarterback that is special, has the “it” factor in every way. Two teams in a lot of ways are mirror images in that regard, in my opinion. I think of ourselves as a thorough football team as well.
But congratulations to Coach DeBoer, the coaching staff at Washington, and the players that they have. You can tell they’re connected, and they play hard. They’re tough. It’s one heck of a good football team.
And excited to be in this position. Really feel like these are the two best teams. They’re the last two standing. And anticipate one heck of a football game.
Q. Coach Harbaugh, Nico Collins has had a breakout season. I was just curious — I know you’re busy — if you got to see any of the game last night, if you’ve been able to reach out to him at all, and what you think about the job he’s done for the Texans this year?
JIM HARBAUGH: It was fun to watch. I think he had nine targets, nine receptions, a ton of yards, two touchdowns. It was just great, just go back and think about the time when he was in high school, visiting him at his school. Reporting as a freshman, how hard it was to put him in that position. It warms the cockles of the heart. It was great. Just keeping doing you, Nico. It’s working.
Q. Just curious, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to really experience the food here in Houston or what have you, but it’s a foodie town. I’m just curious about your guys, how it’s been here, how have you enjoyed Houston?
KALEN DEBOER: We haven’t had much a chance to do much of anything. We got in — I’m on a game week calendar. I’m trying to remember what day it is. I think we got in on Friday night.
So Friday night, and really, I mean, we just got to the hotel late that evening and had a few activities there. Got welcomed by our group with adidas there. It was great. And yesterday we were just in full preparation — meetings, practice, a little activity last night.
So we haven’t had a chance to do too much as far as getting out into Houston and all of that. But we have some players that certainly, from the area, coaches that have recruited in the area. And all share their experiences and the highlights. So we’ve been kind of taking it in that way, I guess.
JIM HARBAUGH: Just A plus, plus. It’s been great. Like Coach, I haven’t had a chance to eat outside of the hotel. But I wish I knew every name of every person from the CFP and some of the guys at the hotel, Chris and a few others. I wish I knew everybody’s name and could thank them personally. They’ve been outstanding.
I wish I knew the place that brought them in, but there were some of the best tacos I’ve ever had last night. The kids and I were loving it.
It’s been great. Conducive for winning. Everybody’s just been really great and personable. I think our team would say the same thing. But A plus, plus.
Q. You run a program that’s steeped in tradition. What would it mean to win this championship, what would it mean for your legacy? And how important is it to leave a legacy?
JIM HARBAUGH: It would mean so much for our players, for them to know what it’s like to be champions. Just be simply referred to as national champions. And for their parents, for their parents to have their son be a champion, a national champion; for their grandparents to have a grandson; for their brothers and sisters to have a brother who is a grandson.
What it would mean to me, for my kids to know their dad is a national champion. And for my parents and my brother and my sister. That’s the overwhelming thing, just that so many people would be able to enjoy that, be a part of that.
For my wife, for her husband to be a national champion. For me, not so much, but for everybody else, yeah, that would be huge.
Q. In a game where the passing game has become so important, you guys have two good running backs between Dillon and Blake. What role do you see for those two in this game, and what do they mean to your program? Obviously two very tough kids.
KALEN DEBOER: We know what Michigan’s done with their running game and their offensive line and just how it controls the tempo of the game. The physicality, I’ve always felt that if your offensive line has got that physical presence to them, your whole team probably has that physical presence as well because that’s what they’re going against each and every day in practice.
So the running game is critical, not just what Michigan’s trying to do but what we are as well, to be able to offset anything as far as them attacking Michael and just keeping away from being in a one-dimensional type of spot where it’s obvious pass downs all the time.
The run game helps you keep ahead of the chains. And Dillon Johnson for us is that guy, just like Blake is for them.
And I think the other piece with Dillon, he’s just such a team guy. And the reason I say that, it’s not just about what he does — and he’s racked up some big games rushing the football — but he’s also going to be in there and be steady with his pass protection. And just a heady kid all around, will do whatever it takes to help us win.
JIM HARBAUGH: Every phase is going to be important. I just made the comment last week, I really felt if ever a game was going to be won, it’s going to be won up front — last week.
This week, it’s that. That will be huge. All phases, all phases are going to be huge in this game.
Our running backs, Blake Corum, he just always comes to play. He is always willing to do anything and everything for the team. Never been around a guy who is more about the team than Blake Corum.
