By MIKE McLAIN
Jim Harbaugh liked the question so much that he echoed it as a defense for his unabashed love of satellite football camps.
“That’s very well said,” the University of Michigan coach said after being asked if he would tell critics to come out and see for yourselves what these guys are doing. “I would concur with that statement.”
With that, Harbaugh bolted toward the cafeteria at Warren G. Harding High School Thursday morning to address about 400 players who attended the Warren Harding Elite National Football Camp. His speech was part instructional of what was about to happen on the practice field and part old-fashioned church revival, with football being the religion this day for young men that came as far away as Canada.
Harbaugh then spent the next three hours working a style that displays a boyish love of his job. The drills he led were mainly a mix of running tests in which he crowned a champion at the end of each, loudly announcing the young man’s name into a microphone that fit his hand like a glove.
“From where I’m standing, it’s all good, healthy, productive, fair competition,” Harbaugh said.
Among those attending the camp was Lynn Bowden, Harding’s talented senior-to-be quarterback. Bowden, who recently de-committed from Indiana University, intended to talk to Harbaugh and members of his staff after the camp. He seemed intrigued by the idea of signing with the Wolverines, who would likely use him as a defensive back or receiver.
“I’m going to talk to them, and hopefully we’ll get a better bond than we had before,” said Bowden, who led the Raiders to the second round of the Division II playoffs last season.
Asked if there’s a possibility he could be headed to Michigan, Bowden said, “Yes.”
A strong possibility? “I’ll just leave it on yes.”
The fact Harbaugh can have that type of contact with a potential recruit is what has some of his fellow coaches so upset. Satellite camps hosted by a university have been banned, with the exception of those conducted solely on school property, but Big Ten rules don’t prohibit its coaches from serving as guests at camps hosted by groups not affiliated with the universities. Conversely, coaches in the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences aren’t permitted the same luxury. Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has expressed concern of what he sees a competitive advantage afforded coaches in other conferences.
None has wrapped his arms around the satellite scene more than Harbaugh, who is preparing for his second season as the head coach in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh or members of his staff are expected to attend about three dozen of the camps, expanding their invitations as guests to crash the party and take full control.
For Harbaugh, it’s a chance to work what some would call charisma and others might term quirkiness. At a camp at Paramus Catholic High School in talent-rich New Jersey on Wednesday, Harbaugh’s wardrobe included his standard block-M baseball cap and khakis along with a New York Yankees pinstripe jersey. Earlier in the day he donned a Ray Lewis jersey while with his brother, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, at a camp in Baltimore. He’s also rubbed shoulders with Hank Aaron while wearing a replica jersey of the baseball Hall of Famer at a camp in Atlanta.
It’s all good in the eyes of Harding football great Mario Manningham, who played receiver at Michigan and with the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers of the NFL. Harbaugh coached the 49ers in Manningham’s two seasons with the team. On Thursday, Harbaugh sported a No. 88 Manningham Giants jersey.
“There are a lot of kids from a lot of other places, not just here,” Manningham said. “I want to see all the kids do well and show their talents and do what they have to do to be noticed and make your own name.”
The camp at Harding is the only one Harbaugh plans to attend in Ohio. While his staff dominated the list of coaches available for instructions, there were a few from other colleges and universities, including two assistants from arch-rival Ohio State.
Harding coach Steve Arnold was delighted to be part of the event. He saw no reason to turn down the opportunity to serve as host.
“I’m very proud for our kids, our community, our school to host something like this,” Arnold said.
Arnold feels that Harbaugh’s intentions are to help young men improve upon their skills, but he admits that the appearances can’t hurt in the cut-throat world of recruiting.
“Every time you turn around, they’re talking about Michigan football,” Arnold said. “So it’s enhancing his program, and he’s doing it for kids. It depends on what side of the fence you’re on.”
Harbaugh seemingly isn’t worried about what those on the other side of the fence think. He’s taking a loophole in the rules and ripping it wide open.
“I don’t know that it is [beneficial to our program],” Harbaugh said. “I know that it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and that’s why we’re doing it.”