Harbaugh show finally hitting the field for Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Thursday is the first test for Jim Hackett's celebrated coaching hire, Jim Harbaugh.

Maybe that comes tonight at Utah.

Hackett, however, believes he has won on so many levels with the hire.

■Season tickets for home games have skyrocketed, as has interest in the program.

■He anticipates Michigan will be well-represented by its fans for the primetime opener. There will be 1,000 fans at the sold-out Michigan Alumni Association tailgate before the game, and the association’s travel packages also are sold out.

■The game also has generated a bowl-type feel, particularly among Michigan fans, who endured a 5-7 season and a tough stretch since 2008. The Wolverines are on their third coach since then.

“It ranks as one of the top prominent games of the season because it’s Jim’s first game back,” Hackett said Wednesday after arriving in Salt Lake City. “It’s also the opening of college football for the season, so there’s a lot of people who are just glad the season’s back.

“And the third thing is all of our fans, the fans that helped draw (Harbaugh) here — I’ve said it’s like the starship, whatever that gravitational pull weapon they have, our fans collectively kind of sent that beam to him and helped get him back here.”

During the last eight months, Harbaugh has dominated headlines nationally, whether by poking the Southeastern Conference bear while traveling to satellite camps around the country or via his Twitter commentary. Clearly, he has rejuvenated the Michigan faithful.

Michigan fans Andrea Agathoklis Murino and her husband, John, traveled to Utah on Wednesday from the Washington D.C.-area because they want to see firsthand how the Wolverines will look under Harbaugh.

“I think it’s a start of a new era, and coming out and seeing what the new world will look like is just very exciting for any fan who’s been watching Michigan football over the years,” Andrea Agathoklis Murino said.

She also said if Michigan loses, perhaps some fans might jump off the bandwagon.

“But those aren’t the real fans,” she said. “The real fans know this is going to be a process, but we’ll get there eventually.”

Utah players this week said the Michigan hype had become annoying, but coach Kyle Whittingham said he hasn’t used any of that to motivate his team. Utah running back Devontae Booker said Tuesday it seemed like the media-driven hype had made this more about Harbaugh than either team.

“It seems like Jim Harbaugh is playing the game instead of his team playing,” Booker said. “We look at it as overhype.”

Booker also said the hype was annoying, but it “doesn’t bother” the Utes.

“Just adding fuel to the fire,” he said.

Jon Jansen, the former Wolverines All-America offensive lineman working the game for Michigan radio, said what he wants to see is a “sense of toughness.” Jansen mentioned the four-hour spring practice sessions and said he observed one practice during camp and liked what he saw.

“He’s testing them trying to build up a callous, trying to make sure that when they get to game day, that’s easy,” Jansen said. “That’s the way it used to be. Practice was hard. When you get to game day, you were so thankful to be there because that was the easy part and the fun part.”

Jansen had a long NFL career, but said he hasn’t seen anything like the attention Harbaugh has received and driven.

“In college football, you don’t see quite the media frenzy around coaches and an individual player unless you’re talking about a Heisman candidate,” Jansen said. “For this much press and this much attention to be on a coach, it’s really something unprecedented, but you haven’t seen a former player who’s had success in the college ranks and had success at NFL ranks go back to their alma mater necessarily.

“For Michigan and the brand and everything it entails, it’s just a huge event for Michigan.”