A Harbaugh cheat sheet for U-M fans

You're a Michigan fan. You're praying that Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers coach who used to be the coach at Stanford, accepts the reported six-year, $49 million offer and turns yet another program into a winner. But you're also a little wary. You know that there's a cost to Harbaugh's success. You've closely followed the drama of the 49ers this season, reading report after report about how he manages to win but alienate nearly everyone in the process.

You think you're getting that guy?

Well, maybe not. As 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman told me earlier in the fall: "Jim the college coach is Jim the college coach. Jim the NFL coach, there are some differences."

So what will Jim the college coach (possibly) bring to Ann Arbor? Here's a quick cheat sheet.

1. He'll Give The Strangest -- and Coolest -- Recruiting Pitches

The stories of Harbaugh visiting homes on recruiting trips are legendary: How he would wear the same set of clothes every day during a week-long trip; how he would sometimes make house visits in sweatpants; how, according to Stanford assistant coach Ron Lynn, "it was not beyond him to take off his shoes" in a recruit's living room and ask for a spittoon.

But the best Harbaugh recruiting story comes from when the recruits and their families visit Palo Alto. The football administrators would lead them into the team meeting room. Suddenly, Harbaugh would appear, holding (no joke) a samurai sword and a shovel. "With one hand we'll fight, and with the other we'll build!" he'd say. Even the longtime college coaches had never seen anything like it. And it worked.

2. But You Might Not Get a Recruiting Pitch At All

One time at Stanford, a recruit was set to meet Harbaugh. Only Harbaugh wasn't in his office. He was at a nearby basketball court, playing one-on-one against an assistant coach named D.J. Durkin, who is 15 years younger than his boss. The recruit stood and watched Harbaugh play basketball. And watched. And watched, as both guys battled and elbowed each other in the face and ribs. "We had too much pride to call a foul," Durkin says. They played for two hours as the recruit waited, and waited, and finally left. Harbaugh won 7-6.

3. Jack Might Chime In

Jim doesn't trust anyone more than family, especially his father, Jack, a former college coach. Years ago, Jack went to a high school football game in Wisconsin. A defensive end named Ben Gardner caught his eye. He told Jim to check him out. Within days, Jim had told the guys in the recruiting office to offer Gardner a scholarship despite the fact that nobody had actually, you know, seen him play. "Jack liked him, so we decided to take a chance on him," says Jordan Paopao, who worked in the recruiting office for Harbaugh and now coaches tight ends at the University of Washington.

By the way, Jack had a good eye: Gardner became an all-conference player and was drafted in the seventh round by the Dallas Cowboys this past spring.

4. He Gives Some Curious (And Brief) Team Speeches

There was the time when Harbaugh's Cardinal loaded on the bus to travel to Berkeley to play arch rival Cal. Harbaugh stood before the team and prepared his remarks.

Now, you never know what he might say. He might talk about some of the suggestive letters and pieces of clothing he would receive from ladies during his playing days with the Bears. He might talk about the economic rise of China. He might cede the floor to an assistant coach to give them a chance to address the full team, which head coaches never do. Or he might huddle the team around a TV and hand out pillows and turn on a movie, and if they don't have a popcorn maker, he'll say, "We want popcorn? We'll pop our own corn in a microwave!"

This time, though, he kept it short. "Men," he said, "all you need is your toothbrush, your game book, and a great attitude!" He pulled a toothbrush out of his pocket and walked to the bus alone.

5. He'll Alienate People, But He's Often Right

Harbaugh's legendary battles with Stanford's admissions office annoyed the administrators, but the people in the football program loved that they had a coach who, as one former assistant said, "will never take no for an answer." Yeah, he's annoying and rude. But his demands to improve a program are often as genius as they are unrelenting.

For instance, before he arrived, Stanford never had home-field advantage. They lost six games at home in 2007, Harbaugh's first year. Part of the reason was that the Stanford sideline was in the sun, and the opponent's sideline was in the shade.

In 2008, Harbaugh decided to switch sidelines. It ended up being another fight with the school officials, because they had to move the student section and the band to the opposite end of the stadium. But guess what? That first game, against Oregon State, was played in extraordinary heat -- 87 degrees. The Cardinal won 36-28, and went 4-1 at home that season.

6. You Might See the Same Play Called Repeatedly

In 2008, Arizona visited Stanford. One of the Wildcats' coaches had made a comment during the week that Stanford wasn't very physical. Few things will anger Harbaugh as much as questioning his toughness. So before kickoff, he told the team: "There's gonna come a time in this game where we're going to line up in the same formation and run the same power play and dictate." As former Cardinal assistant Brian Polian remembers: "He had so much resolve. You can say what you want about us, but you're going to question our toughness?"

In the fourth quarter, down 23-17, Stanford took over. On 10 of 11 plays, the Cardinal called inside runs. On the last one, Toby Gerhart scored the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute left. It was one of the gutsiest and coolest things the staff had ever seen.

"We bludgeoned them to death," Polian says.

7. The Fun Might Be Temporary

"You and I value friendships," says someone who knows Harbaugh very well. "Jim comes from a different world. He moved around a lot as a kid."

For whatever reason -- whether it's because he's always been offered better jobs, or because he's worn out his welcome and wants to move on -- Harbaugh has never lasted long at one place. But he wins. So, Michigan fans, if Ann Arbor happens to be his next stop, enjoy him while you've got him.

And microwave your own popcorn.