Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan soccer teaching legacy is complicated

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By Calvin S. Nelson


Nowadays, that phrase feels prefer it carries a special that means in the case of the lexicon of faculty soccer. OK, throughout these strangest of faculty soccer instances, each phrase feels prefer it carries an altered definition from the one it was assigned oh so a few years in the past. Like, I dunno, 2019?

As Jim Harbaugh departs the school recreation for the NFL Cinematic Universe, finishing his trilogy of transitions from campus to the massive leagues — Michigan to the Chicago Bears as a QB in 1987, Stanford to the San Francisco 49ers as a head coach in 2011 and now Michigan to the Los Angeles Chargers, additionally as head coach — we discover ourselves tasked with characterizing the legacy of a decidedly totally different type of school soccer character.

Earlier this month, that was a simple activity when it got here to Nick Saban (the GOAT!) and even Jerry Kill (the scrappy program reviver). However in the case of the Michigan Man who simply left Michigan, it isn’t that easy. Nothing about Jim Harbaugh ever is.

He’s as befuddling as he’s beloved. Misunderstood by at the least as many individuals as he’s revered. If the school soccer world had been a Fb web page, we might all — Wolverines and in any other case — must click on on the connection standing line that reads, “It is difficult.”

I am keen to wager that most individuals studying these phrases proper now would possibly suppose Harbaugh’s tenure in Ann Arbor was a comparatively quick one. But it surely was not. He spent 9 full seasons on the sidelines of The Huge Home. That’s thrice longer than his first head-coaching stint at San Diego and greater than twice so long as his 4 yr phrases on The Farm and up the highway with the Niners.

Those self same folks would possibly consider he struggled mightily through the first half of his near-decade at Michigan. Once more, he didn’t. His groups posted three 10-3 information and averaged greater than 9 wins per yr over his first 5 seasons, incomes 5 straight New Yr’s bowl berths.

That notion of failure comes from that handful of video games through which Harbaugh did wrestle, the 18 losses that countered these 48 wins, most of which got here in the one video games anybody wearing blue really cares about, a pile of defeats in opposition to Michigan State and Ohio State and a 1-4 file in these postseason video games by 2019. His 2020 pandemic season introduced an abysmal and abbreviated 2-4 mark.

However the three years since symbolize what would possibly very effectively be the best multiple-season run within the Wolverines’ 145-year historical past: a file of 40-3 with three straight wins over Ohio State, three consecutive Huge Ten championships, three School Soccer Playoff appearances in a row and, this yr, and this system’s first unanimous nationwide title since 1948.

All of that point, all 9 years, was punctuated with a seemingly infinite litany of tales that felt weird as they occurred; however with the good thing about even some quick hindsight, we will now view them as pictures of a person with willingness to buck the school soccer system.

Name it pioneering. Name it wild. Simply so long as you wind up calling all of it distinctive.

Since June 2015, his first yr on the job, our brains have been seared with the imaginative and prescient of shirtless 51-year-old Harbaugh slinging passes throughout his teaching employees’s “Summer time Swarm” barnstorming soccer camp tour. However what you may need forgotten since is the mission behind that highway journey, holding exercises in Florida, California, Pennsylvania and — gulp — Alabama. His QB skins recreation was held in Prattville, about 90 minutes from Tuscaloosa. Even now, the Yellowhammer State message boards are crimson with anger.

It was two years later that he led his crew into Rome. The one in Italy — not those in Alabama or Ohio — the place Harbaugh sang opera and gifted Pope Francis with a maize and blue helmet.

Within the years that adopted, the Wolverines walked alongside their coach onto the seashores of Normandy and thru the streets of Paris and South Africa. The journeys had been dear (the tabs had been picked up by Michigan donors) and had been criticized by non-Wolverines as grandstanding. However at worst, they had been unconventional, and as Harbaugh himself identified, school basketball packages had made related journeys for many years.

Then, as all of us keep in mind, there have been the wacky recruiting tales. Harbaugh mimicking DJ Khaled’s “How’s enterprise? Boomin’!” to attempt to lure a California defensive again. Harbaugh climbing a tree in a recruit’s entrance yard to show his personal NFL-honed upper-body power. Harbaugh sleeping on the sofa of top-ranked kicker Quinn Nordin so they may have a dialog the second the recruiting lifeless interval ended at midnight that evening, solely the primary of a slew of sleepovers he’d deliberate for that winter.

And we’ve not even talked about the khakis.

However whereas we had been all cracking jokes concerning the coach’s quirkiness, all of these goofy tales proved to be constructing blocks for what was to return. The barnstorming into the Deep South and out West? This yr’s nationwide championship roster included eight gamers from Georgia, seven from Florida, 5 from Tennessee, at the least one consultant from Louisiana and South Carolina and even one from Alabama. These abroad journeys resulted in days of reside protection on “SportsCenter” and, within the phrases of Wolverines assistant coach Mike Hart, “So many recruits asking us, ‘The place are we going subsequent yr?”‘ And as for these kooky social-media-saturating tales from the recruiting path, Harbaugh’s inaugural 2015 Michigan haul was ranked fortieth by ESPN. By 2019, it was as much as eighth, having lastly made a run by the SEC expertise blockade. The subsequent yr’s group included Blake Corum, Roman Wilson and the core of this yr’s CFP-winning roster.

Then once more, that class got here with an accompanying NCAA investigation into recruiting violations that ran afoul of the restrictions applied due to the pandemic. That is additionally the half the place Harbaugh critics will remind us of his two separate three-game suspensions this season, with investigations ongoing into each the recruiting violations and, in fact, the sign-stealing mess that does not present any, ahem, indicators of going away anytime quickly. Even now, after the person who was CEO of this system accused of implementing a way-too-nuanced signal-deciphering community, has packed up his khakis and headed again to the professionals, the cloud hangs over this system.

So, we discover ourselves as soon as once more gazing that trisyllabic phrase that, as of late, carries a lot extra heft and complication than its six little letters would recommend.


In the event you rise and fall every day buzzing “Hail to the Victors,” then the Jim Harbaugh legacy would possibly very effectively be easy to you. He got here house pledging to return his alma mater to varsity soccer’s high rung, and he did simply that. There is a massive ol’ silver and gold trophy that was simply put in Schembechler Corridor to show it. However the actuality is there will not be a interval on the finish of his block-M chapter till the investigators are finished and their remaining studies are learn aloud. When that can occur, nobody is aware of. When it does occur, it would all show to be a lot ado about nothing. But it surely additionally might go in a really totally different, very harmful course.

Then, and solely then, will we really know what the Jim Harbaugh legacy might be. All we all know for sure proper now’s that he won’t be in Ann Arbor when that occurs.

See? Difficult.

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