And also Donovan Edwards and Kalel Mullings, all three of those running backs had great games last week. And I anticipate they’re ready to roll. And it’s unselfish. If it’s to catch, if it’s to block, if it’s to run, they’re willing to do anything and everything for the team.
Q. I’ve heard you say before that two nights before a game is when you get the sleep that you play on and coach on. This is the night before a big game. So when you’re in the hotel room tonight, what does that feel like for you as a coach? And is that any different than the way it used to feel for you when you were a player?
JIM HARBAUGH: I really do a lot of things the same as when I was a player. I really like to, the night before, have that meeting, be with the team, be with my teammates, get together and watch — there’s still preparations to go over, a review. Rewrite all my notes. But then get with the guys and have that meeting where you really get the red blood pumping.
And then back to the room, maybe watch a movie and then go to sleep. Sometimes I say two nights before is the sleep you play on. I’ve always just liked to — I have no scientific evidence to present to you on that.
I just know when I played and sometimes when I coached, too, just the night before a game sometimes I don’t always sleep great. So I’ve convinced myself that if I get at least two nights the night before — the night before the game, if I get a great night of sleep there, I go, that’s the night of sleep you’re playing on.
And if you get a good night’s sleep the night before the game, then that’s a real bonus. That’s the way I think of it. Someone ought to research that.
Q. Routine before game day, a lot of players yesterday mentioned that you guys watched films on game day when there are games at night, or perhaps that will take place today. And much of the tone was about predatory animals. I guess there were some documentaries as of late that you’ve been showing them. Could you lend a little insight into who chooses the movie, if there’s an underlying message to that, and how your team receives it and how you want them to receive it?
JIM HARBAUGH: Just a chance to be with your team is the main thing, just that gathering. There’s, like, the perfect fighting unit to me is a pack of wolves, wolf pack. And you see them. You see them gathered together before the fight. You see them going together going to the fight. You see them together in the fight. You see them celebrating after the fight.
And the active word there is “together.” So that’s the picture I have. We’re together. That’s the night before the game. So we’re together.
As far as who picks the movies and what are they? A lot of it is fight. That resonates with me because it’s a football fight. These games you play, it’s a football fight.
And the night before, if it’s a night game, like tomorrow night, it will be a little longer, movie-type of length. 12:00 o’clock kickoff, it would be really short. 3:00 o’clock game, may go an hour.
That’s where some of the documentaries and predators — we found one this year on predators — tigers, cheetahs, lions, great stuff. Really seemd to resonate with the guys. I love them. Who doesn’t? Some of those great type of things.
But when it gets to how the world wants to turn you into something — but we kind of allow ourselves to devolve into a pack of wolves. That’s what we want to channel. Probably nature’s greatest fighting unit.
Q. Jim and Kalen, if you were to both write a book or a coach’s guide on what is required to build a football program, what are the foundational elements that are required to put your team in a position where you’re playing for a national championship?
KALEN DEBOER: I think I would just hang our hat on what we consider our non-negotiables — family, accountable, tough. You’ve got to be tough to play the game, mentally, physically.
There’s got to be accountability in all ways — player to player, player to coach, coach to coach, coach to player. And I think it always comes down to love. You’ve got to have a family environment. And just those type of things are what really draw you together.
And when it comes down to those big impact moments, that trust that you’ve had because of the communication, because you do care, because you have a family-type environment that hopefully everyone’s been a part of facilitating, I think those are some of the keys. I know there’s a lot more.
But the trust and communication leading to that environment, the accountability, and toughness that it takes to win on the football field.
JIM HARBAUGH: Tremendous. Everything that Kalen just said. And I would add, it’s a thousand things. It’s a thousand little things that add up to make all the difference. A lot of things that people think are the little things or the minutia. To me, it’s all those things.
If you boil it down to just a couple things, get really good at football. That’s the thing you’re passionate about, that you found in your life that you love and have passion for. So let’s get as good at it as we possibly can in training and practice, in games.
And then just the very last thing to think about is just make sure you have given it your very best. That way you’ll feel good about whatever you accomplish.
Q. Coach DeBoer, obviously this Michigan running game is one of the most relentless units in the country. When you look for preparing for that — first of all, what do you take maybe from the two Oregon games you played? And, second, how do you kind of prepare for a unit that really doesn’t kind of give up?
