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A ‘Captain’ come-back … to Chicago? Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh is almost ‘it’ again

There’s something about this version of Harbaugh that’s highly compelling and so familiar.

2021 Big Ten Championship - Iowa v Michigan
Harbaugh after winning the Big Ten championship.
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Come back, Jim Harbaugh?

Back to Chicago to coach the Bears?

It wouldn’t be his first homecoming. Fifteen years ago, Harbaugh took over at Stanford, where he had lived in view of the football stadium as a boy when dad Jack coached on the Cardinal staff. Eight years later, Harbaugh took the job at Michigan, his alma mater, and just look at him now. Two days after turning 58 — where does the time go? — he landed in South Florida on Christmas Day to ramp up the No. 2 Wolverines for a national semifinal against No. 3 Georgia.

‘‘I love this team,’’ Harbaugh said. ‘‘There’s no team I love more than this team.’’

But is ‘‘Captain Comeback,’’ as he was known when he played for the Colts, due for another big move along his sentimental coaching journey? Might he be interested in the Bears, with whom he played the first half of his 14-year NFL career? Might they be interested in him, especially if he caps the season with back-to-back upsets of the 7½-point-favorite Bulldogs and, potentially, No. 1 Alabama in the title game?

Maybe there’s nothing there, not even a spark. Harbaugh isn’t even the Big Ten coach most folks are talking about in connection with the expected Bears opening. That would be Ohio State’s Ryan Day. There’s Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, too.

Heck, even Michigan might not have wanted Harbaugh — and loads of fans sure would’ve given up on him — had he lost to Ohio State for a sixth time in as many tries and failed again to deliver a long-overdue Big Ten title.

But understand this: He is two victories away from being everybody’s ‘‘it’’ coach again.

There’s something about this version of the comeback kid that is highly compelling and so familiar. Harbaugh gave us a taste before the season, when he said this about finally getting over the rivalry hump in the Big Ten: ‘‘We’re going to do it or die trying.’’

And there has been an edge to him — in a good way — ever since. He enjoys referring to his team this season as the ‘‘Mighty Men.’’ Over several pressure-packed months, he relished passing the sign above the tunnel to the field at Michigan Stadium that reads, ‘‘Those who stay will be champions.’’ Harbaugh has revived his own reputation as surely as he has helped bring Bo Schembechler’s iconic words back to life.

After beating Ohio State, Harbaugh took a veiled shot at Day with a reference to coaches ‘‘standing on third base who think they hit a triple.’’ Day, of course, inherited a monster of a program from Urban Meyer.

This was the same version of Harbaugh the college football world really got to know in 1986, when he was the Wolverines’ senior quarterback and it was his last shot at a first Big Ten title. Harbaugh’s No. 2-ranked team had just been shocked by unranked Minnesota in Ann Arbor, taking a first loss in the conference standings heading into the regular-season finale on the road against the unbeaten Buckeyes.

Talk about a disaster.

But no.

The young quarterback dared to say, ‘‘I guarantee we’ll beat Ohio State and be in Pasadena.’’

And then he delivered. Just as he would as a coach in a total rebuild at Stanford, where, in Year 1, he took the 41-point-underdog Cardinal to USC and won and, in Year 4, raised the bar with the first 12-victory campaign in school history. And just as he would with the lowly 49ers, whom he turned almost instantly into a Super Bowl-caliber outfit.

It wasn’t easy or smooth, but Harbaugh now has delivered at his alma mater, too. Michigan is the Big Ten champ for the first time since 2003 and in the playoff for the first time ever.

And if Harbaugh wins two more with these Wolverines? Look out. He’ll be ‘‘it.’’ The Bears and anyone else can line up and just try to get him.

JUST SAYIN’

My latest Associated Press Top 25 college basketball ballot: 1. Baylor, 2. Purdue, 3. Duke, 4. Arizona, 5. Kansas, 6. Gonzaga, 7. UCLA, 8. Iowa State, 9. Kentucky, 10. Houston, 11. USC, 12. Auburn, 13. Colorado State, 14. Seton Hall, 15. Michigan State, 16. Alabama, 17. Texas, 18. Xavier, 19. Ohio State, 20. Oklahoma, 21. Providence, 22. Wisconsin, 23. LSU, 24. Texas Tech, 25. Illinois.

Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament - Ohio State v Illinois
Cockburn’s passing out of the post keeps getting better.
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

• How good has Illinois center Kofi Cockburn been? His scoring and rebounding averages — 21.8 (fifth in the country) and 12.1 (third) — don’t do the answer justice. The best thing Cockburn has done is learn to pass out of double-teams and collapsing defenses in the post. That’s why the Illini are such a hot team from deep.

• This is going to be a very hard season to crack the All-Big Ten first team. With health, Cockburn, Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell and Iowa’s Keegan Murray already seem like locks. Purdue’s Jayden Ivey is the most athletic and talented player on the best team in the conference. Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis continues to improve and impress. Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis is becoming a serious NBA prospect before our eyes.

We’re already at six — one too many — and several other big-time players around the conference have been better than advertised. Not that anyone’s complaining.

• Two Sundays ago against the Cowboys, the Giants’ Mike Glennon mustered a passer rating of 24.8. Not to be outdone, teammate Jake Fromm responded a week later against the Eagles with a 19.5.

One of these amateurs will start against the Bears on Sunday.

‘‘I would say it’s not ideal,’’ Fromm said about his last performance.

He beat out Justin Fields at Georgia how, again?

• Run for the hills. Hide the women and children. For the love of God, cover your eyes.

Bears 13, Giants 9.

And print it.