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All eyes and ears turned toward Ann Arbor in late 2014 when it was announced that Jim Harbaugh would be returning to the Big House as the new head coach of Michigan football. Now, Angelique Chengelis, longtime chronicler of the Wolverines for the Detroit News, gives the inside story on how exactly Harbaugh restored the Michigan program to national title contender status. Learn how he instilled a new culture and rankled rivals with outspokenness, creative tactics, and relentless recruiting. Get the behind-the-scenes story on how and why Harbaugh chose to come back to the university he led to glory as its starting quarterback in the early 1980s. Follow along as Jabrill Peppers, Jake Butt, and others develop into true stars. Michigan Man is a comeback tale, an examination of the rapid turnaround from a five-win team in 2014 to squads that earned 10 wins plus trips to the Citrus and Orange Bowls in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Featuring extensive interviews with Harbaugh himself, this is a book Wolverines faithful and football fans in general will not want to miss.
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About the Author
Angelique Chengelis is a sportswriter for the Detroit News. Michigan football has been her primary beat since 1992, but she has covered countless sporting events including Super Bowls, U.S. Opens, PGA Championships, Ryder Cups, Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals, Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, and NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments. She has also been a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage as part of the NASCAR Now show. She lives in Detroit, Michigan. The father of the current Michigan head coach, Jack Harbaugh was an assistant coach at Michigan from 1973 to 1979. He resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Read an Excerpt
Just Do It
On a warm evening in the late hours of July 31, 2016, the crowd of people on State Street in Ann Arbor swelled outside of the M Den, the primary University of Michigan athletics apparel retailer. One eager fan drove north from Columbus, Ohio, to arrive at 8:00 that Sunday morning just for the chance to be first in line.
It was festive. The Michigan Marching Band showed up, as did the dance team. There was a disc jockey, and former players, like Jamie Morris and Marcus Ray, arrived early to sign autographs. The buildup had begun weeks earlier with occasional photo releases of new Nike merchandise, and emotions were bubbling that night as another new era was about to begin.
Nike was coming back in a big way, aligning itself to Michigan athletics with an added touch to the football uniforms. The Jordan Brand and its famed Jumpman logo — forever linked to Michael Jordan and basketball — had made Michigan football the first in its fold.
It felt like another result of what many around Michigan had started calling "The Harbaugh Effect," a Midas touch of sorts for all things football after the hiring in December 2014 of one of its own, former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh. He was a 14-year veteran NFL quarterback, had coached and transformed college programs, most recently Stanford, and had been coach of the San Francisco 49ers, even taking them to the Super Bowl to face off against his brother John's Baltimore Ravens.
Former interim athletic director Jim Hackett, who had done the unthinkable and brought Harbaugh to Michigan after so many NFL pundits had said there was no way that could happen, spent just more than a year on the job and restructured and revitalized the sagging football program, breathing life into its weakened state. Hackett has often compared Harbaugh to the late, great Paul Brown, who Hackett's father had known well, because of their shared nature as innovators in the game of football. And with Harbaugh's encouragement, Hackett negotiated the contract with Nike that electrified a fanbase that had been given its biggest jolt a year earlier by putting Harbaugh at the helm of the football program.
Things evolved and changed pretty quickly after Harbaugh was hired. For the first time in more than five years, according to Hackett, Michigan had a waiting list for season tickets. This was a marked change from the 2014 season when attendance dipped, and there were bargain-basement deals for tickets — unheard of for a program with the biggest football stadium.
It didn't hurt that Michigan State and Ohio State, Michigan's two rivalry games, would be played in Michigan Stadium in 2015, but Harbaugh's hire dramatically affected sales. And Halloween costumes. During that first fall of the Harbaugh Era, countless fans took to Twitter to share photos of themselves dressed as the Michigan coach wearing his standard khakis, blue Michigan sweatshirt, and Block M hat. It's fair to say most didn't don his most unique accessory — black cleats.
