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Michigan president Mark Schlissel recognizes that he and Jim Harbaugh approach things very differently.
Harbaugh pushed for the Big Ten to play football as scheduled in the fall as the conference made the decision to postpone the 2020 season in August. Schlissel, meanwhile, was one of the university presidents who sided in favor of the conference’s decision to not start the season as scheduled.
That disconnect led to speculation about the relationship between the school president and its most high-profile employee. In an interview with the Michigan Daily, the school’s independent student newspaper, Schlissel said that he didn’t take Harbaugh’s disagreement personally. However, he did say that athlete safety was “more of a university responsibility than it is a football coach’s decision.”
If I stopped being friends with everybody who spoke out publicly about something and disagreed with me, I’d have no friends left at Michigan, so I don’t take it personally at all. The coach is zealously committed to student-athletes. He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever met in my entire life, and, of course, he wants to go out there and play. He communicates with me from time to time, but in the instance of how to keep our student-athletes safe, that’s much more of a medical decision and it’s much more of a University responsibility than it is a football coach’s decision. I didn't play professional football and coach a college team and coach a pro team, and Jim didn’t go to medical school and do a residency and become a licensed physician. So we come at things in really different ways. I’m respectful of his thoughts and ideas, but ultimately I have the responsibility for the health and safety of all our students and our student-athletes. ... I actually think it was handled very prudently. I’m friends with Jim, you know, we get along fine.
Schlissel, an immunologist, has been the target of a lot of criticism in recent weeks. The school’s faculty passed a non-binding vote of no confidence in Schlissel in mid-September. The vote happened in the wake of Michigan’s reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic and the school’s hiring of a provost accused of sexual misconduct.
Harbaugh even appeared at a protest against the Big Ten’s decision to postpone the football season at the beginning of September. Harbaugh said at that protest that he hadn’t spoken directly to Schlissel about the conference’s decision though the two had texted.
When the Big Ten announced that it was postponing the season in August, the conference said that football wouldn’t be played until the spring of 2021. But school leaders in the conference reversed course on Sept. 16 and said that the football season would begin on Oct. 24. After the Big Ten said its teams would start playing in October, Schlissel issued a statement in support of the decision.
Michigan opens the 2020 season at Minnesota.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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