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Harbaugh likes Rudock's 'pizzazz,' eager to see QBs compete

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh on Friday shows off the new Mike Ditka jersey he was given Thursday in Chicago.

Chicago – Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has mastered the art of deflection, taking, for instance, a question at Big Ten media days about changing the culture of Michigan football and turning it into a question-and-answer session with the reporter about something completely unrelated.

Harbaugh, making his first appearance as Michigan's head coach at the Big Ten media days on Friday, did not make an opening statement, immediately took a question about how he will refer to Ohio State – for the record, he will call the Buckeyes "Ohio State" – and then spoke about the influences of his father Jack, Bo Schembechler, his coach at Michigan, and former Bears coach Mike Ditka. Harbaugh visited with Ditka Thursday night and was given a Ditka Bears jersey.

Since his arrival at Michigan in late December, Harbaugh has generated headlines for things as simple as sending a Tweet to Judge Judy and for more controversial topics like summer satellite camps. When asked Friday about the buzz he has created in the Big Ten and what his presence might mean for a conference that boasts the defending national champion, Ohio State, he demurred.

"I'm not striving to create any buzz," Harbaugh said. "I'm striving to coach the football team. I'm not trying to be popular, just coaching football."

Jim Harbaugh, with the Big Ten championship trophy to his right, speaks at Big Ten media days on Friday.

The Harbaugh hire has been impactful for Michigan in tangible terms like ticket sales. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett has said there's a waiting list for season tickets for the first time in eight years and a limited number of tickets remain for a few games. The Michigan State and Ohio State games sold out weeks ago.

"The spirit and energy have been tremendous," Harbaugh said. "I think everybody in Michigan football is hungry for the 2015 season, including the fan base."

Even away from the podium, when Harbaugh met briefly with reporters, he did not reveal much. He teased a bit, saying that the opening of Michigan's camp next Friday has brought a new level of anticipation.

"As excited as I've ever been for the start of a football season as a player or a coach," Harbaugh said.

When asked why this was so different, he smiled broadly and laughed.

"I say that every single year," he said, laughing. "It keeps getting better and better every year."

Regarding the upcoming season and personnel matters, Harbaugh did not reveal much. Aside from agreeing the defensive line could be the strength of the team, he repeated a familiar refrain regarding the quarterbacks, that they will "roll the balls out there and let them all compete."

Harbaugh said Jake Rudock, the two-year Iowa starting quarterback who will play his final year for Michigan, has acclimated to his new program and environment. He likely will compete with junior Shane Morris for the starting job.

"He's got a bounce in his step," Harbaugh said of Rudock. "He's got some real pizzazz. I've noticed Shane Morris and Jake are very serious, very focused, but very loose and very confident at the same time. I'm very excited to watch both of them compete. They both have a lot at stake and I'm just going to observe. Can learn a lot by watching. We're going to roll the balls out there and let them all compete. Whoever is playing better will be our quarterback."

At running back, Harbaugh wants to see the three best emerge, and it seems like those three will be, at least initially until Drake Johnson is fully recovered from a torn knee ligament, juniors Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, and USC transfer Ty Isaac.

"You'd like to see a good solid three assert themselves," he said.

Harbaugh was asked about the rivalry with Ohio State and said that game is big, but so are all of them. The biggest game for Michigan right now, he said, is the season opener at Utah. Later, he was asked his impression of Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.

"Very impressed," he said. "Great coach and a gentleman."

He later was reminded about the question referring to changing the culture of Michigan football, which has been on a downslope since 2008, with the exception of the 2011 season. He deflected the question again.

"Everybody kind of uses it a lot as a buzzword -- we're just working," Harbaugh said. "I feel good about where we're at and excited to get started."

Jake Rudock