Wolverines agree: Decision to travel unrelated to disappointing season
Paris — Michigan’s football team arrived Friday morning in France for its week-long sightseeing and educational bonding trip, and the players and coaches kicked things off with a bus tour around some of the major tourist attractions, like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.
The players and coaches made their way into their centrally located hotel, some looking sleep-deprived from the overnight flight, but all looking eager for the adventure.
Still, some Michigan fans and fans of Michigan opponents have wondered aloud on social media and on radio shows about why coach Jim Harbaugh would take the team to Europe again — they went to Rome last year for the first overseas trip — especially coming off an 8-5 season.
Michigan offensive guard Ben Bredeson, who will be a junior this fall, said there’s no correlation between a disappointing season and the fact the team went to Rome during the spring. And that record should not be a factor in deciding whether the team should travel.
“I mean, last year’s team is done and this is this year’s team,” Bredeson said Friday after arriving with teammates at the Westin. “The way I view these trips is they bring the current team together. We just went through spring ball together and this is out last push together before the summer, where you kind of go your own way.
“We’re all on campus, but there aren’t many organized events other than lifts. This is the just biggest team camaraderie event I’ve ever seen, so it’s really important to next year. It’s not a reward for last season. I’d say it’s prep for the next season.”
For the coaches, the trip also is a way for them to bond with players.
They’ve already been through spring practice, but that’s about coaching. This trip is about communicating and bonding.
“So often you’re around the players and it’s always X’s and O’s and, you know, it’s always football-related, where this is just kinda hanging out with the guys,” defensive coordinator Don Brown said. “Some people call it team bonding, furthering your relationship with your players in a non-football environment, which is unbelievable. We don’t get to do that enough, by the way.”
Harbaugh allows the players to take off May. They can go home, they can stay in Ann Arbor and take spring-semester classes, they can participate in study-abroad programs, or get jobs or internships.
This trip is optional and he said about 20 players did not make the trip, including some like Karan Higdon and Juwaan Bushell-Beatty, who chose to participate in graduation. About three dozen did study abroad last year and the number is less this year, although Harbaugh didn’t offer specifics.
Brown said this type of trip is invaluable on so many levels.
“It’s a long, hard process,” Brown said. “It’s a full year commitment, then you have to start over again, and then it’s another full-year commitment. We really demand a lot of them. Our guys are fortunate because they get a good chunk of May to enjoy, but a lot of people don’t get that.
“So yeah, I’ll stand behind it. I don’t think you get to do enough of these kinds of things. That’s why, coach is way out in front trying to do something like this.”
Bredeson said the maiden overseas trip last spring to Rome was eye opening for the players.
“Personally, it was my first time really out of the country,” Bredeson said. “The week in Rome and then studying abroad in Spain, I spent a whole month in Europe. It was probably one of the best months of my life because I was on my own and forced to do my own thing to survive, make firm (decisions) and learn how to be an adult, I guess.
“You’re getting all these cultural experiences all around you. In Rome, you’re surrounded not only by religious history but ancient history and Italian history. It was incredible. From a team perspective, the best part was no one had any cell phone reception, so everyone put their phones down. Everyone was talking to each other and joking around, and that was the greatest team camaraderie event I’ve ever seen. The way the team came together after a week in a foreign country where it was just us was incredible.”
Harbaugh wanted to believe the lack of cell-phone use in Rome was because the players completely understood the concept of using the time to get to know each other.
“There was a great experience I had at one dinner last year as you connected with your team and your players,” Harbaugh said Friday. “Probably myself and about eight players were having the dinner that took about two and a half, there hours once you got through all the courses. Toward the end, I thanked them all. Thank you, this was unbelievable. Sharing, telling stories, laughing. Really connecting.
“(I said,) ‘We should do this when we’re back home, too. Nobody had their cell phones out here,’ and they go, ‘Coach, we don’t get reception here, so that’s why we were talking to you and put the phones away.’”
Unlike the trip to Rome where Michigan had three practices, the Wolverines are not practicing here. Bredeson said he thinks that will be a positive this trip.
“It’s going to be a different feel,” he said. “I think we’ll get more done culturally. When we were in Rome practicing, we had to block out half to three-quarters of the day for getting there, taping, practicing, coming back, showering. It took a lot of time out. The fact we’re not practicing here will give us an opportunity to get a few more things done.”
While Harbaugh had more of a hands-on approach to planning the Rome trip, he stepped aside this year and did not handle it. He is looking forward to being as surprised as the players as the itinerary unfolds. Among the highlights, visits to the Louvre and Notre Dame, and a trip to Normandy.
It is a bucket-list visit for many, but Harbaugh doesn’t want to rank the experiences yet.
“That’s the one that stands out but you never know,” Harbaugh said. “You don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen, what you’re going to learn, what you’re going to see that’s really going to stand out the most.”