Harbaugh in no mood to lunch with tweeting coaches

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh

Bradenton, Fla. – Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh was in a buoyant mood Thursday during the Wolverines’ third spring practice in the Florida sunshine.

While the players took a quick break, he sidled up to a group of reporters and joked that their arrival to practice at the IMG Academy had gotten later and later each day, and he engaged in some banter. A day earlier, he coached first base for the Tigers for three innings during a spring training game against the Pirates and relished the experience.

And shortly after practice ended Thursday, Harbaugh took to Twitter to take a jab at Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who joined in late on what had been a humorous Twitter post from Arkansas coach Bret Bielema directed at Harbaugh.

Michigan’s week at IMG Academy has been well-documented. Harbaugh did what most other sports do by taking his team away from campus for spring practice. The Wolverines will hold their fourth and final practice here on Friday at 5 p.m., and it will be open to the public, before they return to Ann Arbor to continue spring practice.

Commissioners and coaches from the SEC and ACC have been critical of Harbaugh’s trip, claiming it robs them of what should be important down time, away from football. Undoubtedly, they also see it as a recruiting advantage, since IMG has some of the best high school players in the country, and Harbaugh has opened practices to all Florida high school football coaches.

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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has been a rare voice among Harbaugh’s coaching peers to praise the decision to leave Michigan for a week and relocate practice in Florida.

“I applaud the guy,” Fisher told the Palm Beach Post. “Jim beat the rules. That’s fine. I applaud Jim for trying to do something different.”

Not long after Harbaugh’s duties coaching first base had concluded Wednesday, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema decided to have some fun. He tweeted: “After early meetings & lift tomorrow with our players. Thinking about heading to watch an open practice tomorrow at IMG with the staff.”

Then Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio retweeted Bielema and added a note: “Want to do lunch?”

Harbaugh didn’t respond.

Meanwhile, Bielema posted a tweet Thursday morning saying he found out from the NCAA office he couldn’t go to the IMG open practice even if he really wanted to because it’s a quiet period in recruiting.

But then Jones decided to tack on a message to Bielema and Dantonio Thursday: “Mind if I join you guys for lunch?” -- and the gloves were off.

Butch Jones

That drew a response from Harbaugh, who has used Twitter to extend birthday wishes, engage with a few celebrities like Judge Judy and to subtweet with the best of them. His point was more direct, though in his response to Jones, he didn’t refer to him by name.

“Suggestion to my Rocky Top colleague, rather than lunch in Florida you might spend your time and focus attending to your present team,” Harbaugh wrote.

Last Friday, just before Michigan departed for Florida, Jones offered 20 IMG Academy players scholarships to Tennessee.

But Harbaugh likely was referencing the fact Jones and Tennessee are embroiled in a bigger issue. The UT athletic department recently has come under scrutiny for a Title IX lawsuit filed against the school. Jones also is facing allegations he called a player a “traitor” for helping a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by two Tennessee teammates.

In the lawsuit, eight women accuse Tennessee of having a “hostile sexual environment” that allegedly favors athletes.