Jim Harbaugh sat in his office hoping to close things up for the day when the familiar chime of an incoming email stopped him. He sighed as he settled back into his office chair. Harbaugh was hoping to get home early to help his wife Sarah with the roast, because she never cooked enough meatballs for the side.
He rolled his eyes when he saw it was another email from his offensive coordinator, Josh Gattis. The subject of the email was, "Blueprint 2020, part 24."
Annoyed, Harbaugh opened the emailed and quickly scanned the body.
There'll be a lot more of this in Columbus this year. We shot ourselves in the foot too often last year. If we stick to plays like this we're bound to roll.
See you soon,
Harbaugh clicked on the seven-second video Gattis attached to the email. It was an off-tackle run out of the I-formation near the end of the second half against Ohio State. Zach Charbonnet gained six yards.
He pinched his eyes closed and thought about the game. The offense wasn't the problem in his opinion. The 27 points last year and the 39 the year before should've been enough to win both games. He wanted to win with defense, and he thought about all the conversations he'd had with his defensive coordinator, Don Brown, to motivate him to find a solution. That's when the thought came to him and he shot Brown a text.
"If you can keep the Buckeyes under 35 this year I'll add the frosting back to your Mini Wheats."
Harbaugh again started packing up for the day when his phone rang. He looked and was surprised to see it was Lloyd Carr. He and Carr talked frequently during football season and at various events, but it was uncommon for him to reach out directly. Harbaugh answered the phone and said hello.
"Hey Jim, Lloyd here. I need you to come down to the Field House, I've got something for you here."
Harbaugh was even more perplexed. "What do you mean? What is it?"
Carr didn't specify but told him to hurry, so Harbaugh closed up his office and made his way to the Al Glick Field House — the football team's indoor practice facility.
Harbaugh spotted Carr in the parking lot and shook his hand when he reached him.
"What's this all about," Harbaugh asked him. But Carr shook off the question and directed him inside to one of the conference rooms. When they entered, the clarity Harbaugh was searching for escaped him even further.
"What's going on here?" he asked in bewilderment.
The question grabbed the attention of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, who were charting some plays on a whiteboard on the opposite side of the conference room.
"Oh hey coach," Rodriguez responded. "Good to see you again." Rodriguez and Hoke walked over to shake Harbaugh's hand.
"Have a seat," Carr said as he guided Harbaugh into the room. "Let me explain what this is."
The four of them sat at the table and Carr began to explain what they were doing. Carr had reached out to both Hoke and Rodriguez and offered them a consultancy fee to form a support group for Harbaugh. All of them were invested in seeing Harbaugh tip the scales against Ohio State and turn the tide in the rivalry. When he finished, Harbaugh was still puzzled.
"Why would either of you two want to help me?" Harbaugh asked Hoke and Rodriguez. "Brady I know you're back at San Diego State and Rich I... I'm not sure where you're at these days, actually."
"I've taken up knitting," Rodriguez responded. Several moments of silence followed. Carr mercifully broke it.
"We want to help because we all contributed to where this rivalry is today," Carr explained. "Rich never beat the Buckeyes in three tries. Brady barely beat the worst Ohio State team in over a century, but that was it. And you're on the verge of going 0-6 if something doesn't drastically change here."
Harbaugh was slightly annoyed by the whole thing, but was in no position to rebuff any form of help.
"Who wants to go first?" Carr asked.
"I'll start," Rodriguez said as he pulled his phone from his pocket and opened his notes app to reference something he had written.
"When you're down, and oh, your soul is so weary," Rodriguez began. "When trouble comes, and your heart burdens you. This is when you should be still and wait in silence, until he comes, and sits a while with you. He'll raise you up, so you can see the mount,"
"Not again," Carr interrupted. "No more Groban. We've talked about this several times Rich."
"Fine!" Rodriguez exclaimed. "Let's talk particulars. What's your stuffed animals situation on the sideline?" Rodriguez looked perplexed when Harbaugh explained that they didn't have any on the sideline. It threw off his entire line of questioning.
"Okay," Rodriguez said. "What if you guys started messing with Ohio State's equipment. Like, maybe try to take their shoes off in the middle of the game."
Harbaugh thought Rodriguez was mocking that incident from the 2017 game, but the look on his face made it clear it was a serious suggestion.
"Uh... let's move on," Carr said. "Brady, what advice would you have for Jim?"
"Well the first thing we need to do is stop saying Ohio," and then Hoke mouthed the word state. "It's like being Harry Potter and saying the name 'Voldemort.' Saying Ohio... conjures the ghost of Woody Hayes. I've seen him. He's terrifying."
Carr sighed and took over. "This was a mistake," he said as he stood. "I'm sorry Jim, you're free to go."
Carr walked Harbaugh out of the conference room as Rodriguez scream/asked if there were any openings on Harbaugh's staff. The two walked in stunned silence toward the exit, and as they reached the door, Harbaugh looked at Carr.
"I don't know what to say," is all he could manage.
Carr looked tired. "Neither do I," he responded. "And maybe that's the biggest takeaway. I don't know what to say anymore."
There was nothing left for Harbaugh to do except drive home to a roast that would be complemented by an insultingly small portion of meatballs.