Some of his fellow coaches have raised their eyebrows and ire at Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s methods this offseason. But current and former NFL quarterbacks – another fraternity to which Harbaugh belongs – praised the coach’s unorthodox moves last week.
Harbaugh invited a number of signal-callers with NFL resumes (including Todd Collins, Jay Cutler and Elvis Grbac) to Ann Arbor last week to help out at a one-day camp for high school quarterbacks. Those who answered questions at the event unanimously said they liked what they saw from the Wolverines' coaching staff.
“I like him,” Cutler said about Harbaugh. “First time I've been around him. [He has] a lot of energy. He's out there. He's got his cleats on out there. He's a guy that I would like to play for.”
Harbaugh closely watched drills at last Saturday’s camp, even when footballs weren’t involved. The attendees fielded ground balls and played dodgeball as a way to showcase their athleticism. Harbaugh, a big believer in recruiting multi-sport athletes, wanted to see how his campers would do in what was unfamiliar territory for some of them.
Cutler, who played three sports in high school, said he appreciated the idea behind running a few drills that one wouldn’t expect to see at a quarterback camp.
“I remember doing the camp circuit and doing these different things,” he said. “Coach Harbaugh is doing a great job, just a little bit different. He's got the baseball out there, I'm sure he's got some stuff in store. It keeps it interesting. You get to see what kind of athletes are out here, which is fun.”
Much of what Harbaugh has done since coming to Michigan in January has been classified as different. His satellite camp tour was considered taboo by many college coaches, especially those who run programs in or near the states Harbaugh and his staff visited. He held competitions during spring practice and made the winning side run wind sprints (because they earned the opportunity to get better). His “class on the grass” practices in spring typically lasted four hours per session.
Former Michigan quarterback and Super Bowl winner Grbac visited campus during spring practice as well as during the quarterback camp and said the team showed a new level of focus when he watched in March. Grbac, who made two trips to the Rose Bowl as a Wolverine, said the coaching staff’s demanding attitude reminded him of successful seasons in the past at Michigan.
“Spring practice, if you were out there, it was four hours long,” Grbac said. “That’s old school.
“…If you remember in his first interview and news conference, he wanted to win a meeting. Who talks like that anymore? Bo [Schembechler] used to talk like that. So you could say it’s old school, but it’s a little bit more focused, and that’s what I’m used to.”
Grbac retired from the NFL in 2001 and now helps coach a high school team in his native Ohio. He said Harbaugh’s arrival and willingness to do some different things could help the Wolverines regain a bit of a foothold in recruiting the Buckeye State.
Harbaugh may be rattling a few cages among his coaching peers, but others around the game believe his approach is going to make a difference for his team and the players he coaches.
ESPN reporter Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.