From poolside at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, the sunny image of 21st-century hedonism, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took his listeners Wednesday to a time of wooden ships and gory battles off the coast of 16th-century England.
“Fight on, my men, Sir Andrew said,” Harbaugh began. “I am hurt, but I am not slain. I’ll lay me down and bleed a while, and then I’ll rise and fight again.”
Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher shook his head and smiled at that from his nearby seat at an Orange Bowl coaches’ press conference. What he was thinking at that moment I won’t try to guess but what ran through the minds of the assembled media is simple enough to figure.
Who is this Sir Andrew guy? Is he talking about Andrew Luck, Harbaugh’s quarterback in the old Stanford days?
Turns out it was ancient Scottish sailor and privateer Sir Andrew Barton, whose ballad comes in handy every time Harbaugh gets asked about losing to Ohio State in double overtime a couple of weeks back.
This coach comes prepared, all right, whether he is whistling around Florida high schools on a recruiting blitz or promoting Michigan’s next football game, on Dec. 30, against 9-3 FSU at Hard Rock Stadium.
“Florida State is just one of those great programs, one of those great traditions,” Harbaugh said. “Renegade, the war horse. The spear. The tomahawk chant. I’ve never been to a game at Florida State. Always wanted to see what that atmosphere is like in person. I’m going to get some chills when that appaloosa comes riding out there.
“Do they do that at the bowl game?” Harbaugh asked Jimbo. “You have my permission. I want to see that.”
This is the passionate side, the playful side, of a man who says what he wants.
In other times, in other moods, that openness can mean fines from the Big Ten for criticizing officials. Bottom line, Harbaugh comes on strong whatever he’s doing, which led to wearing out his welcome in San Francisco despite a highly successful run as 49ers coach. Then there are the satellite football camps he has dominated on behalf of Michigan at locations deep in SEC country, including Nick Saban’s Alabama.
“Attacking this day with Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind,” Harbaugh tweeted soon after taking the Wolverines’ job in the closing days of 2014.
This sounds good to Wolverine fans, especially coming from a former Michigan quarterback returning to his roots. If it sounds silly to anyone else, who cares? Because Harbaugh does what he does, and because he is 10-2 this season and 20-5 overall as Michigan’s coach, the Big Ten is stirring up epic storylines again with a true rival to pester Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and a fresh wave of competition throughout.
The Wolverines narrowly missed out on the four-team College Football Playoff field but during the regular season they beat both of the teams that played in the Big Ten Championship game — Penn State and Wisconsin. Last January, they crushed Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl and now Harbaugh, who quarterbacked Michigan to a 20-18 win over FSU in 1986 and beat No 1 Miami in 1984 in what was his first collegiate start, is aiming to make his mark with a new generation of prospects in our state by roughing up Jimbo’s Seminoles, too.
Las Vegas is starting out with Michigan favored by about a touchdown, for what it’s worth.
On Wednesday, Harbaugh breezed through the Hard Rock’s casino lobby with a backpack slung over his shoulder and a Michigan ballcap on his head. Jimbo, a spectacular recruiter himself, arrived in a business suit and tie. Neither approach was wrong for standing before the cameras but Harbaugh, as usual, took the opportunity to make himself right at home.
“We desperately want to win the next football game and really that’s where our focus is,” Harbaugh said. “Winning helps recruiting.”
Surely that’s true, but working with the classic backdrop of Michigan’s Big House, capacity 107,601, and representing the program that has won more games all-time (934) than any other almost makes it unfair. Other coaches like Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke couldn’t live up to all of that. Harbaugh, nicknamed “Captain Comeback” for his gritty reputation during 14 seasons as an NFL player, is determined to push every hot button at Michigan until he pushes everybody else out of the way.
“Jim has tremendous success wherever he goes,” Jimbo said. “In a short amount of time, he’s brought Michigan right back to the forefront.”
Looking to return the favor, Harbaugh called FSU “scary good” with running back Dalvin Cook and “the second-best defense we’ve played all season long.”
Didn’t bother naming the best defense on the Wolverines’ 2016 schedule. Probably he’s thinking Ohio State, but even if he is, that name is rarely spoken.
That would only foul the focus of the ultimate Michigan man, whose winning percentage with the Wolverines is slightly higher than Bo Schembechler so far, and who seems better equipped to close the deal with a national championship some day, too.