Jim Harbaugh was the boring, weird coach of the San Francisco 49’ers. The big pre-Super Bowl ‘story line’ when he coached the 49’ers was that his wife complained that he always wore the same khaki pants. With the Chicago Bears, he was mostly the back-up punching bag for Mike Ditka. Even the 49’ers dumped him after a successful coaching tenure. Yawn.
Now, he is the most interesting man in the (football) world. Michigan football is relevant again. How did he do it?
Let’s start with his innovative University of Michigan high school recruitment camps, held in the heart of SEC country. The camp this year is being held in Mississippi to the chagrin of SEC coaches. According to one SEC booster , “I think Jim Harbaugh is the Donald Trump of football,” who added that Mississippians began voicing their displeasure five minutes after Harbaugh tweeted the news. “People just can’t stop talking about him.”
Much to the chagrin of SEC coaches – and beyond – the Michigan football head coach is holding spring practice in the middle of SEC territory to raise his team’s profile and increase his access to talent. As with the satellite camps, Harbaugh took advantage of a rules loophole and scheduled four Michigan spring practices during Michigan’s spring break at IMG Academy in Florida. Commissioners and coaches whined, but Harbaugh’s show again went on. Thousands watched Michigan practice, including some of the academy’s prized recruits.Administrators in B1G schools feign that this practice is taking spring break fun away from the football players – really? Aren’t these the same presidents who approved national playoffs and bowl games during Christmas break?
Administrators in B1G schools feign that this practice is taking spring break fun away from the football players – really? Aren’t these the same presidents who approved national playoffs and bowl games during Christmas break? Harbaugh, in turn, argues that this is a great chance for many disadvantaged athletes to actually have a spring break and spend time at the beach.
He hounds prospects to go to Michigan to play. He stays at their houses – making popcorn, playing cards, watching movies, and he even became a babysitter when one prospect’s mother went into labor and had to leave home to deliver a baby. He even graciously volunteered to take down a Penn State’s commit’s Nittany Lions pennant from his bedroom wall.
In an article, How Jim Harbaugh Made Michigan a National Power Again, Harbaugh is seen as a master brand builder. Harbaugh is undoubtedly the biggest driver, using his celebrity, coaching credentials, eccentricity, social media precociousness and cage-rattling personality, as well as his latitude with the fan base as an alum who played for Bo Schembechler. He has also tapped into Michigan’s attributes — the program, the university, the brand — and recognizes that for Michigan to matter nationally, a national approach is required if they are going to re-emerge as a national power.
Harbaugh uses social media to extend the gold and maize ‘M’. He tweets under the @CoachJim4UM handle. But whether he’s trolling SEC coaches or endorsing Judge Judy for the U.S. Supreme Court, almost every dispatch makes waves, and not merely among his 393,000 followers.
Then came “Signing of the Stars,” event – the national signing day event filled with pomp, circumstance and celebrity. Partnering with The Players’ Tribune, Derek Jeter’s outfit, Michigan had Jeter, a Wolverines fan, and Tom Brady introducing recruits. Wrestler Ric Flair wooed and baseball manager Jim Leyland hit the Dab with hip-hop group Migos.
Are you betting against Michigan this year? I’m not.
Now, Denver is obviously not to basketball what Michigan is to football. And Billups does not have the national recognition of a coach like Jim Harbaugh. But Harbaugh has shown that a program can gain visibility, awareness, and build their brand through clever and relatively inexpensive approaches.
Tomorrow, we will propose a few actions that DU hoops could take under new Coach Rodney Billups to elevate the DU basketball program.