KALEN DEBOER: I think there are some experiences that we’ve been through, where we’ve been challenged against teams that really pride themselves on being physical and running the football.
I do think that Michigan is a different animal when it comes to that, just as far as what their intentions are and how well they execute. A lot of credit, again, to everyone up front on their offensive line and their running backs.
It takes a whole team. I think we’ve seen, even running the football, it takes everyone. When the receivers and the tight ends and all of those position groups are heavily involved and bought in, playing at a high level, playing physical, executing, it makes a big difference.
But it’s going to take, for us, it’s going to take guys just physically tough, physically tough, but also we’re going to have to really execute. We can’t be missing gaps as far as defensive line doing their own thing or linebackers doing their own thing.
And you’ve got to know where your help and support’s at. And just everyone doing their job and doing it at a high level. That’s what it takes to be able to hang in there and do a good job against a team that runs a football like Michigan does at such a high level.
Q. Coach DeBoer, just your second year together with all of these guys. What is it about your team, what quality is it in just that second year you’re able to make it to this state and have a chance to win a national championship?
KALEN DEBOER: It’s been a lot of sacrifice and commitment. Very good football players, obviously, across the board on both sides. But there’s been this sacrifice. There’s been some choices that have been made by guys to come back, starting with Michael, a year ago in December, deciding he was going to come back and not move on to the NFL.
He kind of led the charge. And a lot of guys chose to go down the same road. I think they just really firmly believe that there was more left out there for this football team.
I think they also felt like, you know, they could have continued growth and development as a person, but especially as a player that would help them and improve their opportunities moving on to the next level.
But I think the first thing, as I said, and probably the most important, is that there was a job that wasn’t done. They’ve really hung onto that motto here, especially the second half of the season, when we’ve gotten win after win, just referring back to job’s not done.
And I think the team, each win, has celebrated on somewhat of a level, because I make sure they do that because it’s really hard to win a college football game. But it’s been this really even keel just kind of mentality and just knowing that the work’s not done, the job’s not done, and we’re going to celebrate the win. But the next game’s the most important.
And huge credit to them. They’ve taken it one game at a time, not gotten ahead of themselves, and just focused on the process, focused on the work, which led to success each and every week which leads us to where we’re at today.
Q. Both teams have been through high-stakes games, high-stress games these past couple of months. Now that you guys are near the finish line, there’s so much pressure on these young men to succeed. How do you guys keep your guys focused and avoid burnout?
JIM HARBAUGH: Simply go out there and give it your very best. That’s all we can ask anybody. All we can ask of ourselves, all we can ask of anybody else, go out there and give it your very best. And that way you’ll feel good about what you accomplish, no matter what that is.
KALEN DEBOER: I just think every week I just challenge the guys to not have any excuses. So that means great preparation, which will lead to confidence, which will lead to success on game day. And have no regrets.
When you pour everything into it, very similar to what Coach just mentioned, and you’re just doing everything to the best of your ability, you live with the results.
And I think our guys have done a great job of embracing, embracing the moments, the tough moments, the challenges; embracing the fight; embracing each other, of course.
But just love being in that moment, and I think it leads to confidence when everyone just kind of has great body language and ready to go out there and just take on the next challenge, whether it be the next play or the next game.
Loving the moment, embracing it. And making sure that there’s no excuses and no regrets when it’s all said and done.
Q. This is a match-up next year that is going to be two Big Ten teams. I’m curious how you view this match-up as it relates to the future of the Big Ten Conference?
KALEN DEBOER: Yeah, I think, again, very similar to a question that was asked earlier, just really just focusing on now. And, yes, it is something that will happen again soon in the next year, as far as this match-up. But right now we’re just in the moment.
This is about the 2023 Huskies and our journey and everything that we’ve poured into this season, and we’re just going to make sure we’re dialed in on the things we can control right now and who’s on board and making sure everyone is pouring everything they’ve got into this moment.
JIM HARBAUGH: The same. I hate to end with a clunker answer to what’s been a great press conference, but, yeah, it’s just really — everything is right here in front of us, coming down the straightaway, like a thoroughbred. You can see the finish line. Got the blinders on. Each guy, I’m just going to the whip.
And the future, I hope to have one. Hope there’s a tomorrow. Hope there’s a day after tomorrow. I hope there’s a next week, next month. I hope a next year. Hope to have a future.