Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh was back at the podium on Thursday at the team’s media day in Ann Arbor. He fielded questions from media as well as five guest kids who won the opportunity to ask him one question each. Below are some of the highlights (answers to the kids’ questions are at the bottom).
Jim Harbaugh: Hello everybody. Great to see you. Great to see everybody here. Exciting day for us, the first day of football fall camp. Glad you made it.
Question: Jim, there was some stuff earlier this week about the fifth-year players. Keith Heitzman said he was asked to try out for a spot on the roster. What’s your message or take on the fifth-year guys? Are they given a spot? Earned a spot? How does that work?
JH: A fifth year, it’s mutual, when it comes to a fifth year, whether you have a fifth year of eligibility, and then it becomes, Do you want to come back to the University of Michigan for a fifth year, and does the football team mutually want you to come back for the fifth year? Now, all the fifth-year players that are on the team were not asked to come to a tryout. But in his particular case, and a couple of the other youngsters too, I hadn’t coached here before and couldn’t guarantee a spot for the 2015 team but I could guarantee an opportunity. And that opportunity would have taken place during spring practice. Some did want to come back who were fifth-years, and some didn’t. That’s about as simple as it was.
Q: What are the three biggest questions for the team that you hope to have answered by the end of training camp?
JH: Well, there are probably a lot more than three. Like on any team when you start, this is the first day. You’re finding out what your team is, and what you’ll become. You saw the movie Hoosiers with Gene Hackman? They have the pep rally, and this kind of feels the same way. He introduces his team, which we will do today out on the field, and to youngsters and to Michigan faithful. He said, ‘This is my team.’ We’ve worked extremely hard. These youngsters have worked extremely hard. You should be very proud of them. And then we’ll find out what we’ll become. Everything we want to be earned, we want to have competed for, we want nothing to be given to us and we embrace healthy, honest, fair competition. That’s what I would say to that.
Q: What’s your favorite part of training camp?
JH: Oh, so many favorite parts. The first day, you’re so excited, it’s like New Year’s. It’s like the start of the new year. It’s like your birthday. It’s like the first day of school. It’s all of those things rolled up into one. It’s like being reborn into football, like coming out of a mother’s womb into football. You’re in a nice, cozy, warm place, and then you’re reborn. You come out to chaos and lights and everybody looking at you, and it’s wonderful. And you just start living. Cleats on the cement walking over here, you hear that sound, it’s the fresh-cut grass, the early morning, seeing the sun come up and knowing that you’re going to be doing football all day long. Those are a few of the highlights. It’s very emotional. It’s wonderful to be a part of a team. It’s probably the best part about it. I think everybody has a human agency of desiring to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And then the other thing is to try to figure out how to bottle up that enthusiasm, that energy, that happiness that you have, because you want to be able to crack that open a week down the road, or a month down the road, or two months down the road. So learning to bottle that feeling that we have as participants, how we feel on the first day, we can use it down the road.
Q: Now that the season has started, what can fans expect from a Harbaugh Michigan team; are the players buying in; and what differences will people expect immediately?
JH: Those things are all to be answered on the field. All three of those questions, really. Our expectations are very high. It’ll come through work. But no predictions or crystal ball seeing into the future, nor do we want it to be that way. We embrace the fact that there will be great competition and we gotta get ourselves prepared for that. But the beautiful thing about football, as our old coach Bo Schembechler used to say, is that you live clean, come clean, be clean. The part about coming clean, that always resonated with me because coming clean is telling the truth. You gotta tell the truth. That’s what that means. Come clean. When you step out onto a football field, never is that more evident that the truth is going to get told. Who’s best prepared? Who wants it the most? Who’s the most talented? (Whichever) team plays together the best as a team is going to stand the best chance of winning, and that’s what we’re doing now. We’re becoming who we’re going to become, and we’re working to earn whatever we become. So we’re going to come clean. That’s coming.
Q: Can you talk about the running game, something that’s been lacking consistently in the Michigan football program? I know back in the day, in the Bo era, 250 yards on the ground, 150 through the air, some balance in there. Do you have any concrete objectives in balancing your attack, and what can we expect from the running game early on?
JH: We’d like to be the type of football team that throws it 50 percent of the time and runs it 50 percent of the time. That’ll be the goal. Now, whichever we’re better at doing, the percentage may lean in one direction or the other, but as you pointed out, having a great running game is critical. it’s very important to football. Our objectives are to get better at every phase of our football — offense, defense and special teams — including the running game.
