Niyo: Harbaugh's intensity on high volume, OSU week or not

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Everyone seemed to want something different this time. Everyone seemed to expect something more. This being Ohio State week, and him being Jim Harbaugh, you might think that'd be guaranteed.

But this being Harbaugh, what you heard instead Monday afternoon was what you always hear, as he talked not about the anticipation for his first game against Michigan's archrival as a head coach, but instead about his excitement for another week of "ceaseless and intense" work.

"Never slacking," Harbaugh said.

Which, of course, elicited a few laughs from his players afterward. Anyone expecting something different from Harbaugh on Monday probably should've checked with them first.

They've been attacking every day with an "enthusiasm unknown to mankind" — the Harbaugh family mantra — since he returned to his alma mater last winter. And now that they've arrived at this traditional regular-season finale, with a 10-win season and a Big Ten championship game berth within reach, they know that's not about to change.

"It never shuts off," said senior linebacker Joe Bolden, one of the Wolverines' captains, when asked Monday about his coach's notorious competitive streak.

"I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if he untied his shoes super-fast and then tried beating his time every time, at home at night," Bolden joked

And if that kind of thing once seemed remarkable, it's now the standard around Schembechler Hall.

"You're like, 'What kind of guy is able to do that every day?'" Bolden said, laughing, "and then you're like, 'All right. That guy can do it every day.'"

Not much for gimmicks

And since he can, he has little use for the kind of gimmicks that were hanging around before he arrived, from the "Ohio" references to the countdown clocks biding everyone's time between red-letter games. Everyone knows the Buckeyes have won 10 of the last 11 in this series, just as they know the Spartans have won seven of the last eight in that one.

"I don't think anybody needs countdown clocks to know when you're playing," said Bolden, an Ohio native desperate for his first win in four tries against the Buckeyes. "Before I ever came to Michigan I knew what day we played 'em and what time we play 'em."

Harbaugh smiles about '86 guarantee, doesn't repeat it

Harbaugh did, too, obviously. And when the time came for him to meet with the media for his weekly news conference Monday, he certainly knew what reporters wanted as well.

He shot down a handful of invitations to walk down memory lane, declined for the moment to discuss just how "special" the rivalry is — he promised he would talk more about it as the week went on — and downplayed any of the inevitable "coach vs. coach build-up" between Harbaugh and Urban Meyer.

Still, his players have grown to appreciate the institutional knowledge Harbaugh brings not only to this rivalry — "He knows what he's doing when it comes to this game," Bolden said — but also to every other day.

"It's definitely cool having a coach who played here, was a tremendous player," senior guard Kyle Kalis said of Harbaugh, the former quarterback who won both his starts (1985-86) against Ohio State. "It's cool having that in your corner, knowing you have a guy who has been through it, experienced the game, the rivalry, the same emotions you're gonna be feeling on game day. It's cool having that in your coach."

Understanding the rivalry

Cool hearing him talk about it, too, and "for us to hear what kind of guy he was," Kalis says, though that's something Harbaugh mostly saves for the team, the team and the team.

"There's been some stories that I definitely can't tell you guys," Kalis said, laughing. "But let me just tell you, he was the man. He's awesome."

Bolden confirmed as much Monday — "Kyle hit the nail on the head," he said — and while he declined to share any stories, "we get, like, one a week — and it's great." The only thing better than the stories, apparently, is watching Harbaugh act them out.

But for anybody who has watched him on the sidelines, that almost goes without saying, doesn't it? Harbaugh's latest sideline meltdown came Saturday at Penn State as he argued a bogus pass-interference call against the Wolverines, shedding his ball cap, his head set and, after a rather slapstick struggle, his winter coat as well.

"We love it," Kalis said. "I mean, that's the guy you want in your corner fighting for you, a guy who cares that much for this team and for what he thinks is right.

"First of all, it was kind of funny, seeing Coach do that. But then you take a step back and you say, 'My God, this guy is into it. This guy wants nothing but the best for us.'

"He's fighting for us out there. And you can't ask for anything more."

Not even this week.