As Jim Harbaugh heads back to Ann Arbor to begin the next chapter in his coaching career, the former star Michigan quarterback is welcomed back with open arms.
Harbaugh will be hailed as a hero at Michigan Stadium, where he earned Big Ten player of the year in 1986 and finished his career in the top five in school history in completions, passing yards and touchdown passes.
As a senior Harbaugh led Michigan to an 11-2 record and a berth in the Rose Bowl. But Harbaugh's time at Michigan wasn't all rosy, and a closer look at his collegiate years reveals no shortage of hurdles that have sculpted him into the tough-love coach he has become.
Harbaugh's career at Michigan began on an ominous note when he showed up late to his first team meeting. Michigan's disciplinarian coach, Bo Schembechler, wasn't too happy.
"It was the very first meeting of the freshmen," Harbaugh once recalled to Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom. "I was out somewhere and I lost track of the time. I got there late. Oh, man. I popped my head in five or 10 minutes late and Bo just exploded. 'WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?' he said. I just froze. I couldn't get a word out. 'WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?' he said again. I mumbled something. I was petrified. He was screaming at me in front of all these guys I had never even met before. He goes, 'You of all people! I can't believe you! Your dad's a coach! I'm gonna call him tonight!' He was enraged. He stormed around. Then he said, 'YOU'LL NEVER PLAY A DOWN OF FOOTBALL HERE! NEVER!"
Fortunately for everyone involved, that premonition turned out to be false. Harbaugh only attempted five passes his freshman year, but he earned the starting spot as a sophomore and played for five games before breaking his arm.
Harbaugh's career took off his junior year, when he led the Wolverines to a 10-1-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska. Michigan finished the season ranked No. 2, which was the best finish of any team Schembechler coached. The next year Harbaugh threw for 2,729 yards and completed 65 percent of his passes, an NCAA accuracy mark which would go untouched for more than a decade. That year Harbaugh finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Despite Harbaugh's enormous success, he said his relationship with Schembechler remained somewhat rocky during his final two years at school. He told Albom, perhaps in jest, that he was thrown off the team twice and that Schembechler called him the "worst quarterback he had seen in 40 years."
Harbaugh has taken after Schembechler as a no-nonsense, sometimes overly intense head coach. He's maintained a tight grip over the teams he's coached (and in the case of the San Francisco 49ers, perhaps too tight). As he transitions to a once-storied program that has lost its way, Harbaugh will be well-advised to use some of that tough love to guide the Wolverines back to the place he left them in 1987.