Q: As a coach, what is the biggest challenge to having that healthy, honest, fair competition at quarterback, and how will you manage that this month?
JH: I don’t think there is a challenge there. That’s just the way it’ll be. It’ll be a fair, healthy, honest competition, and we’ll roll the balls out there and let the quarterbacks have at it.
Q: Does that entail a lot of moving guys around so they have different opportunities with the 1’s? Seems like there has to be something of a complicated plan for us to understand.
JH: It shouldn’t be complicated, and yeah, I really believe that it’ll be fair. Excited to watch it. You can stat a lot of things, you can chart, and there’s a lot of things to measure, but when it comes down to it, I’m just going to observe, and learn a lot from watching.
Q: You’ve been in a lot of quarterback competitions yourself. Is it not possible for those guys to be friends when they’re competing for one spot, or do you say that that’s just not realistic?
JH: Absolutely, the best way to be in that competition is a healthy competition. It’s very competitive, but not self-centered. When you’re in one of those competitions from past experience, the thing you’re most concerned about is yourself and making yourself better today than you were yesterday, better tomorrow than you were today. Always striving to be a better person, better quarterback, more knowledgeable about the game of football, and in doing so, maybe make everybody around you better just because you’re doing this.
Q: Did you find it tough to be friends with people you were competing against in those rooms?
Q: Obviously, tight end has been a really big position for your teams. Can you talk a little bit about what you saw out of Jake Butt in the spring and also how you’ve bolstered that position with some moves from other spots?
JH: I thought Jake had an outstanding spring. AJ Williams very much in the mix there. Ian Bunting was as well. Khalid Hill did not practice in the spring, and he looks to be ready to go. We’ll see exactly where he is starting tomorrow. But there was others. Chase Winovich came over to the offensive side of the ball, and we’ll keep him on the offensive side of the ball. He did very well, and there’s Strobel, who was another player who was playing both ways. I think that’ll continue for a time, where he’ll be available on the offensive side of the ball. TJ Wheatley is another youngster, a true incoming freshman that will have his chance to compete as well for playing time. That will be taking place starting tomorrow. That competition resumes where the players are competing for a role—starting role, backup role, contributor role, special teams role, scout teams, demonstration squad. Everybody will have a role, and in this portion of time they’re going to be competing for what that role is.
Q: You said last week at Big Ten Media Day that you’re not trying to create a buzz. Why is there such a buzz with you nationally?
JH: I don’t know that. … I just coach the team. Very proud to be here today, very proud to be with our team and have our team here for everybody to see, but just to let you know, we’re going into the submarine tomorrow, and you won’t see us for a while. You won’t hear from us, or see us. We’re going to be working. We’re going to be in a bunker mentality until we decide we’re not, until we decide to come up to the surface. But it is wonderful being here today as I said and seeing everybody.
Q: On the quarterback competition, I think you said this spring Shane Morris was in the lead at the time, if there was a lead, and now Jake Rudock is aboard. When you look at it, how much will experience play a factor?
JH: I always try to figure out that percentage and how much of it will be a factor. Everything is a factor when it comes to the quarterback position. It’s like determining what’s more important to a carpenter. Is the saw more important, or the hammer, or the slide rule? I don’t know, they’re all important. All of our quarterbacks except for John O’Korn (ineligible due to transfer rules), they’ve got the license and the ability to compete and earn their position, whether it’s starter, backup, contributor, scout team, etc. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what we’re going to find out.
Q: You mentioned earlier about being home and your children going to the same school as you. I’m just curious about your overall comfort level being back home? It’s been 7-8 months since you were introduced as the head coach—just getting back into it, getting used to Ann Arbor and just your overall functioning around Michigan?
JH: I think it’s gone well, knowing where things are. Haven’t had to use a GPS in order to get around the town. All of that has been good. It’s cut-drag, it’s saving time. Anywhere we can cut drag and save time, I’m for it. That’s been a beneficial part of being back.
Q: Having been a player here, have you heard from a lot of former players, and do you think you have more responsibility to the program as far as wanting to get this back to where it’s back and where all the Michigan people want it to be?
JH: Yes, and I would say the same for our entire team. I have sensed that, felt that from our players, our coaches, our staff. We win as a team. That’s the best way and the only way to get it done. And I have sensed that from our team. It’s important to them, it means so much to them, that we win for those that want to see us do well, that are for us. That’s not everybody. There’s people that are for us. There’s people that aren’t for you. But anybody who wants to be for us, we’ll give them a big hug and they can know that our squad’s going to be working hard to win for them.