Fast forward several months. If anyone wanted signs of a program rebirth, beyond the 10–3 season in Harbaugh's first season in 2015, this was it — thousands of Michigan fans eager to be the first to see the new Nike product and purchase it in a festival-like setting. As the time ticked down to 11:59 pm when the M Den doors would open to the first sales, it felt like New Year's Eve in the heart of summer in southeast Michigan.
A buzz began to build. Desmond Howard, Michigan's 1991 Heisman Trophy winner, was there, along with LaMarr Woodley and former Fab Five member Jimmy King. Store employees suddenly appeared outside the store to pass out specially made pins by Nike for the event. They were rewards for that effort. Some of the pins carried the famous slogan, "Those who stay will be champions," another had a Block M and the Jumpman logo. There was a pin that paid homage to Harbaugh's signature khakis.
As fans were randomly handed pins, they realized there was one of Harbaugh's face in full yelling-at-an-official mode. This became the needle in the haystack they all coveted. "I want a Harbaugh," fans said, as they poked around the pins to see if they could make the rare find. "I want a Harbaugh!" Not long after, the real deal — Harbaugh — showed up, and fans became fixated on his presence. No one affiliated with the evening's festivities, the four-hour "Welcome Rally" for the Nike launch, knew if he would stop by. There was a chance, but it certainly wasn't planned. Some of his players were there, including top-rated freshman Rashan Gary, but Harbaugh was a surprise.
But here he was inside the store talking to a number of people, including athletic director Warde Manuel. He looked excited about the evening. As the coach emerged from the store, fans pushed against the security ropes to get as close as possible to Harbaugh, who seemed more rock star than football coach that night.
Harbaugh, with some assistance, made his way through the crowd as fans cheered their second-year coach, who had returned to rescue his alma mater's program, which had stumbled for much of the previous decade. Wearing his khakis, a grey Nike hoodie, and his ever-present skinny Block M hat, he worked his way to the stage and took the microphone. "This is Coach Harbaugh here," he said, drawing cheers. "I've lived 52 years, a lot of those years in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I've never seen anything like this. This is big time. The thing that's striking me right now: we aspire to dream big. We aspire to win championships."
The crowd went crazy, drinking in his every word. Dreaming big is important to Harbaugh. He often says, "The message is simple: We want our dreams to be big. We want our goals to be lofty. We want to dream those dreams so much that people would laugh at us. If they're not laughing at us, then we haven't set high enough goals."
With the State Street crowd captivated, Harbaugh gave them one more moment to cherish in his impromptu speech. He wants lofty goals and so he put it out there. But no one laughed. They merely roared louder with approval. "This looks the way it should be when we win a championship," he told them as he gazed at the thousands of fans jamming State Street.
He was drowned by the cheers. A championship. Michigan hasn't had one of those in a long while. Harbaugh got their attention again when he yelled "Go Blue!" and threw his right fist in the air before deciding to lead the crowd in "The Victors." At one point he jumped on a box on the stage while singing and raised both arms in victory a la Rocky.
This is why Jim Harbaugh is in Ann Arbor. He's working to win championships and to restore Michigan to a place of prominence in college football, a place it always has been accustomed to being. Harbaugh understands Michigan's rich history, having been a part of the program as a quarterback under legendary Bo Schembechler and before that as a child playing in the football building with older brother, John, while their beloved father, Jack, worked as an assistant for Schembechler.
Harbaugh understands Schembechler's slogans that have been weaved forever into the fabric of Michigan football: The Team, the team, the team.Those who stay will be champions. And he invokes his father's saying frequently, often questioning his players or Michigan fans with, "Who's got it better than us?" pausing before bellowing, "NOOOOObody!" He is a curious blend of that old-school tradition, wearing the skinny Block M that Schembechler wore, and new-school hip. He's the guy who can appear in a bright yellow sports car in a rap video and later don Woody Hayes-style glasses to wear while coaching. This marriage of Michigan and Nike is what appeals to young, potential recruits. The Jumpman logo on Michigan gear and that affiliation with Michael Jordan greatness? Harbaugh must have been asking himself, Who's got it better than that?
