Why Harbaugh Thinks 2019 is Going to be Special On, Off the Field

By Steve Kornacki / U-M

CHICAGO — They are all his now.

Jim Harbaugh, for the first time, has recruited everyone on this football team. That’s significant not because the players he inherited from Brady Hoke either boosted or hindered his first four teams at the University of Michigan but because all of these players knew exactly what they were getting when they signed on the dotted line.

They have weathered the storms together, improved together and stayed together through all the challenges.

“It’s a different feel, having a full Harbaugh class in there,” said senior offensive guard and returning captain Ben Bredeson. “Everyone knows what’s expected now, and there are no excuses, no different ways, no old ways. Everyone knows what we were brought in to do, and I think we’re ready for it.

“The senior class I’m lucky enough to be a part of, we’ve been at this four years now, and we’ve seen the ups and downs. We’re trying to leave on the highest note possible and give this program what it needs, and that’s a championship.”

Harbaugh, entering his fifth season as J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach, also noted during an informal discussion with reporters here over the weekend that something that had never happened before in his life — and might never happen again — was occurring in his family.

Every one of his children — Addison, Grace, Jack, James Jr., Jay, John and Katherine — is going to be living in the same town.

“This 2019 season, really, starting in September has a chance to be really special,” said Harbaugh. “It may never happen again for me the rest of my life because all seven of my kids will be in Ann Arbor, and Mom and Dad living next door. My wife, Sarah, is still married to me (smiles).

“Jimmy is going to be a senior (at U-M), and so this is going to be his last year in Ann Arbor. And then Grace (who went to high school in California) will be a freshman playing water polo. Jay coaching on the staff, and then four little ones. One will be in the fifth grade. One will be in the third, one will be in the second, and one will be 2 1/2. So, that’s pretty special.

“I know I talk about how special I think the players are, the coaches. But last, but not least, the family all together. Hopefully, it’s more years after this. But I get this one coming up.”

There was a sense of completeness in the family man’s voice when he said that, a look of gratitude crossing his face.

Life is pretty good right now for the kid who was raised in Ann Arbor as the son of a Wolverine assistant coach.

Harbaugh said this staff has “the best young coaches that I’ve ever seen in 35 years” and noted two new coaches — defensive line coach Shaun Nua and linebackers coach Anthony Campanile — along with returning tight ends coach Sherrone Moore.

Then Harbaugh noted: “I would put my son Jay Harbaugh, who coaches the running backs, in that group of — but humility prevents me from doing that. But the facts are he is one of the best young coaches I’ve seen in 35 years, so I’ll put him in that group.”

Then Harbaugh noted: “I would put my son Jay Harbaugh, who coaches the running backs, in that group of — but humility prevents me from doing that. But the facts are he is one of the best young coaches I’ve seen in 35 years, so I’ll put him in that group.”

The 55-year-old head coach is primed for the season.

“I’m really feeling like 2019 is special for a lot of reasons,” said Harbaugh. “I really like the players we have. I think they really want to make Michigan great and make themselves great. High-drive guys.

“And also the coaching staff. To me, this is the best coaching staff that we have been around, that we had at Michigan. I’ve talked about (new offensive coordinator) Josh Gattis. (Defensive coordinator) Don Brown is as good a coach as I’ve ever coached with. He is all-in, totally driven, and also Ed Warinner did a great job for us as the offensive line coach. Michael Zordich continues to coach All-Big Ten corners that turn into pro corners. Chris Partridge is ready to be a head coach and coaches our special teams and safeties. Ben McDaniels came in this year to coach the quarterbacks and really connects well with our guys and communicates well to the quarterbacks. We’ve all learned Josh’s system, and it’s been a great experience for me and the other coaches.”

Bredeson, viper Khaleke Hudson and viper-outside linebacker Jordan Glasgow all are Harbaugh recruits and have been here four or five years. They were asked to reflect on their experiences with him and how their coach evolved while they matured.

