Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh Doesn't Have a Special Way to Refer to His Team's Biggest Rival: 'Just Ohio State'

By Eric Seger on July 31, 2015 at 12:30 pm
Jim Harbaugh holds up a Mike Ditka jersey.

CHICAGO — Jim Harbaugh hardly made it to the podium before Michigan's biggest rival was brought to his attention.

"Do you have any special adjective for your opponent, your rival?" the reporter quipped.

"Uh, no. Ohio State in particular? Just Ohio State," Harbaugh said Friday at Big Ten Media Days. "But great to see everybody this morning. Glad everybody could be here. Wonderful turnout."

The guy he replaced, Brady Hoke, made waves by calling the Buckeyes simply "Ohio," but Harbaugh doesn't see fit to call Ohio State anything else other than Ohio State.

He's always had a little quirkiness about him, so it's not surprising his first press conference in front of the Big Ten media was fascinating. Laughter bounced off the walls in the Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, with many reporters and administrators undergoing their first experience with the man hired to bring Michigan back to respectability.

Harbaugh brought a Mike Ditka jersey that he bought Thursday night to show everyone and bantered with the astute Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch about Woody Hayes and the rivalry with Ohio State. He was entertaining, engaging and something you couldn't rid your eyes from.

He then stepped outside for a few minutes in front of a crowd of reporters, turning to his sports information director and joking, "I thought we just did this?"

Harbaugh addressed the buzz surrounding both him and his program, one that's been on the downward spiral in the past few years which ultimately led to Hoke getting pushed out the door. He has an enthralling Twitter account, spent time in Europe as well as America's deep south at satellite camps, competing without a shirt on but still donning khakis.

His name's been all over the Internet, in the newspaper and on television — most notably from an ugly interview with former ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd.

"Not striving to be creating any buzz. Just striving to coach the football team," Harbaugh said. "Not trying to be popular or anything. Anyone who is popular is bound to be disliked. So just coaching football."

He has created buzz, though, particularly in a conference that has the defending national champions of the sport in Ohio State as well as another power in Michigan State.

"Big, very big, as they all are," Harbaugh said when asked about his team's Nov. 28 date with Ohio State in Ann Arbor, Mich. "I don't compare really one game to the next but it's big. And you know, the biggest one right now is Utah."

The Wolverines visit the Utes Sept. 3, but he couldn't escape a question about his impressions of Urban Meyer, the head coach sitting atop the sport right now.

"Uh, very impressed," Harbaugh said. "Great coach and a gentleman."

He was also asked about Bo Schembechler, Michigan's legendary head coach who faced off against Hayes in the Ten Year War and the guy Harbaugh played quarterback for at Michigan.

"Daily, I go to my office. I've got a picture of Bo there's a picture of Bo and myself when we were at the Rose Bowl in '87," Harbaugh said. "And, yeah, so it's to have his work ethic, to run the program like he ran it, yeah, those are things to aspire to."

He needs to aspire to that and beyond in order to revitalize a program that went 5-7 last year and has only topped the Buckeyes once in the last decade.

"This is the beginning: the training camp – the rebirth of football and the rebirth of the season," Harbaugh said. "You watch. You observe. You can learn a lot by just watching. I feel like I’ve been doing that. I feel like the team is getting better every day. I really do.”

That first practice can't come soon enough for the guy who giggled while talking about it — "As excited as I've ever been for the start of a football season, as a player or coach," he said — like he does every year. He loves the game, he loves the competition, but he won't have any special way of describing Ohio State.

The Game, however, is and always will be on his radar.

"We're preparing for it," Harbaugh said. "We know it's coming."

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