Harbaugh: Camp tour helps players, not UM recruiting

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh talks to athletes during Wednesday's night's camp at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic High School.

Paramus, N.J. — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has answered question after question from reporters about his controversial satellite camps.

At almost every stop, he has to defend what he believes is a good thing for high school players, their families – and minimally benefits individual schools.

On Wednesday night, after Harbaugh and his staff worked with about 40 other college coaches and about 650 high school players at the Next Level Football Camp at Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey, Harbaugh got back on his soapbox.

“Everybody keeps saying the obvious thing is this is all about recruiting — and I disagree,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve disagreed with that premise from its inception. It’s not about recruiting. If it really helped recruiting that much, then people would have been doing this. It’s been around for 10, 20, 30 years. We’re just enjoying the heck out of coaching and going around and connecting to the football world.”

Harbaugh was joined by his brother, John, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, along with several other Ravens assistants, including Leslie Frazier, a former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. They were hands-on with the drills and provided feedback and coaching for the young players, just as the coaches from the smaller colleges did.

Still, Harbaugh was pressed on whether Michigan gets any residual benefit from having the camps, which have stretched all over the country and into American Samoa and Australia.

That constant prodding helped Harbaugh reach a point of frustration. He was asked if the camps have any recruiting benefits at all.

“As it relates to recruiting, no. People are saying this is all about recruiting and it’s not,” he reiterated. “We know the 200 or 250 people that we’re recruiting already and we could easily recruit them from Ann Arbor. This is about doing what’s good for football and what’s good for the youngsters.

“I’ve said it a million times — and believe it or don’t believe it, I don’t really care anymore. I don’t know what else to say about it. We’re doing this because we really enjoy it. I’m having more fun than I’ve had in six months. I’m like a pig in slop out here and that’s why I personally am doing it — I can’t speak for anybody else.”

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Harbaugh stayed the entire camp and shook hands with more than 100 of the camp participants — but was sure not to pose for any pictures or sign any autographs, which the NCAA last week declared was against the compliance regulations.

“To me, this is incredible. Pro coaches are out here, high school coaches, college coaches, guys who are excited about football. I’m starting to wonder how people really feel about football these days,” Harbaugh said. “I’m inspired by the young people who come out here to play football because they have a real heart for the game and I love working with them.”

While the Next Level camp and another local camp featuring Rutgers coach Chris Ash and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer seemed to splinter some of the New Jersey recruits to pick sides, Harbaugh was undaunted by the perceived competition with the Wolverines’ rival.

“I was all for it; it’s all what’s best for the youngsters,” he said of the other camp. “The more opportunity for them, the better — that’s my feeling on it.

“It’s really not competition at all. As coaches, there’s no competing going on; it’s just coaching the players.”

Harbaugh also backed Paramus Catholic president James Vail, who took some heat for supporting Michigan by hosting the camp and not leaning toward the local college, Rutgers.

“He’s gotten some pushback from people,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a very strong man and I have a great amount of respect for him.”

Harbaugh is scheduled to speak at the Paramus Catholic graduation ceremony at the Prudential Center in Newark Thursday night. He also spoke locally at the graduation for Saline High School Sunday night.

He wouldn’t reveal his message for Thursday’s program, but said: “I put some thoughts down and I’m excited to deliver them.”

Jim Harbaugh claps as high school athletes run drills Wednesday night at the Paramus (N.J.) camp.