There's no doubt he has some quirky traits, and those might also be part of his appeal. He wears his cleats all the time, even occasionally showing up at his Monday night in-season radio show wearing them as he sits down to chat while sipping on a milkshake at The Pizza House before a crowd of fans who are regulars.
Kyle Kalis, who played his final year for Michigan in 2016, told NFL.com it was always amusing to the players that Harbaugh wore cleats. "Two years ago we played Utah in his first game, and it was at Utah," Kalis said. "We took a visit to the Mormon Tabernacle. It was a mile-and-a-half walk, and he made everyone get up early, and we all walked over there. We get inside and we hear this click, clack, click, clack, and Coach Harbaugh's in there with his cleats on. And the Mormon Tabernacle's a pretty nice place, you know, marble floors. All the players are wearing sneakers, and we can't believe Coach Harbaugh's got his cleats on. He's always got those things on."
Harbaugh eats, sleeps, and dreams football. As each season nears, he literally does the latter two. The scenario is always the same — the final drive of the game, and Harbaugh, No. 4, is playing. He never sees how it ends, though. But when he has that dream, which he started having when he was nine years old, he knows the season is about to commence. "I'm always playing in my football dream," he said, "never coaching in my football dream. At the end there's always a final drive that I'm trotting out for, and I always wake up for some reason. I'm waiting for that dream to finish and see how it plays out. Sometimes it's different — like we're ahead — sometimes we're behind, sometimes the score is different, and things happen different to get to that point. [There's] the smell and the feel of running out into the huddle to start the final drive. There's different ways I've gotten there. Sometimes I've started the game, sometimes I come in as the backup. Sometimes I'm young, sometimes I'm like 50, and they signed me just to play that game."
Harbaugh loves big moments, as his dream proves, and this event on August 31, 2016, was nothing short of that. It was the culmination of a series of phone calls and meetings that had begun a year earlier when 1997 Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, who has a personal Jordan Brand contract, texted his friend Michael Jordan about joining forces with Michigan and Harbaugh. It was just a thought, one of those written-on-a-napkin ideas, and Woodson put out the feeler before contacting anyone at Michigan. "That got the ball rolling," Woodson said.
Jordan liked the idea. A lot. So Woodson spoke to Hackett and then Harbaugh to get their blessing and he ran with the idea and followed up with Jordan. For Harbaugh realigning with Nike was important for him from the getgo, particularly for recruiting purposes. And as every coach knows, recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. "Second day on the job I said, 'I really want to be with Nike,'" Harbaugh said.
A month before his first season at Michigan, Harbaugh's phone rang, and it was Jordan. In part because of a poor phone connection and also because he was shocked to be taking a call from Michael Jordan, Harbaugh didn't quite buy it. "My phone rang, a number I didn't know. I said hello and didn't catch the whole name," Harbaugh said. "I said, 'Excuse me, the phone cut out, who is this?' He said, 'This is Michael Jordan.' I said, 'Come on! Come on! Who is it?'
"[He said], 'This is Michael Jordan.' I said, 'The real Michael Jordan?' That's kind of how it went."
A year later, as Harbaugh basked in the frenzy the Nike deal had created and the launch of the Jumpman football uniforms, he recalled that pivotal conversation that had been set in motion by Woodson. "I said, 'You had me at hello,'" Harbaugh said of his phone call with Jordan.
Although the Jumpman logo on a football uniform might have initially been an unusual juxtaposition, it is a union between two legendary brands that appeals to young athletes and recruits and, clearly, legions of Michigan fans who are wearing the Michigan Jordan Brand apparel. "To me, it has nothing to do with basketball," Woodson said of the Jumpman logo. "It's all about Michael Jordan's greatness. Before you look at the championships and the MVPs, what went into Michael? What got him there? That's to me what the Jumpman is about. Yeah, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player, and that opinion is shared by a lot of people, myself included. But how did he get there? It's all about the work. How did this university get to where it is now? It didn't just pop up here one day and all of a sudden it's one of the greatest universities we know. There's a lot that went into it, and to me, that's what the Jumpman is all about. It's about that journey to get to that point where somebody can revere you as the greatest of all time."
