Jim Harbaugh fired up about Italy, baby John, Super Bowl

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is eager to see an opera, visit the Colosseum and also the Pope during the trip to Rome he and his team will take in late April.

The excursion to Italy, which will combine three football practices with a myriad of tourist and educational activities, was announced by the program on Monday.

Harbaugh, who recently became a father again as he and wife, Sarah, welcomed baby John into the world, is on the recruiting trail but took some time Tuesday to appear on the Waddle & Silvy Show on ESPN radio’s WMVP (AM-1000).

He touched on a number of topics, including his infant son, the team’s motivation after dropping three of the last four games, Tom Brady, and the Wolverines’ spring trip to Rome.

“It’s awesome. I can’t wait,” Harbaugh told the show in his first public remarks — outside of a U-M press release — on the trip. “It’s going to be a tremendous educational and athletic experience where we’re connecting with people, and all the things our guys are going to be doing over there is going to be amazing. We’re going to the Vatican, we’re going to visit the troops, we’re going to a Syrian refugee camp. We’re going to an opera. We’re going to the Colosseum. We’re going to be in Europe, we’re going to travel as a team. It’s going to be so amazing and enlightening.

“Our guys are already planning what they’re going to do after the trip. Our team’s going to do study abroad, they’re going to do internships abroad, they’re going to do service abroad. There’s going to be opportunity for them to put a backpack on, get on a Europass and go to Paris and go to Florence and Venice. Unbelievable study abroad options in Japan, in Costa Rica, Argentina, Israel, Belgium, Iceland. What an amazing opportunity. Our guys are really fired up about it. We’ve been planning it for nine months. Everything is set and ready to go. So very, very, very excited about it.”

College basketball teams frequently take trips abroad combining games and sightseeing. The NCAA allows such trips once every four years. This, however, is not common among football programs.

Harbaugh took the team for a week over spring break last year to IMG Academy and held four practices there. The NCAA last week passed legislation to ban trips like that during spring break.

During the last nine months, Harbaugh said he and his staff planned the trip to Italy.

“It’s the University of Michigan, it’s how it thinks,” Harbaugh said. “The world is our classroom. We could think of it that way, and to have a university that supports that kind of perspective, and supports it financially, and supports the rationale of it, the idea of it.

“I credit the university. It’s an international mindset. I’m proud to be associated. I can’t wait to go. I want to see the Colosseum again. I want to go to the Vatican. I want to see Pope Francis. I want to go to an opera. I want to play football. I want to see what AC Roma (where the team will practice) is like. I want to meet people. I want to connect. It’s going to be great. I can’t imagine it getting any better.”

He spoke on several other topics, as well:

On baby John, who was expected Feb. 6 but arrived early: “John is good. He was better today, 5 pounds, 2 ounces; yesterday he was 5 pounds even. Better today that yesterday, better tomorrow than today. He came out early. He was born premature. It’s making him tougher. I can already see a callous starting to form. He’s got to fight for his life. That can do nothing but make you stronger.  The NICU newborn intensive care unit at Michigan is phenomenal. Just so thankful there’s experts that care, and they really care about the babies and have talked to many people who have had a premature one-pound or two-pound or three-pound or four-pound babies and they’re doing fine. It’s like a miracle to me. You take life as a given. You feel like it’s a given, but life is not a given. Celebrate life, the sanctity of life, how incredible life is of seeing it every day.”

On the baby and Sarah: “They’re both doing great. And great thanks to the care we’re getting at Mott Children’s Hospital, Dave Brandon NICU are taking great, great care of baby John.” Harbaugh said he recruits during the day, and has the “graveyard shift” at the hospital: “Two nights ago I did the 10 o’clock feeding, the 1 o’clock feeding and slept through the 4 o’clock feeding, but I was back for the 7 o’clock feeding."

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On whether his job at Michigan is everything he thought it would be: “I’m enjoying the heck out of it. It’s everything and more. It’s been great. Not everything great. Even the things that haven’t been good, like we lost three out of our last four games, two by one point and one by three points in overtime, they were excruciating losses but really close to being perfect. As close to being perfect as any team I’ve ever been on without being perfect. And my thought is, good – that will make us more hungry. That will make us more motivated. That will make us work that much harder to be the best we can possibly can. I like that.”

On how long it took get over the loss to Ohio State: “I can’t remember. A while. You go back and start feeling like what can you do better. How do we make this so we win these type of games? I don’t know. You just brought it back, so I don’t know if it’s ever really good to ever get over it. My thing is, let’s keep reminding ourselves. Let’s make that make us better. Hey, sometimes you don’t get the pay raise, sometimes you don’t get the job promotion, sometimes you don’t win the game. Good. Let’s use that to make us better.”

On Jabrill Peppers’ position in the NFL: “Safety – who could also be a nickel, who could also be a corner, who could also blitz like a linebacker. He has kickoff and punt return, not just capability, but excellence. He’s a good one. Really explosive. Heck of a player.”

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On if he and Tom Brady communicate much: “Yeah we did a little bit. He’s busy. We’re all watching with amazement, how easy he makes it look. Watching this last game in this playoff run, wow, he really makes it look easy, and you know it’s not. You know it’s really hard. The great ones have a way of doing that, making it look easy. Everybody can agree the two best teams have made it to the finals. It will be a great game.”

On whether having his name linked to NFL vacancies makes him mad: “I don’t react to it. There’s a lot of guys like Silvy and Waddle that have to fill up four hours of airtime, and somebody has to have something to talk about. Kind of feel like that’s what we’re doing now, just filling some time now. I do have to get back to this official visit. Are you done with me?”