Jim Harbaugh is in France right now. After reviewing restaurants in the city while donning a maize and blue V-neck shirt, he trekked up to the Northern coasts, where on Friday morning he visited the famous Omaha Beach battleground in Normandy and chatted about life with 1957 Ohio State captain Leo Brown.
Chances are you already knew that, though — and not necessarily because you’re stalking the Michigan coach.
Using social media, a goofy demeanor and a growing national presence, Harbaugh has turned his summer into a pseudo-reality show that demands a following.
You can call it a manufactured plan to wake up a long-dormant program, or simply a weirdo coach craving attention.
Either way, it’s working.
He can be in Peru on a mission trip, struggling with a five-minute radio interview over the phone or even debating the definition of irony from his armchair, but you can bet he will be a national talking point.
According to the analytics website Topsy, the name “Harbaugh” has been mentioned over 45,000 times on Twitter in the past 30 days — an average of more than 1,500 tweets about him per day. Seven weeks ago, his shirtless rampage in Alabama was America’s No. 1 trend on Twitter.
Do you remember the last time Brady Hoke trended nationally — other than being fired — or where Lloyd Carr went on vacation in the offseason? I doubt it.
Even other high-profile coaches can’t escape Harbaugh’s summer. The first question asked at SEC Media Day earlier this week was related to Jim Harbaugh’s satellite camps. Local coaches such as Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio repeatedly field Harbaugh questions at their own press conferences, much to their politically-correct chagrin.
“Our staff is certainly aware of Coach Harbaugh,” Meyer told the Columbus Dispatch. “Any time the adversary has quality people in there, you’re aware of everything they’re doing and their work.”
But just as you can bet anything Harbaugh does draws attention nationwide, you can also bet that his boss, Interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett, is smiling from his desk, trusting the coach he’s admired for years.
“This is a rare talent that I’ve seen in my life,” Hackett said last week. “I’m talking business, peers (etc), he’s a rare talent. I told you this at the spring game: I’m happier with what I thought I was going to be delighted about.
“I’ve learned to not worry about these types of things … I really don’t worry much, there’s very few things I fear or worry about.”
In an era with increased media scrutiny and people monitoring a coach like Harbaugh’s every move, Hackett’s lack of worry is startling. Conventional wisdom would suggest that an Interim Athletic Director at a program that seemed to have a PR nightmare every week last fall is supposed to dial back the publicity, not encourage it.
Then again, Harbaugh isn’t conventional, and Hackett — who played under Bo Schembechler from 1974-77 — has seen it before.
“The thing I contrast with is the statue out there — (Bo Schembechler), if he had been alive during social media, this wouldn’t feel so idiosyncratic to you,” Hackett said. “Those personalities were always here … the media makes it transparent.
“What I love about it is the authenticity. He’s not a second guy in the dressing room who takes a mask off. He’s authentic.”
Though many will still question the authenticity of Harbaugh’s eccentric summer, one thing that can’t be denied is its impact. Michigan is still winless in Harbaugh’s tenure, but the buzz around the program already feels different. Ticket sales are already at their highest in years, and even during the Ann Arbor Art Fair, the talk of the town is still Harbaugh.
“When I’m in the public it’s, ‘How’s Jim Harbaugh? How’s the team doing?’ It’s a good excitement,” sophomore receiver Moe Ways told reporters on Thursday. “Fans are really excited. Everybody’s really excited to see what we do this year. I think it’s going to be a good year, we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
Added Hackett: “He’s a very creative, competitive guy. I don’t think I’ve ever met a guy who’s more competitive. We’re now, as a community, glad we’ve got somebody like that on our side.”
But even with Harbaugh traveling the same world that watches his every move, Hackett knows the value of keeping the coach grounded. He’s not going to stop the Jim Harbaugh Show, he’ll just make sure it has the right numbers — wins, not Twitter mentions — to last for a few seasons.
“I wear this yellow watch — it’s yellow, not maize; they didn’t have maize — I wear this to remind (Harbaugh) he hasn’t won a game yet,” Hackett said. “I’m taking it off when he wins his first game.
“For both of us, humility with all the drama is (important). This is about Michigan earning its rightful place and performing at the level that we know we can.”