Harbaugh saw that link — Michigan and Jordan — immediately and knew what it could mean, not just to consumers and not just to recruits. Harbaugh gravitates toward those who are the best in their professions. By associating with greatness, you can become great and you learn. Every day is an education, and Harbaugh appreciates the lessons he can take from those who have achieved in whatever field.
This is not to say he looks down at the rest. Instead, he pulls from his vast connections he has developed over the years to enhance his team — in this case the University of Michigan and its football program. "As Jack Harbaugh said, 'You are with whom you associate,'" Harbaugh said. "To be associated with greatness and to think about having Michael Jordan sharing a sideline with us ... to have that iconic logo sharing the uniform, we're very, very proud of that."
That much was clear as he stood on that stage on State Street nearing midnight with throngs of fans eagerly awaiting the start of another season full of promise.
The Harbaugh Boys
By the summer after Jim Harbaugh's first season at Michigan, he had, as many people described, won the offseason. He was in the college football news constantly after the Wolverines had won the New Year's Day bowl game against Florida. Isn't this what Michigan fans wanted when Harbaugh was given the keys to the program? Didn't they want Michigan to be back with the bar set high for Big Ten titles and the promise of national playoff appearances?
With Harbaugh, Michigan fans knew they had a game-changer. What they probably didn't realize right off the bat is he was determined to change the game off the field as well.
He had already caused upheaval the previous summer with the "Summer Swarm Tour" of satellite camps as he and his staff visited high schools across the country to spread the game of football and the Michigan football brand. And maybe, just maybe, they were able to get in front of a few recruits, particularly in the fertile recruiting areas of Florida, Alabama, Texas, and California.
But by the summer of 2016, he had not only decided to expand his massive satellite tour to include stops in Hawaii, American Samoa, and Australia, seemingly thumbing his nose at a collection of peeved Division I coaches, but he also pushed new buttons when he did the unthinkable and took his team to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, over spring break as part of spring practice. Michigan had four practices there, and the players were given an opportunity for some fun in the sun. Spring football trips had been anything but the norm for football programs across the country. Baseball, softball, tennis, golf, and basketball teams are among scholarship sports that will take preseason trips for practice, but it was unheard of for football.
While Harbaugh was praised by the Michigan faithful, he drew criticism from many college football circles, primarily rival conference commissioners who sought to cancel the summer camps and criticized the spring break trip as infringing on the student-athletes' free time. He deftly used social media — he has more than a million followers on Twitter — to take less-than-subtle digs at rival coaches. Though not referring to them by name, his points were always clear and stinging.
Coaches were clearly divided on the satellite camp front. Many said their time is already consumed by football, and spending more time away from home just didn't work. Others, thinking along the lines of Harbaugh, understood its value as a recruiting tool and a way to expose high school players to a number of different schools. Other programs had taken part in those types of camps over the years, but the expanded reach of Michigan's efforts was unequalled.
Michigan defensive line coach Greg Mattison could see why competing coaches didn't like this Harbaugh move. Coaches have so little time off these days, and working that amount of camps would erase their dwindling free time. But in part what the camps do is put Michigan in front of players that maybe Michigan would never see or otherwise have a chance to woo.
Excerpted from "Michigan Man"
Copyright © 2017 Angelique Chengelis.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Jack Harbaugh ix
1 Just Do it 1
2 The Harbaugh Boys 11
3 Fun in the Sun 23
4 Youthful Exuberance 37
5 Submergence 51
6 Dr. Blitz's First Preseason 65
7 The Quarterback Competition 79
8 The Rise of the Freshmen 93
9 Legends Return to Ann Arbor 105
10 Milk Man 117
11 A Top Ten Test 131
12 Jersey Boys 143
13 Kicking the Shins 155
14 The Paul Bunyan Trophy 167
15 Poll Position 179
16 Animation and Adversity 189
17 Reflecting on Bo 201
18 The Game 213
19 The Orange Bowl 229