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Michigan football coach Harbaugh to Ohio State fans: 'I'm not crazy'

By MARK SNYDER Detroit Free Press via AP Published: November 23, 2016 4:00 AM
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The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry week, leading up to Saturday's game in Columbus, Ohio, brings out the more unusual side of the season.

After a season of moving on parallel paths, the two college football giants suddenly turn to the middle to prepare for their annual clash.

And in Ohio, where "The Game" is a year-round cottage industry -- their blogs reviewing Michigan's games every week, their local newspapers tracking Michigan's football recruiting and commenting on coach Jim Harbaugh's moves -- this week is a chance to actually see it up close.

So many of the 21 cameras at Monday's news conference at Crisler Center were pointed at Harbaugh like a zoo animal.

That means instead of simply talking about Harbaugh as an unusual figure, it's their chance to actually ask if he is. Monday's question from a Columbus columnist: "You're going to a place where they don't know what to make of you: Some say you're crazy like a fox, some say you're just crazy. But they all say you're progressive. Can you describe who you are to Ohioans?"

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Harbaugh wasn't taking the bait.

"I'm not crazy," he said. "I wouldn't describe myself as that. I don't know my personality, how relevant that will be in the game this week. Probably irrelevant."

Though Harbaugh's "antics" have drawn significant media attention -- the satellite camps, the "Signing with the Stars" event, the connections to celebrities and other major sports figures -- outside of Ann Arbor, those create a caricature of Harbaugh.

In Ann Arbor, where he goes to the movies, eats in restaurants, drops his kids at school, he's appreciated for success but not viewed as an oddity.

Which is exactly how his players see him, as unique enough to be appreciated.

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"He's as real as they come," U-M senior right tackle Erik Magnuson said. "The media maybe paints a bad picture of him sometimes because of his antics, going after referees and stuff like that. But he'll fight for his players and he's a player's coach in that aspect. He's somebody that you'd run through a wall for. He's pretty similar to what you see in everyday (public) life. That's who he is."

Those different strategies -- four-hour spring practices with no meeting time, spring ball in Florida -- are a means to an end, developing the program.

"He's not crazy, he just does things different," U-M co-captain Chris Wormley said. "When you're a top coach, you set yourself apart from average ones. When you're not average, you do things differently than everyone else."

"Usually the most successful people have something off about them, that sets them apart from other people," U-M right guard Kyle Kalis said. "I think coach Harbaugh's a really good example of that."

And how would they view Urban Meyer?

"This is how we get in trouble," Magnuson said, leaning over to his teammates at the dais, grinning. "I'm going to say he's a great coach, great guy." Kalis, an Ohioan who played at storied Lakewood St. Edward near Cleveland, said the same: "Great guy I've heard nothing but great things."

"He's successful, he's had success everywhere's he's been," said U-M co-captain Jake Butt, another Ohioan. "I don't know him personally as a guy but I know he's successful."

While the personalities of the two coaches, the backgrounds and the approaches of the two coaches diverge from each other, they stand apart because of how they handle their business, even if it's not the same way.

"With all the great coaches, you've got to be wired a little differently," Wormley said. "All the great ones do things differently. I'm sure coach (Urban) Meyer has done things differently because he's a successful coach. And with coach Harbaugh he does things differently."

The Harbaugh-Meyer dynamic is a constant discussion now that there are two elite coaches in the programs. Some look at the battle atop the Big Ten East Division this year with OSU ranked No. 2 and UM No. 3, as a revival of the 1970s-2000s, when both were elite programs.

Harbaugh said he and Meyer have crossed paths and discussed their Ohio roots, including being born in the same Toledo-area hospital.

But Harbaugh's view of Meyer is more respect than anything else.

"Unique in that it's at the highest level," Harbaugh said. "In terms of competition on the field and recruiting, Urban's at the highest level."


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