HBO piece reveals Harbaugh's burning will to win

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
HBO's Andrea Kremer speaks with UM football coach Jim Harbaugh at Michigan Stadium.

Jim Harbaugh returning to Michigan as its head football coach is described by reporter Andrea Kremer in the opening minutes of HBO's "Real Sports" segment that airs Tuesday night as a "resurrection", "the second coming" and for Michigan fans, "the return of their savior."

Kremer generated some fabulous insight from Harbaugh on himself, and she rounded the piece with commentary from his older brother, John, the Baltimore Ravens coach, and also some less flattering observations from Alex Boone, who played for Jim Harbaugh when he coached the San Francisco 49ers.

The "Real Sports" piece airs Tuesday on HBO at 10 p.m., and based on an advanced viewing of a DVD from the network, this will be worth watching to get a sense of who Harbaugh is and what drives him to win.

Harbaugh and Kremer stood on the Michigan Stadium field earlier this month, and Harbaugh showed where he would stand and watch his beloved Wolverines while his father, Jack, who was on Bo Schembechler's staff worked. It was 1973 and Harbaugh was 9 when he first stepped foot in the stadium where he would later quarterback the Wolverines for Schembechler.

Kremer later asked the 51-year-old Harbaugh, as they visited an Ann Arbor parking lot where he often would play baseball by himself, why his drive for perfection alienated so many friends when he was a kid. He laughed but acknowledged that people say he doesn't play well with others.

"It must be true, yeah," Harbaugh said. "I wear out my welcome."

When Kremer asked what that meant, Harbaugh didn't hesitate.

"They just don't want to be around you after a while," he said.

John Harbaugh said his younger brother immediately stood out as the most competitive in a competitive family.

"He always wanted to win everything," John Harbaugh said. "And if he wasn't winning, and in the few times in our history growing when I was bigger or better, it really ticked him off. We have some pictures you could see the look in his face in the picture."

Kremer asked about the look.

"He's just mad that he's shorter or he's smaller or that he lost a basketball game or he lost a card game," John said. "He would carry it around with him for a while."

Jim Harbaugh said when he was in elementary school he already was thinking about ways to make it to the NFL, where he did eventually have a 14-year career as a quarterback. He set his mind to the fact he needed to be at least 6-foot-2, even though no one in his family had reached 6-feet.

Jim Harbaugh

He had heard somewhere that drinking milk makes strong bones.

"Convinced myself that I'll just drink as much milk as I can possibly drink," he said.

In third grade, he had a job at school as a milk distributor and would get one free milk for making the deliveries. And when kids didn't want their milk, he would drink it.

"I drank a lot of milk, Andrea," a lot of milk," he said in the HBO interview. "Whole milk, not the candy-ass 2-percent or skim milk."

Harbaugh grew to 6-foot-3.

While Harbaugh was effervescent discussing his youth and athletic passions and Michigan, when Kremer asked why he is no longer the coach of the 49ers, he responded with his stock response that "you work at the pleasure of an ownership group, (and) they felt it wasn't in their best interest."

Kremer asked if he wants to win so badly, he rubs people the wrong way.

"I think most people want to win, I really do," he said. "Nobody likes that bad feeling of losing."

Boone, a 49ers offensive lineman, said Harbaugh wore down his players in San Francisco and management was fed up. He said Harbaugh, who had success in previous college rebuild jobs at San Diego and Stanford, does a great job of initially bringing what he called a spark.

"But after a while, you just want to kick his ass," Boone said. "He just keeps pushing you and you're like, 'Dude, we got over the mountain. Stop. Let go.' He kind of wore out his welcome."

Kremer asked what that means.

"I think he pushed guys too far," Boone said. "He demanded too much, expected too much. And you'd be like, 'This guy might be clinically insane. He might be crazy.'"

Boone told HBO he believes Harbaugh is a better coach for college players than the NFL.

He was asked what advice he'd give Michigan players.

"Get ready to work hard, because he's going to work you, and you're going to win and you're going to have fun, but you're going to work for every game that you win. There's going to be miles of road you travel to get there."

Harbaugh is then shown at a Michigan spring practice barking at a player whose jersey number was blurred.

"I'm just telling you the right way to do it," Harbaugh yells at him. "If you want to look at me like with that look, go (expletive) somewhere else."

Harbaugh told Kremer that football is not fun, but you love the struggle. He said he loves the game and touched on a subject he has mentioned several times since arriving at Michigan that he considers football the "last bastion of hope for toughness in America in men."

Kremer asked Harbaugh where he will be in four years. He immediately laughed.

"God willing and the creek don't rise, I'll be right here," Harbaugh said.