Jim Harbaugh, Michigan meet at perfect spot

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Orlando, Fla. — Jim Harbaugh typically is averse to revealing too much.

He often says he doesn’t like to “peel back the onion” when asked to delve too much into his feelings about any topic, especially anything personal.

How Harbaugh will feel about this season, his first as coach at Michigan, his alma mater, seems like it would fit into that “onion” category. Which made his declaration Thursday — what a win over Florida in today’s Citrus Bowl would mean — head turning.

“I’ve searched my feelings, and I’ve thought long and hard about it,” Harbaugh said, drawing laughter.

What he has thought about is this — he’s coaching at Michigan, where he played for Bo Schembechler; he is coaching with his oldest son, Jay, his tight ends assistant; his childhood friend, Jim Minick, is on the staff; and he really has enjoyed working with young men hungry for success after sinking somewhat lifelessly to a 5-7 record a year ago.

Harbaugh’s Wolverines are on the cusp of 10 victories, a benchmark for college football teams. It would be meaningful to him, Harbaugh said, when asked which he has enjoyed more, coaching college football or in the NFL.

“I determined I like them both,” Harbaugh said. “I like coaching. I love football, and I love the University of Michigan.

“It has been a heck of a good year. It has potentially the chance to be … personally, I would look at this as the best year I’ve had in football if we win this game. If we win the game.”

Senior fullback Joe Kerridge said last month Harbaugh intersected with this group of players at the right time — when the program needed a boost.

“It was a perfect storm,” Kerridge said. “We were hungry and Coach Harbaugh is the same way no matter what league he’s in, no matter what team he’s coaching, he has that enthusiasm and energy, and we were waiting for it and we embraced it.”

Born for the job

It was by no means a perfect season. There were losses to rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, and the opening defeat at Utah.

But Harbaugh and the players see potential.

“I enjoy coaching this group of guys,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of great guys that have worked extremely hard, play as a team. You know they want to be good.”

Greg Mattison, Michigan’s defensive line coach who has coordinated the defense during the bowl season, has worked for Harbaugh patriarch Jack, Jim’s older brother John, and now Jim.

He has seen Jim Harbaugh truly enjoy this season.

“Oh, yeah,” Mattison said. “Jim is so genuine and so honest there is no way he could fake anything. He truly loves coaching at Michigan. ... That’s what makes him special.

“Some guys read a book on how you’re supposed to (be a coach), but Jim was born to do that. That’s how he is with the kids. He speaks so honestly with them, and I think they appreciate that. He’s honest both ways. If you’re not doing it, he’s going to be honest that way.”

A special time

The anniversary of Harbaugh’s formal announcement as Michigan’s coach was Wednesday. A year later, he has been a flurry of activity.

He has ruffled feathers in the Southeastern Conference, participating in satellite camps around the country.

He has tweeted at Judge Judy, met James Earl Jones as he recorded a football hype video.

He has talked about his preferred diet of steak and whole milk.

And he has worked amusing anecdotes, like worms having machine guns, into his news conferences.

Asking him if he was surprised by his first season at Michigan won’t get the rote but polite answer — that’s not his style. So for Harbaugh to say this could be his favorite year if the Wolverines earn a 10th victory was fairly revealing.

“We just started working at the job Dec. 30,” Harbaugh said, referring to 2014. “And every single day we’d get up and work and see if we couldn’t make today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than it was today. That remains the expectation.

“To get this win, to get that 10th win and be Citrus Bowl champions, that would make it the best year I’ve had in football.”