Everything Jim Harbaugh said about Michigan football at the outset of spring ball
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For the first time since the culmination of the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl, Michigan football head coach Jim Harbaugh spoke with the media on Thursday.
The Wolverines have had two spring practices thus far with eyes on an April 1 spring game. But Harbaugh had to answer for a lot that happened in the tumultuous offseason. From his seeming NFL interest, again, to coach dismissals and hirings, to NCAA violations and more. Still, Harbaugh appears to be, yet again, quite enthusiastic about the product on the field.
Here’s everything he said in his nearly 30 minute press conference.
Why bring Chris Partridge back?
It would be pretty, pretty obvious. We think he’s a great coach, and was when he was here. Trusted agent, known friend. Just thought that was something that would really help our team.
How does he help the team?
Tremendous people skills, great work ethic, football knowledge and he is somebody that is literally always trying to get better as a coach, as a teacher. Just attacks everything with just a high level of enthusiasm in every way.
What makes him a strong recruiter?
He’s just so passionate about it, he cares so much. Going back to the time when he was here, the comments that come back from the families, especially, just how much they trust Chris, because it’s daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. He just invests just like it’s like his own family. So just that tremendous passion, how much he cares. Really, I think everybody that he’s associated with just knows that, senses that and then he (emanates) it.
And then it’s not just over those months that he’s recruiting somebody. It’s while they’re here and it becomes a lasting, trusting friendship with Chris And just the amount of comments I’ve had from, from parents, families, where he’s part of the family, he’s becomes part of the family. I mean, that’s what you’re looking for. That’s the kind of coach I want around our players, around our program.
On the incoming transfers
All new guys in the program over the six weeks, seven weeks, as they’ve been here have been great additions. Every single one, I see with a license and the ability to help our football program.
Availability of Drake Nugent and Myles Hinton in spring ball
Yeah, they’re working through a couple of things, postseason surgery. So not not full go.
Who's playing corner opposite Will Johnson?
At corner, Amorion Walker is now playing corner. Mike Sainstril, of course — and they’re really excited about the young guys. Keshaun Harris, Myles Pollard, Kody Jones, Jaden McBurrows, and also Jyaire Hill and Cameron Calhoun. Just that group that hasn’t played a lot at corner in games, but we believe or are going to be really good players. So right now, Will, Mike Sainristil, Amarion Walker is — I consider him a starter right now, based on the way he’s — just off the first few practices, and I think those other players I mentioned will all be right there in the hunt as well.
Why did he move him over to cornerback?
That’s a great question. So there’s no doubt in my mind that he would excel and thrive both as a wide receiver and as a defensive back, as a corner. Just really tried to find the absolute best position for him for his career. Where’s he going to make the greatest impact over the course of his career, benefit the most from his football ability.
You just don’t know for sure whether it’s receiver or corner but the length he has, the athletic ability that he has, speed that he has, and the change of direction, mainly, for a guy that’s 6-3, 6-4. It’s rare, it’s rare for a corner to be able to have that length and speed, but have that change the direction. So it could be — just want to find out, you want to find out. And that’s what I think that’s what Coach Clink thinks. But we’ll see if we’re right.
So we’re mainly just playing him at corner through the spring. Once he gets that position locked down — which I really feel like he will — then eventually be he’ll become a two-way player because he can also be a tremendous player as a receiver, score touchdowns. But yeah, the vision would be that someday he will be a great corner and a receiver as well in college. And because he has that kind of ability, the work ethic is so strong with him.
Right now he’s chasing strength and power. And that’ll all be put on much like you saw Will Johnson last year doing that nine months leading up to the season. But just really, really feel good. And we’re just gonna find out if that’s the right and best position for his career because it could be different. If we’re right, then yeah, he could be the type of corner that’s just — there are none like him — like a unicorn. That’s the best (comparison).
Why the NFL interest?
Like we said, I mean, it’s it’s an ongoing thing. Something that we treat as a really positive thing, that NFL franchises, NFL teams have a lot of interest in all of our personnel, coaches, players, staff. If somebody in our organization feels like that’s going to benefit them professionally and personally, then we say have that — we don’t hold anybody back. I think with the players, it’s got to be so many over the last eight years. It’s got to be in the 80s or 90s over eight years, players that are in the NFL.
Coaches, I think I’ve lost count how many coaches have gone to the NFL from here. Staff members saying — right now Jesse Minter’s considering that. we just don’t hold them back. I could tell you all the ones that — I mean, calls come in. Calls come in, calls are taken, those conversations are had. There’s a few coaches on our staff that those calls came in and they decided to stay here. On one, there’s another. People do what they think is best for them professionally, personally.
