Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh grabbed the microphone and embraced his audience at Crisler Center but did not deliver — at least not yet. When he finally made his public appearance during Michigan's 73-65 overtime win over Illinois in their Big Ten opener Tuesday afternoon, there were no promises of greatness, nor guarantees of victory over Ohio State or Michigan State.
Smug Harbaugh appeared more humble and beaten down by a cold.
It was a theme he kept all day. He is keeping his honeymoon period close to the vest and is not making promises that can come back and haunt him, even though a fire burns around him. He knows he is Michigan's eye candy, but he wants to keep things low-key.
The sight of Harbaugh stimulates Michigan fans from the two clerks at Whole Foods who wondered if the Harbaugh's would shop there, to the fans, former teammates and Michigan players that filled his news conference.
Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke — Michigan's two previous hires — failed to raise the roof in the way Harbaugh has. Fans even cheered a cardboard cutout of him and took turns taking photos with another one in the arena lobby.
Everybody was for Harbaugh, real and imagined.
"We will do the best we can to carry on the tradition of Michigan excellence across the board," Harbaugh told the crowd. "And what I ask is a team effort. It is the alumni, the students, the student-athletes and everybody who is for us is for us."
This wasn't Jim Tressel promising greatness on the field in 310 days, as he told Ohio State fans when he was introduced as Buckeyes football coach. He stayed away from the Mark Dantonio routine of stirring up the rivalry and letting everyone know Michigan State has a superior product for now.
Right now, Harbaugh is Michigan's eye candy. He has yet to win a game at Michigan but people believe in him.
"We have not done a darn thing," he said. "It is much appreciated."
'Waiting a long time'
Gerald Matthews of Flint believes. He was decked out in all maize-and-blue and entered Crisler Center with a bright smile. He's waited for this day almost as long as Harbaugh.
"He represents what we've been waiting a long time for," Matthews said. "He won't accept failure. He has high expectations and he will bring toughness back to Michigan."
Mike Vitale was a student manager under famed equipment man John Falk from 2005-09 when the team transitioned from Lloyd Carr to Rich Rodriguez. He was happy that Harbaugh remembered his past and invited Falk to the news conference.
"Our fan base has been beaten down, especially last year," Vitale said. "He can bring back that old-time football that we missed. I am glad he remembered our past. That is important."
Some fans were impressed that he turned down more money in the NFL to return to Michigan. It meant a big deal to fans when Harbaugh signed a deal that begins at $5 million annually, roughly what he earned with the San Francisco 49ers. He wants to pass along some of the money to hire quality assistant coaches.
"He loves Michigan so much," Matthews said.
He 'belongs here'
Carrie Kennedy didn't make it to the game or the news conference. Instead, she reserved a table for friends to watch the basketball game between Michigan and Illinois. It wasn't the game she was interested in, although she wanted Michigan to win. She wanted to hear Harbaugh speak at halftime.
"Harbaugh belongs here," she said. "I did not like Rich Rod. When he departed, that is when I started saying Harbaugh needed to be here. But he was busy rebuilding other teams with Hoke coaching the team into the ground. I knew Harbaugh could not resist. Wouldn't you want to go back to where it all started?"
More than 300 people jammed the Harbaugh news conference, which started slightly after noon. Most were media members, as expected. But some were current and former Michigan players. They were teammates of Harbaugh and old coaches such as Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr and Jerry Hanlon.
And some were fans and boosters who greeted Harbaugh with a standing ovation and loud applause.
"Go get 'em, Jimmy," one man shouted.
He will eventually. It just wasn't the time or the moment for him.