Redshirt junior Kyle Kalis plans to tell his kids stories about the past few weeks. Fifth-year senior linebacker Desmond Morgan will always remember that his dad didn't know they were allowed to text. Jim Harbaugh coached football.
Welcome to the Michigan football team’s submarine.
On August 6, Harbaugh announced at the team’s media day that, upon entering fall training camp, his team would be entering a “submarine,” which entailed special living quarters, increased practice and meeting time and, of course, no talking to the media.
“Just to let you know, we're going into a submarine,” Harbaugh said at the time. “You won't hear from us. You won’t see us. We’ll be working. We’ll be in a bunker … until we decide we’re not.”
Harbaugh and some of his players finally emerged from the submarine Tuesday, ready to look ahead to the season.
But one week before the Wolverines’ season opener against Utah, people still wanted to know what was going on beneath the waves.
Though no one would reveal all the details, it sounded as memorable from the inside as it was intriguing from the outside.
“It was definitely an experience,” Kalis said. “One that I’ll tell my kids about when I’m older. It’s definitely been a camp unlike any we’ve had before, and it’s going to pay dividends for us down the road.”
Added Morgan: “It’s a great thing that he’s done. He’s kept all the attention off of us and out of training camp, and we’re just focusing on football every day.”
To narrow that focus, Harbaugh advised the team to steer clear of cell phones, televisions and other potential distractions, instead keeping the focus on football from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.
Under former Michigan coach Brady Hoke, training camp included a trip to a high-quality hotel nearby. Harbaugh, however, felt that even amenities like air conditioning and fresh coffee were too luxurious, choosing to bunk the team in South Quad instead.
“I think it was awesome,” Morgan said. “My dad thought the submarine meant I wasn’t allowed to talk to him. He would text me once in a while and say ‘Hey, I know we’re not supposed to be talking,’ or something like that. I’d have to tell him, ‘No Dad, I can talk to you, you’re my father.’
“It was cool for us because we just focused on football all day every day. We didn’t come in contact with the outside world very much, really didn’t watch that much TV or anything like that except for the occasional football game here and there.”
The reason for the submersion was twofold. On one hand, an almost entirely new coaching staff coming from all over the country was looking to use the element of the surprise to upset the Utes in the opener.
On the other hand, the almost entirely new coaching staff still has to get to know its players, and those players have to learn how to push each other to victory after going13-14 in the past two seasons.
“It’s something that’s very particular to college football,” Harbaugh said. “In August, you can be together all day every day, it’s a chance to forge the team together.
“I think we did maximize every hour and every minute. We really enjoyed each other’s company in a football fashion.”
Such an immersive environment isn’t for everyone, as cabin fever can take hold in such an intense environment. But the eccentric coach wouldn’t have his practices any other way. Whether it’s sprinting down the field with his receiver or even taking snaps among the offensive line, Harbaugh made sure the experience was not only memorable, but also effective.
“Yesterday he was out there with the special teams fielding punts,” Kalis said. “He dropped every single one of them, but having a coach that cares that much and is that invested is cool.”
What Kalis tells his children will remain shrouded in the secrecy of the submarine. But based on Harbaugh’s reputation, the offensive lineman was happy to let fans’ imaginations run wild.
“You’ve talked to the guy,” Kalis said. “I don’t want to give anything away, but it was different, and he’s awesome for it.”