Coaching stays family affair for UM's Jay Harbaugh

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh had asked his son, Jay, to coach with him before, but the timing never had been quite right.

After Harbaugh moved to Michigan, though, Jay accepted.

Jay Harbaugh, 26 and the youngest member of the staff, left his position with the Ravens, where he worked for his uncle, John Harbaugh, and now is coaching Michigan's tight ends.

"I was really excited to be around him," Jay said of working for his father. "This is a tremendous place, a really special place to be, and it was a chance to be here from the get-go as it gets turned around and something really special is started.

"I have never been part of something from the ground up, I guess. I got to Oregon State when they were a good program and got to Baltimore when they were a really strong franchise. So to get here as we're kind of, I don't want to say rebuilding, but we're starting something fresh and new."

Jay Harbaugh brings a younger approach to coaching and recruiting. He garnered national attention this week after sending a handwritten recruiting letter to the girlfriend of Philadelphia-area tight end/defensive end prospect Naseir Upshur. She shared a photograph of the note on social media.

Before National Signing Day last month, Harbaugh sent a handwritten letter to tight end recruit Chris Clark listing eight reasons why Michigan would be the right place to attend.

"I probably think about things through a lens, see the world through a lens that's closer to the guys that we (recruit)," Harbaugh said Thursday. "I think that's helpful sometimes. Even from our own players' perspectives, it's probably much different from the rest of the staff.

"Just like it's great to have people from different schemes, people from West Coast scheme, and this scheme, and that scheme all together from an offensive perspective, I think it's probably good from an overall staff chemistry perspective."

He was asked if Greg Mattison, Michigan's 65-year-old defensive line coach also known for his strong recruiting skills, has adopted the new approach to recruiting.

"Oh, he's a wizard with the computer," Harbaugh said, laughing.

He doesn't focus much on the fact he's only a few years older than some of the Michigan players, though. While he might see things through a similar lens, he's still their coach.

"They're fun to be around," he said. "I just feel like their coach. Last year (with the Ravens) I was with guys much older and I didn't feel like their little brother. They're fun to be around, and I think we have a good professional relationship in terms of coach-player, and there's a good mutual respect there."

He spoke highly of tight ends Jake Butt, Ian Bunting and Khalid Hill, who suffered a torn knee ligament last October, and said all are improving. Harbaugh said Butt is a well-rounded player who has spent much of the spring fine-tuning the details of playing tight end. Bunting, he said, has improved the most during the spring, and Hill, while not practicing, has stayed involved mentally.

"(He's) getting stronger and preparing to come back at some point; not sure when that's going to be," Harbaugh said. "From a mental standpoint he'll be very much ready to go when that does happen."

Overall, he's pleased with the position group.

"We have a lot of versatile guys, guys who are fast," he said. "All of them can catch, they're all getting better at blocking. I envision all of those guys coming along and eventually getting more guys so we have an army of big, tall, fast guys who can present problems for linebackers and safeties on other teams."

Harbaugh said he wasn't sure he wanted to follow in the football coaching footsteps of his grandfather, Jack; father; and uncle until he was midway through high school. He had also toyed with the idea of being a CIA or FBI agent.

"Which I would have been terrible at," he said. "Just awful. This was much better for me, I think."

The Harbaugh name has long been linked to college football and the NFL, considering his father also played quarterback in the NFL for 14 seasons after graduating from Michigan. So on many levels, Jay Harbaugh grew up with a celebrity.

"He was the celebrity, I was the celebrity's kid," Jay said. "(But) I like to keep a low profile. I don't particularly enjoy being in the spotlight."

But he enjoys being with his father at Michigan.