Q: A question about Drake (Johnson) and his ability to do everything in practice. Talk about where he is physically.
JH: Drake has done a fabulous job. Now you’re talking about one of my favorite guys. These youngsters, they’re so young and healthy. They’re not the normal person that’s wlaking around out there, even the normal person that gets an ACL injury because they’re really athletic, blessed by God, mom and dad, physically. And yet Drake is just another example of somebody who heals fast. These youngsters heal fast. You hope and expect and want them to strive for, whatever the prognosis is for healing from an injury, see if you can’t cut that in half. That’s cut it in half of the normal person out there walking around—me, you, most people I see out there walking around in this room, they’re not as blessed or as young or as healthy or as gifted as some of these youngsters are. From the beginning, he’s just been ahead of schedule. We’ve had to slow him down. We’ve had to tell him: ‘No, you’re not running yet. You’re not cutting yet. We know that you’re gifted, and a gifted healer. We see it.’ But still the doctors have, and we have as coaches, slow him down. So (he’s) not yet 100 percent, though he might be pretty darn close to that.
Guest: Other than football, what is your favorite thing about being back in Michigan?
JH: Autumn, that is a wonderful question. Thank you for asking that question. Things with my family is my favorite thing about being back in Michigan. How old are you? (Six.) So I have a six-year-old daughter named Addie and a 4 1/2-year-old daughter named Katie, and Jack is 2 ½. My son James is 18. He’ll be a freshman at Michigan. My son Jay is coaching at Michigan. He’s 26. So seeing all of my kids back here in Ann Arbor, doing some of the same things that I did when I was your age and their age. Went over to St. Francis Elementary School and we met the teachers for the first grade and the kindergarten class. And just walking down the hallways, seeing them in the same school that I went to, it might have been the best moment about being back in Ann Arbor. St. Francis is a typical Catholic school. It’s old, and it’s clean, and there’s a lot of memories. Pretty neat to think that my kids are going to experience some of the same things that I did.
Guest: How much milk do I have to drink to be big enough to be quarterback?
JH: Can I give you a hug? (Hugs.) That is a great question, and I love that you’re thinking about that. Drink as much milk as your little belly can hold. At all times, drink as much milk (as you can). Could be chocolate milk, could be 2 percent, but the ideal is the whole milk. That’s the ideal. As much as your little belly can hold. Thank you. Thank you for that question. Wish all kids were thinking like you, because you want to be big and strong some day, right?
Guest: If you could have any one person, past or present, walk side by side with you through the tunnel in your first home game as the University of Michigan head coach, who would it be?
JH: That’s a great question. I’d have to think about that. A lot of names come to mind. I think the two, if I could have anybody, would be Bill Harbaugh and Joe Cipiti. Two beloved grandparents that are no longer with us. That would be who I would pick to walk out of the tunnel the first game. Thanks for your question.
Guest: How do you make sure that all of your players get their homework done when they dedicate so much of their time to football?
JH: That’s a great question. You know who’s motivated best? People who are self-motivated. They want to get their homework done. It’s important to them to be better every single day. So you try to recruit guys that are really motivated to do that, so when we’re looking out there and we’re evaluating young high-school players, the ones that want to compete in the classroom, that it’s important for them to learn and understand and get good grades, those that want to get the best grades, those that want to win the most awards, those that want to excel at sports, that are motivated to do that. I found that the best way to ensure that they’re getting their homework done and they’re striving to be the best that they can be are to bring those youngsters to our university that have a track record of doing that and are self-motivated to get it done.
Guest: I was wondering when you were a player for Michigan, why did you choose the number 4?
JH: That’s a great question. Nobody’s asked me that question in a long time. The honest answer is I was assigned it. I came here in the summer and talked to Jon Falk, and I told Jon Falk that I would like to be No. 10. And he said, well, you’re going to be No. 4. I tried to explain to Jon that I was No. 10 in high school when I was at Pioneer, and then I was No. 11 at Palo Alto High School. I knew I couldn’t be 11 here because (of) the Wistert brothers, three All-American brothers, that jersey had been retired, so I’d be requesting No. 10 here. And again, he repeated that I would be No. 4. And I happened to mention to Coach Schembechler that I really wanted No. 10, and suffice it to say that was the last time I thought about being No. 10. But, at that moment, I recalled, my favorite hockey player is Bobby Orr! And what better number could you possibly be than No. 4 like Bobby Orr?