What’s left to say about Jim Harbaugh that hasn’t already been said? Michigan’s savior has failed to lift the program up in a more tangible way than Josh Groban. Four years in, even the staunchest Wolverine fans understand he does not walk on water (the most pressing question in college football).
We can play chicken or egg forever. Does the media love Harbaugh and overstate his brilliance because he’s so clickable, or is he so clickable because the media works overtime to ensure he stays that way. Readers of this site will be familiar with my long and complicated journey with the bombastic coach, and how admitted bias has softened with time.
In reality, Harbaugh’s impact in Ann Arbor is complicated. And while some of his attention-grabbing stunts are as tiresome as ever, one gets the sense that his committment to providing a well-rounded experience for his players is sincere.
One element is the global travel opportunities. Michigan has been to Rome and France the past two years. Yesterday, Harbaugh said he’ll take the team to South Africa next offseason. This predictably set into motion the typical blowback.
Maybe instead of gallivanting across the globe, Harbaugh should focus on earning a trip to Indianapolis, where the Big Ten Championship Game is held. Michigan hasn’t won the conference sine 2004 — one of the most underappreciated dry spells in sports.
It’s a predictable and not entirely original response to the trips. It’s also unimaginative and small. Take it from me, a guy who has enjoyed needling Harbaugh: there is plenty there to latch onto. His worldwide immersion program is not one of them.
It’s entirely illogical to connect a spring trip with autumn failure. How does visiting Europe five months before the season begins have any bearing on preparedness? To think that these players — student-athletes mind you — can’t walk and chew gum at the same time is insulting. College kids, too, are far more flexible and open to dynamic experiences than the older public.
It’s trite to say college is about finding yourself and understanding how you fit into the world. I’ll say it anyway. Harbaugh is providing his kids, who wouldn’t otherwise be able to study abroad, a chance to do something comparable. He’s expanding their horizons off of the football field and should be commended — not ridiculed for it.
Harbaugh is not championing these treks because he thinks he’s scaled every mountain. He’s not doing them to thumb anyone’s eyes and rest on laurels. Sometimes the most harmless explanation is the correct one. In this case, he’s doing it because they are wonderful experiences.
Sure, it’s low-hanging fruit for rivals to snare. It may anger Michigan fans who want to see him live up to his billing. Telling a college football nut that there’s bigger things in life is dangerous. But Harbaugh seems to get that, and he knows building well-rounded kids is as important — if not more — than beating Ohio State. And, hey, one of those he can control.
So I’ll say it because he can’t. The world is bigger than Indianapolis. Of course, Harbaugh would eventually like to get there, too.