CHICAGO — The other Big Ten coaches wore suits. Jim Harbaugh, the last of the 14 coaches to speak at the conference’s media days, wore a Michigan ball cap and his favored khakis.
Harbaugh marches to the beat of his own drummer, and Tuesday was no different. He zigs while others zag.
Consider his response to a question about incumbent quarterback Wilton Speight.
“Wilton’s in a good spot,” Harbaugh said.
But then instead of adding that Speight has strengthened his hold on the job, Harbaugh did the opposite.
“He comes in really tied for first with John O’Korn and Brandon Peters,” he said. “Legitimately, through competition, throughout all the spring, (we) went through 15 practices and was a dead heat. But the good news is they all did some things that really — Brandon really shot up. John O’Korn really played consistently good. And Wilton really had some impressive moments as well.”
Harbaugh said the quarterback competition will probably last for 8 to 15 practices of preseason camp.
Harbaugh also took an unconventional tack when asked about the overtime loss to Ohio State. In his postgame news conference, Harbaugh said he was “bitterly disappointed” about the fourth-down spot on J.T. Barrett’s keeper that preceded the Buckeyes’ game-winning touchdown. Now he speaks as if it were a blessing.
“Now it’s good,” he said. “I’m glad that happened. Hopefully, that will motivate us to be better next year. We’re going to use that to come to an understanding that we have to put more into this. We have to put more of more of our talent, more of our effort, more of our heart into coaching these guys, and the guys that are playing need to do the same thing.”
Asked whether he had done anything fun in Chicago, Harbaugh treated “fun” like a four-letter word.
“I’m avoiding all fun stuff — concentrating on preparing ourselves for the season,” he said. “We lost three of our last four games last year, two by one point and the other in overtime. Didn’t like that feeling.”
Michigan returns only five starters (including Speight), the fewest in the country. But Harbaugh has recruited well, and the new blood has invigorated him.
“It is more exciting,” he said. “It feels that way, knowing guys have the opportunity in front of them and seeing them be hungry and excited about the opportunity. That’s fun to coach. And they’re talented. Young and untalented — bad. Young and talented — that’s good.”
The Wolverines dismiss the notion that expectations are lower because of the turnover in talent.
“I know what we have,” said linebacker Mike McCray, Michigan’s only returning starter on defense. “A lot of the people that will be starting this year played a lot last year. We’ll be perfectly fine. It helps having that experience, but if you can play, you can play.
“The expectations are always going to be high, no matter what. Our expectation is going to be to go to the Big Ten championship and win the Big Ten championship and then go from there. That’s always going to be the expectation.”
Training camp starts Monday. Harbaugh can’t wait.
“Champing at the bit, like a bull pawing at the ground, ready to go,” he said. “That’s where we are right now. I’m excited as heck to coach.”