Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, Warde Manuel discuss COVID-19 shutdown, transfers, NIL and more

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said all of the football players, coaches and their families are healthy and safe during this COVID-19 pandemic, and his family is tucked away in their Ann Arbor home.

Harbaugh and Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel appeared Friday on WTKA-AM 1050 for a fundraiser for University of Michigan health care workers – hailtothefrontline.com.

Jim Harbaugh

“We’re doing what we’re told, that’s what we’re doing. That’s what the Harbaughs are doing,” Harbaugh said on the radio show. “There are a lot of smart people in America, a lot of smart people around the world. Listening to those experts is our strategy.

“Taking coaching, same thing I ask our players to do, be open to coaching and take coaching. There’s new information coming in all the time and trust that the medical professionals are doing their job and get out of the way and let them do the job. Our task, our assignment, what people are telling me, is stay out of their way and also don’t put other people at risk. You’re taking care of yourself, but you have to think about other people. You have to think about the person you might be endangering. Just been listening and following the instructions is my advice.”

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Manuel used football, as well, as an analogy to the crisis the country is enduring.

“People watch us play games,” Manuel told show host Sam Webb. “They sit in the stands, and they cheer and they want us to win. Now, everybody is in the game. Everybody’s in this game, and everybody has to do their part. There are a lot of smart people who have looked at the history of things like this, who have dealt with experiences and experimenting with how to best help us win this game that we’re all in. There may be people who want to do different things, but if it hurts the whole, it hurts the team, and we’re all on the team. It doesn’t matter your religion, your ethnicity, your political background, we’re all in this together, we’re all in this game.

"There’s a lot of people that need our help. There’s a lot of people not working now, a lot of friends that we need to wrap our virtual hands around and give them a hug, support them as best we can. Support the people on the front lines as we’re doing today and not make this worse and make this last longer and have more people lose their lives."

Harbaugh said his home with wife Sarah and four young children is like most during the stay-at-home order in Michigan.

“A lot of fighting in the house, kids screaming at each other, ‘You’re an idiot! Shut up!' Breaking up the fights, but that’s normal,” Harbaugh said, laughing. “Sometimes you’ve got to show your teeth every now and then with them, put a little fear in them, but they’re good. It’s been a silver lining getting to spend so much time with the kids.”

Harbaugh mentioned that seven players had offseason surgeries but did not offer specifics. Here are other highlights from the interview:

►Harbaugh on how he’s staying in touch with the current team and 2021 recruits: “On the football side, just trying to be as creative and productive as possible. In touch with our players a lot, they’ve been great. We’ve had team meetings, we’ve had unit meetings, individual meetings, special teams meetings, coaching staff meetings, been doing it all remotely. Recruiting, I don’t know how many calls I’ve been on, but a lot, hundreds, maybe close to 300 now. I’ve got to tell you, I feel like I know our recruiting class for this year, this 2021 class, better than any class I’ve known so far because there has been so much time to talk to them. They have the time to talk, we have the time to talk. At this point in the recruiting process, feel really good I’m knowing these guys, and they’re knowing us."

►Harbaugh on the current players, who saw their spring practice canceled: “Our players are super engaged. I talk to at least a few guys every day. They want physical stimulus. They want the playbook and to meet and get coached up. Some incredible stories of guys doing things, physical feats. I had one guy, incoming freshman, did 50 miles on a bike. Over 3,100 calories. Took him three or four hours, 11-mph average. He sent me the whole read-out. Guys doing squats with backpacks on. One-legged squats and lunges. Caden Kolesar doing a video of one-legged lunges on a flower pot. Just cool stuff. They’re young and everyone’s preparing for getting as strong as they can and best shape they can for the upcoming season.”

Warde Manuel

►Manuel on the challenge of connecting with his staff and coaches: “It is definitely  a challenge to connect, but you have to continually make the effort. We have every two weeks a scheduled head coaches call. Sports administrators are talking to their coaches probably a few times a week. I’m always here and accepting calls or text or reaching out to the coaches in terms of just connecting with them personally or as it relates to any issues they’re dealing with. What I’ve been proud of is the way our coaches have responded, the way our student-athletes have responded, finding creating ways to not only work out physically but adapt creatively to the academic changes that happen mid-term with everything going online and them going home. It’s just a way that people make sure we take the time to communicate.

"The coaches are working on individual plans on how they will address meetings with each other, how will they have meetings with the team when they come back so we can maintain the guidelines that will be out, six-foot guidelines, those kinds of things until we can start to figure out how this will be in practices and those kinds of things in the fall. I’ve just been proud of their effort, of their work, of their ideas, of their creativity.

"I know it’s going to change for me that this attitude that I need to meet with somebody in person all the time. I’ve adjusted and gotten used to the technology. I think many of our coaches have gotten used to the technology and sometimes we develop such a way of saying, ‘I’ve got to meet in person.’ But if you’ve got to fly an hour or two to meet in person but you can have a longer conversation with somebody because their time is saved, your time is saved. I think we’re gonna all look at things a little differently to see what we can adapt and how we can benefit from what we’re learning in the last four weeks.”

►Harbaugh on what he would say to people who think the upcoming NCAA vote that would allow a one-time transfer with no penalty, something he proposed last July, might signal the downfall of college athletics: “It won’t. Warde and I are together on this. There’s four sports that do not have a one-time transfer exception (football, hockey, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball). Every other sport has a one-time transfer exception. Everybody knows about the portal. The portal’s been in play for a couple years now, so the difference was 60 percent would get a waiver to be able to not have to sit out a year and about 40 percent were not getting the waiver. That was the math on it. The one-time transfer exception is one time with no penalty of having to sit out. It’s really already in place, but this would definitely would clean it up to have a one-time transfer.

"It’s actually a good thing for college sports. For those that think it’s not, I would say that there’s a waiver, there’s an actual waiver in for being run off the team. A run-off waiver is what it’s called exactly. If a school runs a guy off, then he’s immediately eligible at the next school and doesn’t have to sit out, but there’s also rules in college football and all college athletics that you can’t reduce a scholarship based on talent. Those two things are flying directly in the face of each other. In my opinion, that’s saying two different things, so for all reasons, just really in fairness, just like any other student and most other student-athletes, a one-time waiver is a positive thing.”

►Manuel on what will happen if name, image, likeness is also passed: “Sometimes the doom and gloom gets a bit much. We adapt, we move. I also think that’s the right thing to do. Obviously, we need to put some protections in there for the institution, for the student-athlete. We’ve already been doing it in certain categories, like if a student-athlete was writing a book and wanted to publish it, we would say that was OK. There were already things we were giving the green light around using their name and I’ve always said, and I know Jim feels the same way, I’ve never said, ‘Hey, we own someone’s name, image and their likeness.’ That’s just not in our DNA and not the way we think.

"But we also need to make sure that there are certain protections of the university marks. There are other things we need to protect. For the most part I think it will be great. We’ll have some work to do to educate, to understand. We’ll have to monitor closely and make sure that things are in the right place. In the general sense, I think this is good. It takes away some of the rules that were in place and allows them to be considered just like any other student would have the opportunity to do things with their own name, image and likeness. Particularly in this era of social media and engagement."