What about his own interest with the Broncos?
I’m always — I’m here as long as Michigan wants me here. You would have had a story if I wasn’t, but I’m here. And this is where I’m going to be.
What can he tell us about Matt Weiss?
Yeah. I don’t think I could comment on it. So that’s where that stands.
On Kirk Campbell being promoted to QB coach
Yeah, super excited about Kirk. Yeah, he’s a fantastic coach. He was with us all last year as an analyst and yeah, just gained the respect of everybody on the staff. And appreciate him.
He was somebody that was offered a full-time staff job at a couple other colleges and wanted to be here and it’s worked out really well for him. (Glad) that we’re able to elevate Kirk. He just thinks fast, he thinks fast on his feet. Tremendous work ethic studying the game. Just really excited about what he can bring our football team.
What's the competition like for backup QB?
J.J. McCarthy is the starting quarterback. Tremendous physical ability and athletic ability and in every single way that you would want your quarterback. The rare thing is that he would sacrifice anything for any player on this team. Personally, he’s just so willing to do whatever is best for the team. I would follow him anywhere. Happily. I suggest that all players on our team do the same thing. He’s just really, really good at it.
As far as anything you tell him, I mean, any coaching point that you give, he just he absorbs it and will make the correction immediately. It’s tremendous.
Backup quarterback-wise, Davis Warren, Jack Tuttle, Alex Orji — Jayden Denegal is already off to a really hot start in the spring. So is Jack Tuttle. He’s been really good the first two days. All four of those quarterbacks are really engaged and have had really good offseasons with Coach Herb and the staff in the seven weeks — six, seven weeks that they’ve been in the winter cycle. So really good can’t really call it right now after two days of practice who would be the backup quarterback, but feel really good about the quarterback room.
Comfort level with all the offseason drama
Yeah, I would just say just you gotta be in (Schembechler Hall). You just got to be in this in this building to really feel it. Compare us to perfect and we’re going to come up short. In the major areas compare us to any other program. I think you’re gonna see that it doesn’t get any better. You talk about graduating players (it’s not) up to perfect, but it’s as close as you could possibly be to graduating players over the years. Talking about doing things with integrity on the field, off the field. players, coaches, staff, everybody within this football program, about as close as you can get to perfection. Winning games — all the same, it’s not perfect. 13-1 was not perfect but that’s we keep striving for, we keep chasing that perfection.
What did the team learn about J.J. McCarthy late in the season?
Well, it’s a really good question. And something I’ve really thought about. I look at J.J.’s first whole first season as a starter and all the things he faced. Good, bad, cheered, booed. Hit run, throw — everything he did, it’s about as good as you could be. First-year starter, no question about it. I don’t think anybody’s ever seen anything — I haven’t seen anything like that, first-year starting quarterback. 13-0 on Christmas and we’ve never been undefeated at Christmas. And then I call that a season for him.
The TCU game in its itself I think was practically like a whole season of experience. Because of all the things that happened. Behind, come back, really behind, come back, really good. Every up-down hit. He was just in so many football situations in that game, it was almost like a whole season. So it was really good.
And I think that’s our answer. Or even to (the other) question — this happens, that happens, the other thing happens. This program has become like — good. OK, we lost that game, but it drives us, it makes us even more hungry. Something else comes up — good. We’ll work on that, we’ll fix that. It’s a place right now.
One analogy I can make to it, just how good in terms a culture, a family that this Michigan football program is, it’s almost in my mind like some of those housing markets have become recession-proof, and they’re just as good no matter what’s coming from the outside of here. I just see everybody here. It’s almost like what a superhero — an attack comes in, it’s like we’re able to absorb it, spit it back out in some kind of laser fashion. You just see the way they attack the next day and every day. It’s phenomenal to be around on a day-to-day basis.
How much does he think about the repercussions of the NCAA violations?
Yeah, that’s one of those things I don’t think I’m at liberty to discuss but I think it’s going to be treated the same. OK, good. Work on that. I just don’t think it’s something that’s — at least what I’ve seen around this building of this, this program.
Depth on the offensive line
That’s a good problem to have, right? How hard is it going to be to get the five starters? It will probably be pretty hard. Like it was last year. We had seven, eight guys, that were starters.