“I have learned a lot from Coach Harbaugh,” said Hudson. “Not just on the field but as a man succeeding in life. He’d just come from the San Francisco 49ers, and so it was pretty exciting knowing you’re playing for a former NFL head coach. But the things that he teaches us and the way that he coaches us is inspiring, and the way he conducts his business.

“He’s a real family-type kind of guy, and he focuses on football and is just a great coach.”

Bredeson said: “It’s an experience every single day. You know what you’re getting, but it’s still unexpected. He’ll hit you with a line or something out of left field that you don’t know, but he’s an intense guy. He does an outstanding job coaching. I love playing for him. I love the man. It’s something that makes me very proud to say I’ve been able to play for him.”

Glasgow added: “Early on as a freshman, you’re a little bit intimidated. It’s not like I was a big contributor early on. So, I didn’t have the attention of the head coach or coordinators. My relationship (with Harbaugh) was just staying in the back, not talking and learning as much as I could to get better and get on the field. I think he respected that, keeping to myself, keeping my head down.

“In terms of his evolution, he’s every bit as intense, passionate and aggressive as when he came in. But he’s a little more open to joking around with players. Maybe that’s just because I’m older now. I can talk to him a little more freely and joke around. He’s become a little more friendly — at least with me — over the last few years.

“Coach Harbaugh has had a lot of success in multiple facets of his life. Obviously, he was a tremendous player, a tremendous coach, a tremendous mentor, someone to learn from. To have someone like that behind you and wanting you to succeed gives you a tremendous amount of confidence in your ability and what you have to offer the team and community wherever you go.”

There’s another highly recruited freshman class about to continue the Harbaugh era, and perhaps none is more anticipated than tailback Zach Charbonnet (6-foot-1, 222 pounds) from Camarillo, California. He was rated the No. 4 running back in the nation by Rivals.com.

“He’s having a great summer, and reports are really great,” said Harbaugh. “Zach Charbonnet, who didn’t practice in the spring (while recovering from an injury), has been described a lot like Ben Mason. The strength coaches are saying that he’s a ‘stalker,’ he stalks them in the weight room all the time, living in there.

“Khaleke Hudson mentioned to me that of all the (freshmen) guys he’s been most impressed with, it’s Zach Charbonnet. So, things are going well there at the running back position. Tru WilsonChristian Turner, everything is healthy. … Hassan Haskins started at running back. We moved him over to defense at the viper position, and he was doing really well there. He would’ve been in real contention at the two-deep at that position, but we moved him back to running back before the spring (when he underwent arthroscopic meniscus repair). He should be healthy and ready to go.”

Harbaugh added that defenders Jordan Anthony and Hudson also could play some at running back, but he feels good about what he already has at the position. Michigan has to make up for 1,601 yards rushing with starter Karan Higdonand backup Chris Evans gone, and whether the Wolverines indeed have the backs to do that will be central to just how good this season ends up being.

The coach’s comments that brought the most attention during his informal gathering with reporters at Big Ten Football Media Days were about incumbent starting quarterback Shea Patterson and dynamic backup Dylan McCaffrey.

“Where it stands right now, and that could change later,” said Harbaugh, “I see them both playing. … Maybe it’s redefining what a starter is, like we talked about with the defensive ends. Both, I see wanting to get them both on the field at the same time or separately.

“I’m really not talking about playing them both at the same time. When I say I’m going to play both in the game, they’re both playing quarterback. And the way I’m thinking right now, in every game.”

Many times, thinking you have two quarterbacks means you really don’t have one strong starter. That’s not the case here. Harbaugh is loaded at that position with redshirt freshman Joe Milton and true freshman Cade McNamara also highly talented.

Harbaugh had a vibrant spirit during his entire day with reporters, and when asked about some prognosticators predicting Michigan to win his first Big Ten title as coach, he said, “I think that’s where I would pick us.”

That championship would provide a special ending to what the coach senses is going to be a “special” season on and off the field.


Photos courtesy of U-M Athletics