The Art of Sport

Jim Harbaugh sits down with Yankees Magazine in the Bronx

September 16th, 2019

Jim Harbaugh spends his fall Saturdays walking the sidelines at some of America's most historic football palaces. His Michigan Wolverines -- with whom he enjoyed a decorated playing career in the 1980s before returning as head coach in 2014 -- play their home games before the largest crowd in the country, to say nothing of visits to sites such as Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Penn State's Beaver Stadium or Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin.

Yet before Harbaugh's first visit to Yankee Stadium this past May, he was like a little kid; he could barely get to sleep in the nights leading up to the trip. Harbaugh, it should be mentioned, has met the Pope at the Vatican. He coached in the Super Bowl. He played in the Rose Bowl. He basically grew up around big-time college football, as his father, Jack, was a long-time assistant coach whose jobs took the Harbaugh clan to venues in every corner of the country. But there was something special about a night in New York.

This month, Harbaugh begins his fifth season at the helm in Ann Arbor, where he has gone 38-14. Expectations are high for the Wolverines, but as the coach, who visited the Bronx with his father and one of his sons (also named Jack), explained in an interview with Yankees Magazine deputy editor Jon Schwartz, he could much rather his players hear that they're not bound for greatness.

YANKEES MAGAZINE: Welcome to Yankee Stadium. Have any of you been here before?

JIM HARBAUGH: First time! My dad's never been, my son's never been. I've never been. So, we're going to go to the game tonight, then tomorrow we're going to the PGA Championship. Who's got it better than us? Nobody, right now.

YM: When you look at the guys on your current team, what are the things they have now that you didn't when you were playing? What do you envy? And what are things you had that they don't have, that they should envy?

JH: I guess the thing they don't have now that we had growing up, was we used to have most everybody telling us that you weren't good enough, you weren't going to make it. Today, it seems they have everybody telling them that they can't miss. Even guys that really need to be overachievers think that just because somebody on a blog said they were a beast, or their parents think that they're going to be pro players, they start thinking it at way too early an age. They just don't realize how much sheer competition is out there, just how hard it is to make it to the big leagues or make it to the NFL. They actually think it's easy. But there's so many people out there that are more motivated than they are., that are overachieving when they're underachieving. That's the big difference I see. When I was growing up, if you had one person that believed in you, that was good, and then you had everybody else doubting you, and it was actually more beneficial. It gave you that fuel, that motivation, that you needed.

YM: How different are wins and losses when you're coaching every kid there, as opposed to when you're experiencing them as the star quarterback?

JH: I feel it more as a coach. There's something to being a player. It's the best thing there is. Coaching is second best. As a player, you're leaving it all out there. As a coach, you're always -- even when it's over -- second-guessing yourself, thinking of what more you could have done. That motivates you to come back the next week and make darn sure it doesn't happen again. Or, if you win, it makes you want to win again. I love it. Not quite as good as playing, but it's the next best.

YM: It's a different sport, but as a competitor, as someone in the sports arena, what do the Yankees represent? What does this franchise's success represent to you?

JH: It's one of the greatest organizations, if not the greatest. None better than the Yankees. My son just got done reading two books on Babe Ruth and one on Jackie Robinson, and we watched the movie The Babe with John Goodman. And then he watched The Sandlot in the last couple months. So, this is a big thrill. I think I'm more excited than he is.

YM: That's allowed!

JH:I remember when my dad took me to my first Major League Baseball game. I was six, my brother was eight. We lived in Bowling Green, Ohio. One of the other coaches on the staff had a Volkswagen, I don't know if it was a Bug. It was 1970. And I remember not sleeping two, three nights before that. And I had the same feeling coming here tonight. I haven't gotten much sleep the last couple nights, thinking that we're coming to Yankee Stadium.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.