BRADENTON, Fla. -- Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh spent his first spring practice in Florida on the field for more than six hours, observing in his trademark sweatshirt, khakis and whistle.
Temperature: 72. Sun: Bright. Green fields: Many.
So you can understand why Harbaugh has zero concern about the coaches and commissioners who have questioned his decision to hold practice in Florida during spring break.
While they complain about potential recruiting advantages and mounting time demands on players, Harbaugh has the Wolverines out of the snow and in the sun at the world-class IMG Academy, all under NCAA guidelines.
Not to mention planned activities to the beach, a spring training game and putt-putt golf.
His tweets needling those coaches who have questioned him speak more for him than his answers Monday after practice. When asked whether he feared the NCAA would forbid the remote practices moving forward because of the outcry, Harbaugh coolly replied, “I don’t know why. Our tennis team will be hitting balls here this week as a matter of fact.”
Does he see how other coaches would be upset?
“No, I can’t really see that,” Harbaugh said.
Does he care?
“No,” Harbaugh said. “You got your headline now? You need something else?”
Make no mistake. Harbaugh is the one who made the headlines, and continues to make the headlines with his creative approach to coaching at Michigan. Last year, it was his decision to hold satellite camps in SEC country.
This year, it was the choice to set up a week-long spring practice at an academy that is home to top-notch facilities and some of the best high school players in the country. Not to mention it's smack dab in the middle of one of the most talent-rich states in the country.
There is a reason why Florida high school coaches are invited to attend practices all week. And that Friday’s practice is open to the general public. Recruits will be allowed to attend that practice. The more exposure, the better.
Harbaugh was indeed asked about the recruiting advantages Monday. With a straight face he replied, “I don’t know that there is one.”
That is probably because there are more than one.
Several high school coaches did attend practice Monday. They saw Michigan split up their practice: The younger players started two hours before those on the two-deep. They all overlapped for a time, before the two-deep finished off practice.
Harbaugh watched drills intently, focused on assignment, alignment and technique. Quarterbacks John O'Korn, Shane Morris, Wilton Speight and the others split the reps equally with the starting offensive line, and that will continue throughout the week as the Wolverines look to replace Jake Rudock.
“Our quarterbacks are competing right now,” Harbaugh said. “When we see separation, we’ll see it when we see it.”
New defensive coordinator Don Brown made his debut, too. When asked for his early impressions on Brown, Harbaugh broke into a wide grin and said, “Love him, love him, love him.”
“Had a meeting last night, nice partition between the offense and defense,” Harbaugh said. “The paint peeled off the walls. He is an intense man. A ball of fire, and we’re going to have to get the meeting room repainted because he was peeling the paint off.”
The week in Florida is not all about football, though. Two beach days were planned, including Monday after practice.
Harbaugh will coach first base on Wednesday at a spring training game between the Tigers and Pirates. He also has arranged for guest speakers to address the team as well.
As for the logistics, much planning went into making this all happen. Michigan is paying to rent the facilities and the rooms where the players are staying on the IMG campus; coaches have essentially taken over the Fieldhouse as their working headquarters.
Careful collaboration between Michigan and the IMG Academy needed to be done to ensure the program is not violating NCAA rules. IMG athletes are not allowed any contact with the staff. Players who need to use the Fieldhouse must go in a separate entrance. The NCAA also has been involved in discussions, and has representatives in town all week monitoring practice to make sure Michigan is in compliance.
Harbaugh did not want to go into extensive detail on just how much planning was involved. And frankly, all that planning was worth the end result: a postcard winter day in Florida, compared to 40 degrees in Ann Arbor.