Henning: Harbaugh reaps more dividends for UM football – The Detroit News

8 months ago Comments Off on Henning: Harbaugh reaps more dividends for UM football – The Detroit News

Bradenton, Fla. — Really, where was the downside to Jim Harbaugh’s — yes — genius in hauling his Michigan football team to a Gulf-side oasis known as IMG Academy for a week of spring football drills?

No negatives anywhere. Not if you’re Michigan, which employs Harbaugh as football coach. Nothing but dividends. Across the board.

Begin with Wolverine players who Friday at IMG Academy’s football field, under a lowering sun and with a chilly breeze whipping in from the Gulf, pranced through four hours of drills as their grand finale to a week that otherwise would have been spent indoors in the frosty north.

They, after all, are the people who most matter. They’re the guys who have been waking in the dark during winter’s worst days, trundling through Ann Arbor’s snow and murk to attend that morning ordeal known as Winter Conditioning.

They got a chance this week to practice and play in the sun. To get in some beach time with temperatures crowding the 80s. To eat shrimp and fried oysters and burgers. To enjoy themselves at a place northern college kids dream about: Florida. In March.

Consider other Harbaugh stockholders, as in thousands of fans who wove their way through Bradenton’s matrix of streets and roads to a tight pathway that emptied into the posh IMG complex. It isn’t easy or expedient travel, this area of Florida, at any time. It was made tougher Friday by car convoys filled with Maize and Blue-garbed folks bent on getting a gander at Harbaugh’s 2016 team.

They streamed into the stadium’s east-side stands to watch Harbaugh’s gang in its early rehearsals for 2016. This isn’t routine, this brand of football show, any place in Michigan’s football galaxy. Games, yes. Scrimmages, yes. But practices are a different genus of display and preparation and are closed-door events.

Friday evening, groups of players and coaches shuffled about the field. There was choreography and orchestration, five-man drills, full-team duels, whistles blowing, coaches barking, yellow cones demarcating.

There was John O’Korn throwing a lance of a pass to Jake Butt. On the sidelines, a punt boomed, a kick tumbled horizontally across the field. And people sitting in those stands, as a sun softened from hot yellow to orange-pink, were entranced by a circus with so many rings operating simultaneously. All of it unfurled as a guy in khaki pants, gray long-sleeved shirt, and wearing a “M”-logoed ballcap took in a show he personally oversees and for which he is thoroughly responsible.

Creativity continues

Harbaugh has done just about everything right — make that, fairly brilliantly — since Michigan exhausted its coaching prayers 14 months ago in essentially willing him to Ann Arbor.

Not everything has been a surprise. Some of us thought he could go 9-3 in the regular season. He did, then put a flourish on his and his team’s renaissance with a 41-7 pulverizing of Florida in the Citrus Bowl.

Nor was his first full recruiting class, loaded with trophy talent, unanticipated when Harbaugh and Michigan were bound to meld potential there.

It has been with other swaths of initiative that Harbaugh has made some of us remember Don Canham and how an amazing Michigan athletic director’s fancy for creativity helped make an earlier era of Michigan football extraordinary.

Harbaugh’s “Signing of the Stars” pageant, on National Signing Day last month, was over-the-top, academically indefensible, and a knowing parody of the fuss made over luring high school kids to a university and to its drooling fan base.

But it worked, not only because it was a stunning hit with Michigan’s following, but because Harbaugh made a football program’s most personal charity (the ChadTough Foundation) the beneficiary of $110,000.

A month later, he brought his team to Florida. For (gulp) spring practice.

Something else coming

It hasn’t been popular with everyone, especially with conferences and schools that know IMG Academy is an athletic superstar hatchery, replete with teenage football players, a number of whom will someday be millionaire professionals — after they’ve been college All-Americans

The Southeastern Conference doesn’t like Harbaugh’s interloping. Nor does the Atlantic Coast Conference. Nor does the NCAA, and if there’s ever a National Hypocrisy Championship Playoff you’ve got three of the Final Four contestants right there.

Michigan State isn’t pleased, of course, and as Harbaugh’s and Michigan’s eternal enemy the Spartans shouldn’t be. Especially when Mark Dantonio has done such noble work but can’t seem to keep Harbaugh from the headlines.

The NCAA lawmakers will be lobbied to quash these spring-practice sojourns. But it probably doesn’t matter. Harbaugh will figure out something others either haven’t had the vision, or the sheer guts, to toss at an audience, and at a team, delighting in his derring-do.



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