Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s ability to develop talent was evident at each Senior Bowl practice last month.
The North roster, led by Chicago Bears coach John Fox, looked at times like a Michigan workout with seven Wolverines competing. There was a maize and blue helmet at almost every position: receiver Amara Darboh, linebacker Ben Gedeon, defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow, guard Kyle Kalis, cornerback Jourdan Lewis, running back De’Veon Smith and defensive end Chris Wormley.
“Jim has done a good job building that program,” Fox said. “He’s a fine coach with a fine staff. He’s done a fantastic job and you’ll continue to see them grow. He’s been successful everywhere he’s been.”
When the 2017 NFL draft concludes in May, Michigan certainly will be one of the top schools in terms of drafted players. Senior Bowl week confirmed it.
“The Michigan guys here are all pretty good guys that are going to play a while in this league,” one NFL executive said in Mobile. “They run a pro-style offense and a good defense. When you have coaches like Coach Harbaugh, you know you’re getting ready-made guys for the NFL.”
NFL success is important for any program, but winning is what matters most. Harbaugh has posted consecutive 10-3 seasons since being hired at his alma mater. He took over a floundering Wolverines team that had gone 12-13 in former coach Brady Hoke’s final two seasons combined.
No one doubts Harbaugh is just getting warmed up. If he stays, a national title likely will come.
But where did Harbaugh’s success at Michigan begin?
A month passed from Hoke being fired to Harbaugh being hired. The players were away on Christmas break when they all received a group text from a Michigan assistant athletic director.
“He said stay close to your phone,” Kalis said. “Then, we got a text saying we have decided on a coach and everybody needs to be on this phone call. So, it was crazy. We had 115 guys on a conference call. I don’t even know how they did it. We all called in. Coach Harbaugh talked to us. Then we had a team meeting back from break. He made it clear right off the bat that we were there to win.”
Well, that’s obvious, right?
“That was something that was lacking,” Kalis said. “Before there was a real family environment. It’s still there, but winning is definitely No. 1 now.”
Harbaugh arrived with instant credibility. He had gone 44-19-1 in four years with San Francisco, taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl after the 2012 regular season. But San Francisco fired Harbaugh following the 2014 season and has become one of the worst teams in the league since he left.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Darboh said. “My first thought was it will be great to learn from an NFL coach. I had high hopes — and he was everything and more. He helped me improve individually and for us as a team. I went up to him when he first arrived and asked him what I needed to work on and he helped me.”
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