Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh speaks during the 2016 Michigan Coaches' Clinic, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Listening at right is his father Jack Harbaugh. (Junfu Han/The Ann Arbor News via AP) LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Photo: Junfu Han
Photo: Junfu Han

Michigan's Harbaugh keeps things lively with unique ideas

It never stops with Jim Harbaugh. He never stops, either.

And maybe that's the secret to the formula behind his approach to team building, behind his innovative, confounding, even controversial philosophy in running one of the most iconic brands in college football.

Saturday was another example of Harbaugh's moxie, as he took his team to practice at Ford Field and opened it to the public. Some 5,000 fans trickled in and out of the Detroit Lions' home stadium, cheering and rising for a big play, cheering, at times, for the team's very presence.

In a different place. Which was the point.

"Sometimes spring practice can get monotonous," Harbaugh said afterwards, "some would even say boring."

There is no game at the end of the week, nothing tangible to build toward, and the players have to line up against one another over and over ... and over and over. In taking his team on the road, Harbaugh intended to break up that rhythm.

"Make it lively, special," he said. "That's what we get out of it."

Well, for the current players, yes. For future players who happen to live in Detroit, maybe happen to play for a high school within walking distance of Ford Field -- Cass Tech -- this practice is helpful, too. To see Harbaugh and U-M aren't just committed to chasing prospects in Florida or California, but right in their backyard.

So yes, holding a Saturday afternoon practice at Ford Field gives a jolt for the current players and rewards the plucky fans who care about watching punting. Lots of punting. But it's also another reminder of why this guy continues to stay in the news.

Whether it's holding high school camps in Alabama or team scrimmages in Florida or running around with his shirt off, the cycle never stops. Just last week he made news when he tweeted this at Ohio State:

"Good to see Director Smith being relevant again after the tattoo fiasco. Welcome back!"

That was a reference to the Buckeyes' NCAA scandal that led, in part, to former OSU coach Jim Tressel's resignation. Harbaugh tweeted it out after reading this quote from OSU athletic director, Gene Smith, who had been asked what he thought of Harbaugh's week with his team in Florida: "If we were jump-starting our program, I'd probably try and do that, too. But we're not jump-starting our program. We're in a different place."

Someone asked Harbaugh about the recent Twitter war Saturday and whether he had a philosophy regarding the social medium.

"Yes," he said, he had a philosophy, not that he was inclined to share it.

As for his latest barb, he said: "Felt like one got shot over our bow. (Didn't) want a knee-jerk reaction. Waited a good eight, nine hours. ... When no explanation came, thought it was time to fire one over their bow. Consider things even right now."

Bam. Or, boom. Or whatever word you prefer. Harbaugh had dropped the mic. Which is a good way to describe his philosophy with just about everything. Figure out where the battle is, and go there. Unapologetically.

On this day, that meant Detroit, to Ford Field, where he unveiled a team that looked quicker, bigger and more athletic than the one he fielded a year ago at this time. And that's the point. For his quarterbacks (he hasn't settled on one yet), for his interior lineman (he likes the potential on both sides), for his skill guys (there are plenty).

"It's a perfect storm," defensive lineman Chris Wormley said. "We've had a year and a half with our strength coach, with coach Harbaugh. We are a little bigger, a little stronger, a little faster."

He was grateful to have taken practice on the road, and grateful, too, for his coach's unrelenting style, on the field and off.

"I think that builds toughness," Wormley said of his coach's Twitter musings. "I think that builds character."

After all, he said, "It's cool to see somebody having our back like that, someone who has a voice."

A voice getting louder by the day.

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