‘That’s where I would pick us’: Jim Harbaugh says Michigan is rightful Big Ten favorite
Chicago — For once, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh seems to be in agreement with many in the media.
Several national publications and pundits, including a poll this week of Big Ten beat writers, have predicted Michigan to win the Big Ten this year.
“That’s where I would pick us,” Harbaugh said Friday at Big Ten media days.
The Wolverines haven’t won a Big Ten title since 2004. Many point to the Michigan's schedule, which features its three rivalry games — Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State — at Michigan Stadium, and the addition of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and his pro spread, no-huddle approach as reasons to believe the Wolverines will finally break through.
“I feel like our team is in a really good place,” Harbaugh said, when asked why he thinks Michigan will win the Big Ten. “Young, enthusiastic team with players with a lot of good experience. I feel really good about our coaching staff. It’s good, it’s tight. We’re proceeding on a daily basis to make it even tighter, even better.”
Several hours later, during his breakout interview session, Harbaugh reiterated the confidence in the coaching staff and his players.
“I’m really feeling 2019 is special,” Harbaugh said.
His players are feeling that way too. Khaleke Hudson, one of Michigan’s three players attending media days, said the urgency to win entering this season is high.
“We know what our potential is, and we know what we can be,” Hudson said. “We want the end of the season to have a different outcome. We want to go undefeated. We want to be the best team. We’re just working to get better.”
Hudson offered a “why not us?” approach.
“It’s time for us to break out,” Hudson said. “It’s time for this to be our breakout year. I feel like we’ve got all the pieces. I feel like this is the year to do it.”
Ben Bredeson, a captain last year, like Harbaugh, thinks Michigan should be picked to finish high, but he doesn’t care much about the preseason prognostications.
“It’s a nice thing that happens to you, but it’s July,” Bredeson said. “Big Ten championship is not until December, so a lot of things that can go well, a lot of things that can go wrong for you in between there. Got to handle your business in the middle.”
Harbaugh took exception to questioning whether he feels pressure to deliver that special year in his fifth season as Michigan’s coach.
“We term it as challenge,” Harbaugh said. “Great opportunity that we have to be doing what we’re doing and a great challenge we have in front of us. Understand, we welcome it. We kind of feed off it. You say pressure, we say, 'OK, let’s see how much pressure we can apply.' That’s what we’re playing for.”
While he’s not avoiding the preseason praise, Harbaugh said the preseason Michigan “hype” has been all over the place.
“I’ve already been asked today, ‘Do you think people are sleeping on you coach?’” Harbaugh said. “When you say everybody’s hyping the team up and somebody else is saying everybody is sleeping on it, those are two very different sides of the spectrum.”
Harbaugh pointed out that at this time of year, before camp and kickoff of the first game, everyone — coaches and players included — “accentuate the positive.” This isn’t a bad technique, of course. After all, who wants to start the season on a downer. But while Harbaugh thinks he has a special team, he also likes the idea they understand there are plenty of things to correct and to be accountable.
Last season, Michigan won 10 straight after a season-opening loss at Notre Dame and was a win over Ohio State away from playing in the Big Ten championship game and being in the thick of the national playoff hunt. A 62-39 drubbing in Columbus cost the Wolverines plenty, and they were embarrassed. Now, Harbaugh said, they look at the loss, they study it, they keep it with them — he made the player T-shirts in the spring with the scores of their three losses in 2018 — and their desire is to build from it.
“We embrace the negative,” he said. “We embrace the suck. OK, let’s improve. Let’s take it into account the things we have done, the times we’ve lost and what we can do to make that not happen again. Ever. That kind of team, that kind of mentality, that kind of place, found that to be who we are. That’s our identity.”
When a reporter from Columbus apologized for bringing up the Ohio State loss again, Harbaugh pleasantly interrupted.
“That’s OK, we bring it up a lot,” he said. “We embrace it. Those are the things we’re focused on right now. Where we came up short, how can we put it over the top? It was good. At one point … I could go through a lot of the positives, but we just don’t do that. That’s not what we do. It might be right, it might be wrong. We strive to win our goals. Those are things that start us, then we focus in on the process of achieving those goals.”
Harbaugh said the team goals are what they always are — to win the Big Ten, earn a spot in the College Football Playoff and win a national title.
“That's what we're trying to — that's what we're trying to do better, trying to do more, focus on that day-to-day,” he said. “I think it's good right now. I think it's good. I think it's tight. But like an anaconda, you want to just keep squeezing it tighter and making it better, and that's where our football team is.”
As always, he is partial to his players, but Harbaugh spent some time discussing the positives of his staff. He said he doesn’t have “any thoughts anymore” on the departures of defensive line coach Greg Mattison and linebackers coach Al Washington to Ohio State, and instead feels great about the 30-something vibe on his staff.
Harbaugh hired Gattis, and defensive coach Shaun Nua and Anthony Campanile, all in their 30s, adding to a staff that includes relative coaching youngster, Sherrone Moore, who coaches tight ends, and Jay Harbaugh, who handles the running backs.
“Been watching Coach Gattis since he was at Western Michigan and followed his career, felt he was just very decisive, so when the opportunity presented itself to hire Josh Gattis, he's been excellent,” Harbaugh said. “We've been learning from him. He's got a great system. And also like our team – we've got a young, enthusiastic team, which also has a lot of experience. You could describe Josh Gattis in that very same way. He's a young, enthusiastic, high-energy coach that really fits our team because we have a group of coaches that are exactly that way.”
“(Defensive coordinator) Don Brown is, as I said before, Don, I have not coached with a better coach than Don Brown. And then we had that group of coaches like Josh in their 30s. I call them the best young coaches that I've seen in 35 years, Anthony Campanile, new to our staff this year, Shaun Nua, new to our staff this year, and also Sherrone Moore, who coached on our staff last year and coaches the tight ends again this year, same group. I would put my son Jay Harbaugh, who coaches the running backs, in that group of, but humility prevents me from doing that. But the facts are he is one of the best young coaches I've seen in 35 years, so I'll put him in that group.”