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Harbaugh: Ex-player animosity 'almost a compliment'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh likes that some of his former NFL players said he drove them so hard that they loved and hated him.

Harbaugh, featured on HBO's "Real Sports" Tuesday night, was told by reporter Andrea Kremer about negative comments from some of his former players on the San Francisco 49ers. At times, she told him, they said they wanted to knock out Harbaugh's teeth.

"It's almost a compliment," Harbaugh said. "And I bet that same player five or 10 years from now will really appreciate what was done."

Alex Boone, a 49ers offensive lineman who played for Harbaugh during his four seasons with the 49ers, said during the feature that 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 (butt)," 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.

"In all honesty, Jim's a great guy," Boone said. "He lives by a code — accountability, responsibility, working hard. I agree with that code, but at the same time, get ready to work hard and sometimes he's going to rub you the wrong way."

And what if he rubs a Michigan player the wrong way, Kremer asked.

"Don't say anything," Boone said with a laugh.

Harbaugh was 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.

In the opening of the segment, Dan Dierdorf, the former Wolverine offensive lineman and college and Pro Football Hall of Famer now Michigan's radio analyst, said the program needs to be rejuvenated.

"We're starving for a return to legitimacy, and we think Jim Harbaugh is the path to that," Dierdorf said.

When told that Harbaugh has been called "Jesus in Khakis", Dierdorf said he understands why Michigan fans might think that.

"In some sense he's the Messiah," Dierdorf said. "He's here to resurrect this program."

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 nine 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."

What was the look, Kremer asked.

"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.

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," he said in the HBO interview. "Whole milk, not the candy-ass 2-percent (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."