BLOOMINGTON — On Wednesday, Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart spent much of his press conference speaking about family. He spoke lovingly about his running back room and his passion for coaching college-aged kids; in between, he repeatedly referenced his three children.
Hart’s two families — his own and the Michigan program — are intertwined. Hart’s four-year-old often asks “when Bwake is coming to the house,” referring to junior running back Blake Corum, who has forged a “special relationship” with Hart.
The nature of who Hart is made Saturday’s scene even more harrowing. Late in the first quarter of Michigan’s game against Indiana, Hart reportedly suffered a seizure on the sideline. Both the Wolverines and Hoosiers took a knee, Memorial Stadium eerily silent. Hart was carted off the field on a stretcher and later taken in an ambulance to the hospital.
After the game, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh revealed that Hart is in “stable condition.” He will stay overnight in Bloomington for “continued observation.” For now, thankfully, it looks as if Hart avoided the worst.
In the moment, though, the situation was jarring.
“It’s way bigger than football,” Corum said simply.
On the field, the Wolverines languished. A fast start — punctuated by a 50-yard run by Corum, which set up his ensuing 1-yard score — dissipated. Indiana had captured momentum, in no small part because the Michigan sideline had its thoughts elsewhere.
“In the moment, everybody’s thoughts are with Mike,” Harbaugh said. “Mine were and everybody around us was to get him the care that he needed. The most important thing is his health, at that point in time.”
Added sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy: “It’s definitely one of those events in life that you sit back and you’re just in shock like, ‘Oh my God, that just happened.’ Especially on the football field and especially with Coach Hart.”
McCarthy said that Hart has been waiting a while for this game; it’s been circled on his calendar not out of revenge, but of reverence. Before returning to Michigan last February, Hart spent four seasons as Tom Allen’s right-hand man at Indiana, serving as associate head coach and running backs coach. He speaks fondly of his time in Bloomington, maintaining that he has the “utmost respect” for the program and its players, many of whom he helped recruit.
Saturday, then, should have comprised a joyous homecoming.
It was anything but.
“It really just puts things into perspective, taking anything for granted,” graduate receiver Ronnie Bell said. “It was spooky, more than anything.”
Michigan limped into the locker room in a dogfight, the game tied at 10. Corum — stymied for much of the second quarter — conceded that Hart’s health loomed in the back of his mind throughout the contest.
The Wolverines’ running backs were visibly emotional on the sideline; members of Michigan’s coaching staff spent time consoling them with hugs. After the game, Corum still appeared shaken up, stopping mid-answer when talking about Hart.
Because for Corum, the scene was particularly hard to stomach.
Beyond merely being a coach, Hart is a mentor. The chance to help shepherd boys to men, that’s why he loves his job. Multiple times, he has admitted to seeing himself in Corum, even though he often jokes that Corum is more mature than he was at his age.
“You want your daughters to marry who you are,” Hart said Wednesday. “Blake, in my opinion, I love that kid. … Blake Corum can marry my daughters any day.”
During halftime, though, Hart provided a much-needed morale boost. He had talked with Harbaugh and sent along a message to relay to the team.
“He was basically telling us, ‘Coach Hart wants you guys to ball out and he’s fine,’ ” Corum said, allowing himself to smile.
Michigan came out of halftime and answered Hart’s demand. The Wolverines outscored Indiana 21-0, thwarting notions of an upset and remaining undefeated.
In the postgame locker room, players and coaches agreed to give the game ball to Hart. Corum tried calling Hart to tell him the news, but his cell service wouldn’t allow for it, deep in the bowels of Memorial Stadium.
Instead, he will hand deliver it to Hart’s home once both are back in Michigan, two families merging together as one, again.