To those who know him best, Jim Harbaugh is the ultimate competitor.
A winner. A motivator. A leader.
He is driven and fiery, confident and cocky, astute and willing to delegate and all about winning and being successful. And now he is Michigan's new head coach, returning to his alma mater to restore its luster and return it to national prominence.
Harbaugh, 51, who spent the last four seasons as coach of the San Francisco 49ers after two college head-coaching stops at San Diego and Stanford, will be formally introduced Tuesday at a noon news conference. He is a former Michigan quarterback (1982-86) who played under legendary coach Bo Schembechler.
Harbaugh has signed his Michigan contract, a source told The Detroit News on Monday night. Terms were not immediately known.
The source spoke to The News on condition of anonymity because Michigan had not announced that Harbaugh had been hired.
Harbaugh replaces Brady Hoke, fired on Dec. 2 after four seasons. This is Michigan's third head coach since 2008. Rich Rodriguez was fired in 2011 after three seasons. The Wolverines have gone 46-42 since Lloyd Carr retired after the 2007 season, his 13th as head coach. They have endured three losing seasons, including the most recent 5-7 record. Michigan hasn't won a Big Ten title since 2004.
Harbaugh flew in to Metro Airport with his family on a private jet Monday evening.
Harbaugh's parents, Jack and Jackie, arrived before their son. They were asked how excited they were about their son taking over at Michigan.
"Go Blue!" Jackie said.
Harbaugh's Michigan teammates have unwavering confidence in the job he will do and how he will lead.
"Unequivocally, I would play with him again," said John Kolesar, a former Michigan receiver who played with Harbaugh. "I would want to coach with him, and I would want my son to play for him.
"I've seen him work, I've seen him sacrifice, and I've seen him want to be better and want great things for himself. He instilled an innate confidence that emanated from him and was absorbed in the huddle by his teammates. He's been bred for this."
Support for Harbaugh
Since interim athletic director Jim Hackett fired Hoke, it was clear his No. 1 target was Harbaugh, who led the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games before failing to make the playoffs this year. He had one year left on his contract with the 49ers, but his relationship with the organization's management had soured. If Michigan wasn't his destination, surely he would have landed with another NFL team.
In the early days of Hackett's search, the support for Harbaugh mounted quickly. Even Carr was on the Harbaugh bandwagon.
"If I had a choice, I would choose Jim Harbaugh," Carr told The News in early December. "But it will be Jim Hackett's decision, and that is as it should be."
Hackett was appointed the interim athletic director by new president Mark Schlissel after Dave Brandon resigned. Hackett is a former CEO of Steelcase and a player at Michigan. Schembechler was the coach then, and Jack Harbaugh, father of Jim and John, the Baltimore Ravens' coach, also was on the staff.
Schembechler recognized early that Jim Harbaugh was something special.
"He was an ornery little devil when I first knew him," Schembechler told the Los Angeles Times in a 1986 article before the Rose Bowl. "He was always under foot, getting in everybody's way. If I kicked him out of the locker room once, I kicked him out a dozen times, but he always came back."
Schembechler related an amusing anecdote to the Times, remembering one day when he stepped into his office and found Harbaugh, then a 9-year-old, with his feet propped on the coach's desk.
Schembechler said, "Well, how are you doing today, Jim?"
Harbaugh responded, "I'm doing fine, Bo. How are you doing?"
Schembechler said he later told Jack Harbaugh about the incident, adding, "You know, I like that boy of yours. I like his attitude."
Shades of Schembechler
All these years later, Harbaugh has shades of Schembechler.
"He's taken what he learned from Bo, and he modernized it and put his spin on it," said former teammate, All-American offensive lineman John "Jumbo" Elliott said. "He has great enthusiasm, and he has that intensity."
And a winner's attitude is something Harbaugh has always possessed.
It is what his former teammates and coaches believe he can restore at Michigan.
In an interview earlier this month with The News, Derrick Walker, a former Michigan tight end who played two seasons with Harbaugh, said he believes the former quarterback would be a huge boost for the program on so many levels.
"He is a winner," Walker said. "Jim has a lot of confidence. It's borderline ego and confidence, but as a quarterback he has to have that. Tell me a quarterback who has played at that level and doesn't have an ego?
"I would love to have him here. It would put us in a place where we haven't been in the last eight to 10 years, no disrespect to Rich Rodriguez or Brady Hoke. It would bring instant credibility. He brings a winning culture."
Former Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman played against Harbaugh in the mid-1980s and respected him for sharing what he calls an "uber-competitive" nature. Spielman, now a college football analyst for ESPN, said last week that Harbaugh at Michigan instantly upgrades the Big Ten and gives Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, whose Buckeyes have made the four-team playoff, a rival equal to the task.
"It would be great for Michigan, great for the Big Ten," Spielman said. "It restores some of the history of the rivalry of two great coaches with two great schools doing battle.
"He's a guy Michigan needs to rival Urban as far as name, coaching ability, and recruiting – he can probably go toe-to-toe with Urban in recruiting. That's vital for Michigan to start getting guys on the national level that are highly rated who want to be Michigan guys, and Jim can do that."
What about the recruits?
As speculation swirled Sunday about Harbaugh's departure from the 49ers to the Wolverines, high school football recruits weighed in on several recruiting websites and said the Harbaugh name definitely turns heads. Spielman said Harbaugh as a recruiter should not be underestimated.
"(Michigan does) have a strong base in recruiting, but I don't know if every college kid in Florida knew who Brady Hoke was -- I guarantee you, everyone knows who Jim Harbaugh is," Spielman said. "The other thing he carries -- and don't underestimate this, I wouldn't -- he could go in to any kid's house and say, 'I'm an NFL coach, and I know what it takes to get you there.' I would think that would be his selling point."
Michigan students will not return from break until next week, and as Hackett had promised the football players, they will have a coach. What they will have in Harbaugh, whose last college coaching experience was at Stanford from 2007-10, is a fiery coach, who is every bit as demanding as he was when he was a player at Michigan.
Former Michigan running back Jamie Morris, a Harbaugh teammate, spoke earlier this month of his demanding nature.
"If he didn't think you weren't giving your all, he'd yell at you," Morris said. "He loved his teammates and loved being around us, but he expected nothing but the best, and if he wasn't getting it, you would hear about it. I mean, he guaranteed a win (against Ohio State in 1986). Who does that? And under Bo Schembechler, too? If Jimmy said we were going to win, we were going to win. That's how he was.
"The guy I know is the guy I played with -- that's why he should be the coach here."