Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Jim Harbaugh’s best moments at Michigan: Love for lawn care, recruiting sleepovers highlight coach’s tenure

Jim Harbaugh is leaving Michigan and the college ranks behind, headed back to the NFL after accepting the Los Angeles Chargers coaching job. His departure comes weeks after guiding his alma mater to its first national championship since 1997.

The Wolverines’ nine-year ride with Harbaugh wasn’t always smooth, but it was always entertaining. That was never more true than the coach’s breakthrough 2023 run, in which he missed six games as a result of two suspensions from two separate NCAA investigations. 

From the podium to the sidelines and far beyond, it’s time to revisit some of the most memorable moments from Harbaugh’s run coaching the Wolverines. 

The ultimate quote machine 

You never know what you’ll get when you put Harbaugh in front of a microphone. He made routine Big Ten Media Days and midweek press conferences unpredictable. Harbaugh had a knack for delivering one-of-a-kind analogies, whether it be comparing turnovers to an “olive jar” or likening Jesus to a “five-star” recruit ahead of Michigan’s Rose Bowl win over Alabama. 

Not afraid to speak his mind, Harbaugh would sometimes ruffle feathers, too. As Ryan Day took over for Urban Meyer at rival Ohio State in 2019, Harbaugh infamously said, “sometimes there are people standing on third base that think they hit a triple, but they didn’t.” 

Day and Ohio State won the battle season as the Buckeyes trounced the Wolverines 56-27 on their way to a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff berth. However, it was Harbaugh who got the last laugh. The Wolverines would not lose to the Buckeyes again during his tenure. 

More recently in November 2023, Harbaugh dubbed Michigan “America’s team” for “beating adversity.” The “adversity” he spoke of was an NCAA investigation into sign-stealing, one that resulted in the Big Ten suspending Harbaugh for the final three games of the regular season.

There were also plenty of humorous and unprompted tangents that had absolutely nothing to do with football. Take, for example, the time Harbaugh gave advice on how trick-or-treaters could work the system to get extra candy on Halloween. 

“I try to advise them to get two costumes,” Harbaugh told WXYZ in Detroit. “To be go-getters. You can hit the neighborhood in one costume, and better to jog or run from house-to-house, and get more candy than anyone else. And then come home, make a quick change into another costume, and go hit those same houses again.”

Viral moments caught on camera

Harbaugh’s unfiltered personality often gave way to comical and downright bizarre scenes. Did you ever think you’d see a Michigan head football attempt to sing an opera song while the cameras were rolling? 

How about him partaking in a cannonball contest — donning his iconic khaki pants — in the Michigan swimming facility? 

The addition of “ref cams” to TV broadcasts gave viewers got a first-person view of Harbaugh’s animated encounters with officials. 

He wasn’t afraid to let out his fun side on game days, either. Following Michigan’s College Football Playoff National Championship win over Washington, footage emerged of Harbaugh leading the Wolverines locker room in a rendition of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Not exactly a celebratory scene you’d expect in 2024. 

Recruiting sleepovers 

How do you make a memorable first impression on recruits? Harbaugh went as far as setting up sleepovers with prospective Michigan football players in their homes. 

While Harbaugh didn’t bat 1.000 on the recruiting trail, the sleepover tactic was enough to win over ex-Michigan kicker Quinn Nordin, who flipped from Penn State to the Wolverines in the 2016 recruiting cycle. Nordin detailed what went down during Harbaugh’s one-of-a-kind visit. 

“He slept in the guest room at our house,” Nordin told MLive.com. “He came at 12:01 (a.m.), just like the rule book said he can. I was in my pajamas laughing when he showed up at the door. I couldn’t believe it. There were fans in the street. We stayed up until 1:15, 2 o’clock. When I woke up in the morning, my mom made pancakes and waffles for coach, and there we were, chowing down breakfast.”

Never a bad time for McDonald’s 

Harbaugh’s love for one America’s most iconic burger chains was on full display the summer before his first season as Michigan coach, when he documented himself outside at McDonald’s while on a European vacation.

He went to McDonald’s during halftime of the Wolverines’ 2023 home win against UNLV while serving a school-imposed suspension related to an NCAA investigation into alleged recruiting violations. Ironically, hamburgers purchased from another establishment in Ann Arbor may have played a role in the alleged recruiting violations, according to a report from Yahoo Sports.

No lawn care service needed

A college football coach with a multi-million dollar salary mowing his own lawn? Why not? Harbaugh’s landscaping hobby took center stage when told a reporter he would work in lawn care services if he was not a college football coach. He also questioned why more Americans — children, in particular — aren’t mowing their own lawns.

“[I would be] a lawnsman!” Harbaugh told SI. “That’s what I do. Mowing the lawn is one of the great feelings I have in life.”

The good news for Harbaugh is the warm Southern California climate should give him even more lawn mowing opportunities in the future. 

The Good Samaritan 

You could always count on Harbaugh to lend a helping hand to the local community, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. In February 2023, Ann Arbor Police published video of an incident in which a motorist was attempting to remove a fallen tree blocking street during an ice storm. Not long into the video, Harbaugh can be seen getting out of his car to assist with the tree removal. The group was ultimately successful in clearing the tree from the road, earning Harbaugh a shoutout from the police department on social media.

Who’s got it better than us? Nobody! 

The seven-word phrase was first coined by Jim Harbaugh’s father, Jack. It proved to be a rallying cry during Harbaugh’s tenure in Ann Arbor. It was especially prevalent during Harbaugh’s final rodeo as the Wolverines ended their 26-year national championship drought. Chargers fans should prepare to hear those words plenty from their new coach as he embarks on the latest chapter of his career. 

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