Jack Harbaugh opens up the Youth Impact Program at Michigan Stadium. Angelique Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — For many reasons, Jack Harbaugh was happy to attend the first day of Michigan’s second Youth Impact Program, a two-week academic, football and life skills camp for 100 fifth through eighth graders from Detroit.
Harbaugh, father of Michigan coach Jim, enthusiastically delivered the program’s opening speech to the players while gathered on the Michigan Stadium field Monday.
The participants had to write essays to apply to the program, which involves taking classes, learning discipline from the Marines, and football skills. Several Michigan sophomores are working the camp, with an assist from several juniors who were part of the camp last year.
Zach Eisendrath is the YIP director, Joe Hastings is running the football side of things and Shari Acho is running academics. Former Wolverines like Braylon Edwards, LaMarr Woodley and Harlan Huckleby will be speaking over the course of the two weeks. Several of the Wolverines, including Tyree Kinnel, Jared Wangler, Moe Ways, Dymonte Thomas, Jourdan Lewis and Karan Higdon, offered life advice to the youngsters on Monday.
“People hold themselves down in the hood because they choose to,” Higdon told the kids. “I had to realize on my own, ‘I can’t hang out with you.’ Don’t be like me — don’t wait until high school to learn this.”
Jack Harbaugh and his wife, Jackie, attended the first day of the event last year when Jim Harbaugh arrived on the bus with the kids. He called being part of the program the “highlight” of their year.
“You looked in their eyes and you saw this excitement about being on the campus at the University of Michigan and in the Big House and to be surrounded by the sophomore class of football players who they had heard about and now they’re in their presence,” Harbaugh said.
“Nothing could make you prouder than seeing your children giving back to the community.”
Jack Harbaugh is noticeably thinner. He is 20 pounds lighter and has changed his diet since having quadruple bypass surgery.
While watching the basketball national championship game, he felt what he thought was indigestion. He didn’t have the regular heart attack symptoms — no arm pain and his chest didn’t feel like an elephant was sitting on it. But he knew something was different.
“My mentality would have said, ‘Hey, go to bed and tomorrow you’ll wake up and be fine,’ but the message was, ‘No, you can’t let this slide,’ and Jackie drove me to the hospital and here I am,” Harbaugh said.
“I was scared. It’s the first time I’ve ever had anything like that where a doctor looks at you in the eye and told you it was surgery.”
And since, his perspective has changed.
“I really feel blessed,” Harbaugh said. “You look at things so much differently when you go through an episode like that. You wake up the next morning and you just want to make the best of that day. When Jim says make today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today, I don’t think there’s anything that would sum that up more than to go through something like this.
“You look at everything different — your relationships with friends. Things you haven’t done, the old bucket list idea. What do I need here?”
His list is short.
“What I find out, it’s football,” he said, laughing. “My bucket list is get through another season, get to another game, go to a Rose Bowl, go to a playoff, just go out and watch practice or sit in on a meeting. That makes me happy just to sit back and watch.
“I do feel tremendously blessed. For all those folks out there, go to the doctor. I was one of those guys that just felt if I go there’s going to be bad news, so why endure it, just don’t go. My eating habits are so much better now.”
Jack and Jackie Harbaugh have moved to Ann Arbor and are waiting on the arrival of their furniture. This is the 18th move they’ve made.
“This is where I want to be, I promise you that,” said Harbaugh, who had coached at Michigan on Bo Schembechler’s staff.
He loves being in Ann Arbor, watching his son lead the program. He was asked if he enjoys watching his son stir things up on a national level with things like satellite camps and taking the team to Florida for spring practice.
“You know what I love? I love that he wants to be and is Jim Harbaugh,” Jack Harbaugh said. “All of us went through the Bo Schembechler thing. When we left here we wanted to be Bo. I did, and it cost me my first job because I wasn’t Jack Harbaugh. I can’t speak for the other coaches who went out, but that was my situation.
“Jim came and he’s not a Mike Ditka, he’s not a Bo Schembechler. He’s going to be Jim and when a feeling comes upon him he’s going to express himself, and I find nothing wrong with that. What I find with that is sincerity and honesty and why can’t more of us be like that?
“When people see that and think, ‘Oh, he can’t be like that? He’s got this motive in mind,’ but what if he didn’t? What if what he told you is exactly how he feels. How would that make you feel? We’ve seen him for a long, long time, and what you see is what we’ve all experienced and seen and appreciated about him.”