Let’s start with the end. The line’s a good one, the perfect kicker to a quick piece that totally nails it, from The Big Lead’s Tyler Duffy:
Jim Harbaugh does not need the media. The media needs him. He has known it all along. Like Nick Saban or Bill Belichick, Harbaugh doesn’t bother with pretenses. Like Alabama or New England fans, Michigan fans do not care.
True, true, true, true and true. They don’t. And won’t.
Get back to us after Oct. 29 in East Lansing.
Get back to us after Nov. 26 in Columbus.
If you’re going all Belichick on the scribes, you’re going to have to start flashing the rings, champ.
Because let’s cut the crapola. It’s not about what we — “we” being the Fourth Estate, or whatever estate it’s in now — can, or should, be forced to put up with at a news conference, or anywhere else. Our ease or comfort in this process is moot, and it always has been.
Two words: Gregg Popovich.
Harbaugh answers to Yahweh, his boosters and his fans, and not necessarily in that order. The latter will put up with anything, Woody Hayes anything, to see Big Blue standing on top of the mountain again. Same as it ever was.
It’s the role of the media to cry foul if the beast becomes an Art Briles anything, and that’s how this whole thing works. Or used to. Or is supposed to. Because if you’re trusting an athletic director or a football coach to check himself or herself when their backsides are riding on the bet, you need to check yourself.
The vicious circle is no less strange than before, really, save for the fact that everybody has a microphone now and can shout during the spin.
The media’s mission is to act as a conduit to the audience, to purportedly protect the audience’s best interests. This particular audience feels it’s in their best interest to watch the Wolverines stomp the other guys into fine powder, so long as Ann Arbor doesn’t become Waco North in the process. And the coach feels that, in order to achieve that best interest, it’s in his best interest if the media mind their damn beeswax. And round and round and round it goes.
It’s been one of those weeks in Harbaughland, the kind that seem to turn up, oh, every fortnight or so. When three freshmen weren’t a part of the preseason team photo, Harbaugh explained Monday to local reporters that two had been suspended, and that the matter would be handled internally.
When this revelation, in turn, elicited a pair of innocuous queries — who and how long — at a news conference, Captain Khakis walked out rather than dignify them with an answer, a response that left even company-line talking heads at the Big Ten Network raising pancaked eyebrows. And prompted syndicated radio host Jim Rome to run a chainsaw across the dinner table:
“If anybody thought this was going to be a kinder, gentler Harbaugh since he went home to Ann Arbor to rescue the football program, make no mistake, it’s the same exact guy,” Rome offered on his Tuesday broadcast. “Nothing’s changed. Same guy. Same insanely intense dude that got run from Frisco, because he was miserable. He runs way too hot and he was wearing people out. Don’t get it twisted now. Great coach. Unbelievable coach. I’m sure he’ll do a great job there. But when you have a coach who wins as he wins and nobody is ever sorry to see him leave, that tells you a little something about that guy.”
And because Harbaugh still has the use of his thumbs, came this:
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) August 17, 2016
Oh, and this:
Roasted! Damn, you got me good. Like 42-13 good. https://t.co/qAkYtqYKiB
— Jim Rome (@jimrome) August 17, 2016
It’s fun to surmise what ol’ Woody would’ve done with Twitter. Probably punched it. He certainly wouldn’t have thought twice about swinging at Rome, if the clock were rolled back some 40 years.
Of course, Hayes also won three Big Ten titles and two Rose Bowls in his first seven seasons in Columbus. Which is how one builds the political capital with the people that count in this equation.
But you know who does? The kids.
And when it comes to the kids, Harbaugh swims circles around Michael Phelps. Dora the Explorer (Q score: 18) can eat his digital dust.
Apparently, the Wolverines’ football coach is more liked than Angelina Jolie (Q score: 22). And Taylor Swift (20). And Phelps (18). And Rick Pitino (17). And Bob Marley (17). Hell, even Hello Kitty (18). (Hello Kitty also does not do follow-up questions. Hello Kitty will tell you what she wants you to know when she wants you to know it, and not a damn minute sooner.)
The rap videos? The shirtless moments? The tree-climbing? The satellite camps? The sleepovers? The Twitter trolling? It works. All of it. From the Associated Press, in a piece that did the rounds earlier this month:
If generating buzz to attract recruits to help revive a storied program is Harbaugh’s aim, he’s hitting the mark.
Harbaugh is much more popular than Alabama coach Nick Saban among millennial males, according to a New York-based company that measures the awareness and appeal of personalities. And, at least some data shows Harbaugh is on the verge of having his celebrity transcend the sports world with those same young men between the ages of 18 and 34.
“Harbaugh is making a significantly stronger impact than Saban among younger males and that seems to be his objective,” Henry Schafer, executive vice president of The Q Scores Company, said in a telephone interview Friday. “And, Harbaugh is on the cusp of being an iconic figure among the general population in the same demographic.”
Nearly three-fourths of male sports fans between 18 and 34 are aware of Harbaugh. Harbaugh’s Q score is 25 among that group, meaning one out of four millennial males said he was a favorite of theirs in a survey done earlier this year. Saban is someone 68 percent of millennial males surveyed are familiar with and his Q score is 21 among them.
The average celebrity rates a Q score of 16. In February 2015, Donald Trump — pre-presidential bid — reportedly scored a 7. (His familiarity rating among adults, though, was a whopping 78 percent.) Morgan Freeman and Tom Hanks each scored a 48 in 2015, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Denzel Washington, Steven Spielberg and Betty White followed with a 44 score apiece.
Which means only one thing: If you cross him, Betty, he’s coming for you. Probably shirtless.
So no, hell, no, Harbaugh doesn’t need us. The man doesn’t have to answer to a single one of us. Or to Rome. Or to Betty. Or Kitty. But the scoreboard talks, even when he doesn’t. And if the fans don’t like what they see, the rest usually has a way of taking care of itself.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler