Following a thorough, dominant victory over Ohio State — the most important win in his seven-year tenure as Michigan coach — Jim Harbaugh went home.
He spent the night surrounded by family, commemorating his parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. Festivities included watching football, as they “always do,” and a few episodes of “Heartland” with his daughter.
Then Harbaugh went to sleep. On to Iowa.
“The thing that hits me first is that this is a new beginning,” Harbaugh said on Sunday. “(We want to do) what we always do. We prepare, we practice, we try to have great days. One good day of meetings, practices, get ourselves healthy, get ourselves ready and go play the game.”
That’s a mentality that Michigan has stuck to throughout the season, one instilled by Harbaugh.
But as much as that quote feels familiar, something about Harbaugh seemed different. He conducted the press conference like a man who just had a burden lifted from his shoulders.
He was downright giddy recounting his postgame interaction with Juwan Howard, laughing that the moment was “so cool.” He rattled off the congratulatory messages that flooded his phone, highlighting a memorable text from John Madden, who lauded the Wolverines’ offensive line for one of the best performances he’s ever seen.
“They really like our team,” Harbaugh said of the common thread through the messages. “They really like how hard our players play. Kinda that’s been the theme. Comes through the TV set. See a bunch of guys that really like playing the game and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
The “new beginning” phrase also speaks to his refined mindset. Harbaugh is cognizant of the implications looming this weekend, just as he was aware of the stakes against Ohio State.
Remaining levelheaded is difficult following a victory of such emotional magnitude. These situations are conducive for letdowns.
That’s why, when Harbaugh thinks about the pending Big Ten Championship Game, he is reminded of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. The group famously stunned the heavily favored Soviet Union, but still needed one more victory to secure the goal medal. The Americans finished the job, rallying from a 2-1 deficit to defeat Finland.
Harbaugh wants the Wolverines to follow their lead.
“This is the championship this week,” Harbaugh said. “This week, that’s for all the marbles. That’s for the championship. It’s a continuation of the playoffs. … That’s the message towards the team this week.”
Harbaugh carried that out in his press conference. He showed appreciation for Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa team, noting that there’s “pretty much no one” he respects more.
And though Michigan opened as 10.5-point favorites, he’s not overlooking the Hawkeyes, either.
“We know how good Iowa is,” Harbaugh said. “What stands out is how good and conscious they are in all three phases — offense, defense, special teams.”
As Harbaugh flipped the page to Iowa, he allowed for moments of reflection, too. He thought back to the spring, when he realized the potential of this collection of players and coaches that no one else saw.
“That’s one of those feelings that you have, and the guys start feeling it too,” Harbaugh said. “… The comments back then were, ‘Well, everybody says that.’ But we felt it.”
And against Ohio State, they sure did show it. Now, if the Wolverines can do so one more time, they’ll be Big Ten champions.
“Maybe we were better prepared, maybe we were stronger, maybe we were more talented, a lot of factors there,” Harbaugh said, reflecting on the victory. “The fact is that we’re here. We’re excited about it. We want to go finish.”