BRADENTON, Fla. — Ten minutes after wrapping up what had to be the most talked about and most polarizing spring practice session the college football world has seen in years, Jim Harbaugh walked over to what has now become a customary gaggle of reporters waiting to hear what he has to say next.
Michigan’s at IMG Academy this week, in case you’re living under a rock. The Wolverines are practicing off campus and during spring break. The Southeastern Conference is furious. The Atlantic Coast Conference isn’t thrilled. The NCAA president doesn’t agree with it. Big Ten boss Jim Delany isn’t talking about it.
Harbaugh? He doesn’t care.
“Anybody get tired?” Michigan’s coach quipped to the gathering of media who had been allowed to view the final three hours of the team’s workout. “I saw a few of you take a knee.”
Harbaugh’s not tired, of course. He’ll be here all week.
And he still doesn’t care if you’re mad about it.
National and regional reporters from the state of Florida did their best Monday afternoon to get Harbaugh to react to the criticism being tossed his way about how forcing players to practice during a scheduled week off of school isn’t right — even if it’s totally and completely legal within the NCAA rulebook.
They asked him if he could see why some are upset that he’s spending time practicing in a fertile recruiting ground — at an immaculate facility — some 1,200 miles away from Michigan’s campus in Ann Arbor. On and on it went. With Harbaugh being Harbaugh the whole way.
Why are you here?
“To be outside … Team building. Team development.”
When did you first decide to do this?
“I can’t remember exactly when.”
What’s the recruiting advantage to all of this?
“I don’t know that there is one.”
Do you think you’ll ever be able to do this again?
“I don’t know why (not). Our tennis team will be hitting balls here this week as a matter of fact.”
But you can see why people are concerned about this, right?
“No, I can’t really see that.”
Do you care if people are upset?
And there, of course, you have it. Harbaugh’s maintained for more than a week now that he’s heard all the arguments against what he’s doing this week in Florida. And, in his opinion, none of them “hold water.” He doesn’t care if folks are upset. He doesn’t care if some are crying foul. He doesn’t care that the NCAA may try to create legislation to stop another one of his ideas.
He doesn’t care. And he shouldn’t.
Harbaugh’s spring trip to Florida has been a legal move since he first thought of it months ago. It’s also been a smart one every step of the way. A move he made before anyone else — which, of course, is the real reason why folks aren’t happy about it.
Because, in the end, Harbaugh’s in a win-win situation here. And everyone knows it. Mostly because they didn’t do it first.
If the NCAA does nothing about this and continues to allow spring break football practices moving forward, Harbaugh’s the pioneer who first built an on-site relationship with IMG Academy — a truly unique complex that really doesn’t exist anywhere else. The place is perfect for this. Players are staying in dorms, not lavish hotels. The facilities are better than what most middle of the road colleges have to offer. And Harbaugh was here first.
Which means he’d probably be welcomed back first.
If the NCAA decides to regulate spring break trips, Harbaugh’s still winning. He was able to spend a week in Florida to showcase his football program to any Sunshine State high school coach who wants to show up. And, despite his “I don’t know that there is one” answer to the recruiting advantage, the edge Michigan — and Michigan alone — gets this year by being down here is tremendous.
Michigan will have a completely open practice Friday evening. Which means every player on IMG’s roster will be able to watch Harbaugh and his staff coach up close and personal. And, in case you were wondering, nine of the top 140 players in the country play right here.
Also, if the NCAA does eventually say spring break practices are no longer allowed, who says Harbaugh won’t just pack tutors into a plane and do this all over again next year during a different week? Imagine the rage then.
Oh, the humanity.
Harbaugh, though? He still doesn’t care. He was on the field working with his team for six hours Monday afternoon. Half the team practiced from 8 a.m. to noon, the other half went from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Players can only work for four hours at a time during spring practice days. But Harbaugh being Harbaugh, he tweaked that, too.
No single player worked out for more than four hours. They just logged their hours at different times.
Afterward, Harbaugh spent a few minutes chatting with Dick Vitale. Yes, that Dick Vitale.
The two chatted about college hoops for a bit — Harbaugh asked him about his brother-in-law Tom Crean’s Indiana club. Vitale showed him his new Michigan cap.
Then Harbaugh told the legendary basketball analyst about his vision for this whole week in Florida. He cited the movie “Remember the Titans” — a film he showed the team Monday night. In the movie, coach Herman Boone unites his club before the season begins during practices at an off-site training camp.
Are there other benefits? Absolutely. But ultimately, when the smoke clears out, Harbaugh’s here this week to put in 16 hours of football. And if folks have an issue with that …
Well, to quote Denzel Washington as coach Boone: “I don’t scratch my head unless it itches and I don’t dance unless I hear some music. I will not be intimidated. That’s just the way it is.”
And, to quote Jim Harbaugh as Jim Harbaugh: “You good? You got your quote? You got your headline now? You need something else?”
He’ll be here all week.