If you look at it now: Karsen Barnhart, Trevor Keegan, Greg Crippen, Gio, Trente, Zak Zinter, Jeff Persi. I consider them all starters and LaDarius Henderson, Drake Nugent, Myles Hinton — all capable. Andrew Gentry is going to be really good. Reece Atteberry’s really good, Dom Giudice has come over, he’s really good — from the defensive side. And three really good freshmen coming in. But, just keep attacking and everybody paying the price. As long as we’re doing that as long as everybody’s paying the price. Everybody is doing that then they and each person can grow to their potential. The only thing to avoid is that there’s so many good players that others think that they can maybe give half the effort they should and still reap the benefits of success, but it just never works that way. Everybody’s got to pay the price to win. If that doesn’t happen, then everyone pays the price of losing. Nothing comes cheap. (No) cheap victories for the team or anyone on it.
Very excited about the offensive line. I’ve said the same about the defensive as well. Kenneth Grant, Mason Graham, Kris Jenkins — potentially our best player on the defense. He’s going to be really good. Rayshaun Benny is really, really coming on. And then we got Josaiah Stewart added, TJ Guy — somebody that has the potential to do good, so does Cam Goode. Alessandro Lorenzetti moved from from offensive line to defensive line. Ike Iwunnah and now a whole bevy of incoming freshmen. Big guys that have played the nose tackle and end position that we’re really excited about.
So just have — we talked about the lines, the front, offensive, defensive lines, where that goes? If guys really work hard, if they do everything they can to maximize their potential, we’ll be in good shape.
What's the format of the spring game?
Plan on a game, a game similar to what we did last year and have done in years past when there wasn’t a pandemic — we would have a spring game. You have a draft, split up the teams, split the coaches and guys that haven’t played a lot in games. Get that game opportunity in The Big House.
The culture of having players returning instead of going to the NFL
For me, you support either way, when you’re in that situation that somebody has a chance to go to the NFL, or participate, use another year of their college eligibility. I’m in full support mode, whatever they decide to do, whatever I can do to help. And happy for guys who choose to submit their name for the draft and get invited to the combine and getting training for pro day. Just all behind them and excited. And guys feel that it’s in their best interest to return to Michigan, super, super happy and excited about that as well.
Selfishly, really happy! You can feel like the parent having — many of you have had a son or daughter choosing like high school or choosing college. You don’t want to be the one to tell them which to do. Because this is something, a decision they have to make on their own. And if it doesn’t work out, then you don’t get blamed for telling them what to do. So that’s kind of the position I am in. And I kind of feel the same way as both my son James and Grace because they were choosing which college to go to. You help them with the pros and cons and you’re talking about them and secretly wishing and hoping they go to Michigan, which those two did. That’s really about that thing I would ever compare it to, but in total support of whichever decision they make, that feels best for themselves. And they’re really good at it. They’re really good at making the wise decision, the smart choice for themselves.
Blake Corum's status this spring
Probably full go somewhere around start of June for the full summer cycle.
Is he doing anything this spring?
He’s out there every day. He’s not going through the drills. He had surgery. So, give it the time that’s needed to recover and build the strength back and make sure that he’s in a great place. I mean, every guy that’s not participating in spring ball, they’re actively continuing strength and conditioning. They’re actively fulfilling the protocols that the doctors have for their rehabilitation. And I don’t see anybody loafing or taking it easy. Still got the sweat all over the shirt. So it’s good as they’re doing what the experts are telling them to do right now.
What's his relationship like right now with Warde Manuel?
I feel like it’s great. It’s a great relationship. It’s one of those narratives that seemed to be out there but I have a great relationship with Warde Manuel. He’s been great for our athletic department and our university. Nothing but good. I trust Warde, he trusts me. I mean, as far as any kind of contract situation, we don’t talk about that. I just ask, ‘Hey, do you want me here at Michigan?’ after every season.
After every season, anywhere I’ve ever been that’s the conversation I want to have. ‘Do you still think I’m the best person to do this job?’ And then I want to know what the rest of the administration thinks. I want to know what the players want, to know what the other coaches think, I want to know what the fan base thinks. And so when that season’s over, I sit down to have that conversation with Warde and do the same with the players and assess where the fan base is. Have never been, in all the eight years I’ve been here, that’s the feedback I got. In the month of January was as good as it’s ever been for me. Players, coaches, from Warde, the administration, president and from the fan base — let’s go to 2023.
Does he plan to be here beyond 2023?
That’s something you assess. You assess after — I just said, after every season, that’s something that I will do after every season. Just to — my superiors, fan base, players — get that vote of confidence from all three of those groups and yeah, here we go again. Let’s tee it up and have a great season and we’re attacking unknown to mankind.
Was talking to the Broncos a sign he hadn't gotten that vote of confidence?
As I said before, calls come in, calls are taken. With everybody in the program and sometimes you take some and sometimes you don’t.
Why take this call?
Like I said, I think you’d have a real story if I wasn’t right here doing exactly what I told you, I predicted I would be doing.