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Harbaugh: Three late-season losses still burn deep

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh shake hands after the game.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said his current team is feeding off the disappointments from last season and that’s fueling the Wolverines as they prepare for spring practice.

Harbaugh, in a wide-ranging podcast with Tim Kawakami, a San Jose Mercury News columnist and host of the “TK Show,” who covered Harbaugh while he was the 49ers coach, said the team has not shaken off losing three of its final four games to end last season.

The Wolverines have gone 10-3 in each of Harbaugh’s two seasons as coach. Michigan opens spring practice next month.

He was asked if he has moved past the tough losses, including a double-overtime loss to Ohio State to end the regular season.

“Oh, definitely sticking with us and driving us for this season to improve,” Harbaugh said in the podcast that was posted Thursday. “This past season is as close to being perfect as any team I’ve ever been on without being perfect as we lost two games by one point and we lost a third game, a championship game, in overtime by three points.

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“Good. Glad we lost them. Maybe that will make us better. Maybe that will be the thing that will push us and motivate us to do a better job as coaches and players. We lost three out of our last four games. Good. That has really heated the waters here in our winter conditioning and it will for spring practice as well. We didn’t win a national championship. We came up short. Lost three out of our last four games and we actually have to get a lot better. It’s been competitive around here. Our young players are responding and they’re focused on making the team better and that makes me very, very excited.”

Harbaugh was asked if his two seasons coaching his alma mater have been what he expected.

“I didn’t know exactly what it would be, but I’m just having a blast,” Harbaugh told Kawakami. “It’s so much fun coaching these young guys. For example, we’re getting ready for spring ball now and we’re going to have a really young team, even younger than normal. But they’re focused on making the team better, and as a coach (it’s about) putting the team in a position to be good for the 2017 season. Got a wonderful, great group of guys we’re coaching with, and they do a tremendous job.

“There’s a lot of fun stuff outside of just coaching the team, as well, being in Ann Arbor, having my parents live right next door to us, having the recent addition to the family (baby John), the kids go to the same school that I went to. I’m a swim dad now. Just unbelievable satisfaction of my 8-year-old daughter on a swim team. I take her to practice. ‘We’ve got practice today!’ I use the word we now. It’s all we. ‘Hey, we’ve got to get back today. We have practice today. We have to work on our backstroke. This breaststroke, great improvements in that.’ I’m buying the caps, the fins, the towels, I’m just so into being a swim dad. There’s a lot of other things besides coaching the team I’m having a lot of fun with.”

Here are some other highlights from the interview that included plenty of 49ers discussion:

* Harbaugh on his newborn son, John, who was born seven weeks premature (4 pounds, 13 ounces) but is now home: “It’s going really well. He’s almost to where his due date would have been. I guess I would sum it up this way: I was thinking life was a given … you realize life is not a given. It’s a spectacular thing. We’re concentrated on keeping him healthy. He’s not as wimpy as he was when he first came out Jan. 11 (laughs). I feel like as the dad in this process, you’re on the last string. You’re not a starter like your wife. You’re not even a backup. I watched with amazement how spectacular our baby John was in fighting for his life and how great the doctors were to support him and fight for him. Most appreciative.”

* On dealing with the birth while also handling recruiting: “I thought we had it planned well. The baby was supposed to be delivered in mid-February after recruiting. Happened right before I went out on the road. In fact, I couldn’t go out onto the road for four or five days. I really came up with a nice system. I would fly out and recruit and do home visits and make it back for the late-night shift, the graveyard shift. I was able to go from out recruiting to the hospital and relieve (wife) Sarah. Had some wonderful hours where it was just him and me up in the hospital. It was good. Long story short, it was busy. It turned out really good on both accounts. John’s doing really well, and we had a really good recruiting class."

* On clarifying his opinion on his former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests during the national anthem: “I think we all learned because we all thought about it. At least I did. At first it’s like, ‘Hey, I really don’t like that action. There’s a better way to do it.’ When you really peel it back and think about it, we’re all on a team whether it’s our family team or whether it’s our football team or our community or the United States of America, we’re really all on a team, and I believe in rule of law and following rules. I also believe that we agree on the things we can all agree on and we embrace those things when we’re on a team. But if there’s something that’s not good for somebody on that team, it’s their obligation, it’s their right, to speak up and to say how they feel. Then it’s everybody else on the team’s responsibility to listen, to think about what they’re saying and address it and fix it if you can so we can all get along with each other and be a stronger team. That’s the way I viewed it."

* On his favorite book: “Favorite book, it’s a tie for first. 1A, the Bible, and 1B, 'The Old Man and the Sea,' Ernest Hemingway. I like the way Ernest Hemingway writes. It’s direct. It’s not a lot of fancy words you don’t know the meaning to. Clear, crisp, right to the point. 'Old Man in the Sea' to me is a lot like competition. There’s competition between a man and a great fish but that competitive relationship and respect that they have over those three days resonates so much to me do football. A day for him out on the sea thinking and strategizing and pouring his heart and soul and every ounce of physical energy he has is a lot to me what a day of football is like. A lot of spiritual meaning in the book and competitive meaning makes it my favorite.”

Kawakami ended the podcast suggesting he and Harbaugh continue to do these annually.

“Hope I’m still relevant next year,” Harbaugh said, laughing.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis