Ann Arbor – In nearly every game-day sideline photo of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, standing beside him or just behind is Kori Reblin.
Reblin often looks like a secret-service agent, sunglasses on and stone-faced.
He has a few aliases – “Cordy” or “The Cord Guy.”
In reality, the 29-year-old Michigan graduate from Kalkaska is assistant equipment manager for football, and from all accounts, he is a member of a group that is nearly extinct. Among his many duties is the one for which he has become best known, the person who must, during games, tend to the cord to Harbaugh’s headset.
After going wireless in the 2015 season opener at Utah, also Harbaugh’s first game as Michigan coach, there were some issues, and Harbaugh decided to go old-school with a wired headset. As far as Reblin and Sonny Anderson, Michigan’s head football equipment manager, can tell, Harbaugh is the only Division I, Power Five coach with this type of headset setup.
“There’s no better possible connection than a direct wired connection,” Reblin said. “That way you never have any interference or any complications.”
But a wired headset requires an individual to keep the wire from getting tangled, from players tripping over it and for making sure the coach is always free to roam.
“It is a really serious job,” Anderson said. “You could choke coach out if you did it wrong. Every picture you see of coach, Kori is right there, and that means he’s doing his job. If he’s not in a picture, he’s not too far, that’s for sure.”
This will be Reblin’s 21st game as “the cord guy” and he’s come a long way.
“Last year was the first year. I had never played football and I didn’t want to screw up anything, and I wanted to do everything perfectly,” he said. “I just stared at coach the entire game just to be safe. I didn’t want to be caught sleeping and have him walking one way and me walking another or something.
“I didn’t want any players to trip on the cord. It was a couple of times we’d break from a timeout and I’d have the cord wrapped around my ankle the first couple of games, because I wasn’t used to everything. I almost tripped myself a couple of times.”
Coaches are never stationary on a sideline for obvious reasons. During nearly two seasons as the cord guy, Reblin has a better feel for how Harbaugh works during games.
“I’ve really gotten to know his movements and when to expect him to move, and he’s gotten a lot more comfortable having me right next to him,” Reblin said. “So now I get to more into the game instead of just into watching his movements.
“He doesn’t run down the field because he knows I’m right behind him. But he’ll pace a lot. You’ll see him in the fourth quarter going five, 10 yards each way. But he doesn’t run too often because he knows I’m behind him, which is nice, because when you have all those players and coaches going out on a big play or something, they’re on the field excited, it’s hard to get around them. He knows their feet will get caught and we won’t be able to go as far or as fast as a wireless connection.”
The original cord was about 40-yards long and could extend from the 50-yard line to the 20 and accommodate some slack so that Reblin can maintain a three- to four-foot distance from Harbaugh while he’s coaching.
They added an extender after last year’s Northwestern game after Harbaugh outran the cord and broke the belt on which it is attached.
“He was trying to call a timeout and the ref was all the way down at the 10-yard line and he was running down to call a timeout, and he outran the cord and broke the belt right off,” Reblin said. “Luckily he was calling timeout, so I had time to fix it and get everything back to normal and put it back to normal. After that, we realized we needed a longer cord. So we added about another 10 yards, so now we can get down to the 10 yard line.”
Reblin said his mother often gives him a hard time for looking so humorless during games.
“She’ll be like, ‘How come you always have a scowl on your face?’ ” he said. “I’m like this is my focus face. I’m in the game, I’m in the zone. I’m being prepared. You can’t be sitting there cheesing the whole time.”
While he has learned enough to not have to keep his eyes glued on Harbaugh, he is very much in tune with the game and the coach’s movements.
“When he’s talking to officials or in the huddle, I’m trying to pay attention to what the team’s doing, what the coaches are doing so nobody trips on the cord,” Reblin said. “I have the cord in the right place when he comes out of the timeout.”
Anderson was first in line to be the cord guy. But he handles Harbaugh’s play cards during games and also changes out helmets among other duties.
“That cord job, you really have to pay attention to that,” Anderson said. “You can’t put the cord down to fix a helmet. They initially asked me to do it, and to be honest, I had done it in Tampa Bay in the preseason for the Buccaneers and it’s not the easiest job by any means. I feel like I’d get a little lost in the game and probably end up choking coach, so I don’t think I could do it.
“I looked at it as who’s the best option, and Kori in multiple ways was the best and greatest option. I thought he’d do well. I was extremely confident in him, but he’s done absolutely amazing. I would seriously put him up against somebody who’s been doing cords for 40 years.”
Other programs have made famous auxiliary members of their teams. Florida State had “Red Lightning,” a ball boy, and Oregon had “Chocolate Thunder,” also a ball boy.
Anderson decided last fall they had to make “Cordy, the cord guy” a thing. They launched a Twitter page, @korithecordguy, featuring “views from a cord guy.”
Reblin and Anderson share a goal each game day – do not become a GIF, the compressed image files that can spread quickly on social media. Anderson knows first-hand after he appeared in a GIF last season looking to be in a football stance as he moved behind Harbaugh picking up card after card.
“You become a GIF pretty quick,” Anderson said. “That’s one thing that we both try not to do is become a GIF because that can happen really easy. If he’s tripping a player, that’s an automatic. Boom! GIF.”
Every aspect of the job — Reblin also does the helmet paint touchup and helps maintain the locker room and, of course, all the equipment — has been a dream, he said. Reblin got his job the old-fashioned way, flooding everyone associated with the 2014 Michigan football staff with emails asking how he might get involved with sports once he transferred from Eastern Michigan to U-M.
There were no football openings that fall, but he landed a job with the women’s field hockey team for a season. And then, he got an interview with the previous football equipment manager, Brad Berlin, who had saved Reblin’s email from a year earlier. He worked for the football staff as an intern last season before becoming an assistant this year.
Now, he’s the cord guy and learned there’s a piece of fame that comes with it. In a photo sent to his Twitter last week, two fans dressed for Halloween as Harbaugh and Cordy.
He was visiting a mall about a half hour from Ann Arbor to purchase sunglasses recently, and he was approached by someone who recognized him.
“You’re Cordy aren’t you?” Reblin said. “’Oh, man, this is so awesome I never thought I’d meet somebody from Michigan in my store.’”