Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Stay Me with Flagons

Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love.
(Song of Solomon 2:5)

I know, Biblical quotes about love aren't the standard way to preface a post about Michigan football. However, after watching the home debut of Jim Harbaugh at the Oregon State game last Saturday, love was all I was feeling. This quotation about it, "Lit nerd" that I am, was the one that kept popping into my thoughts that day. I'm not trying to be sacrilegious at all. In fact, the verse speaks of love-sickness and that's what we used to feel in Ann Arbor for the coach we wanted but didn't have. Now that he's here and has his first "W" etched in the history books, I don't know about you, but I'm pining no longer. I'm just sick with love for our coach.

Of course, this is just platonic fan love. None of that other stuff you'll find in the Song of Solomon, which would be a little creepy starring Jim Harbaugh. I'm already envisioning the DirecTV ad: "Hi, I'm Jim Harbaugh. And this is You're Teeth are Like a Flock of Shorn Ewes Jim Harbaugh." No, no, no!  I'm simply in love with what he's already done with this team and the way he's conducted himself on the field and off. The difference from last year is evident on so many levels, even though we've only seen the product in action twice.

Harbaugh, in about eight months, has given this team everything it begged for: followable leadership, mental toughness, physical strength, and discipline. It seems those who've stayed are 110% on board. So are we. "All In for Michigan" is no longer just a slogan on a T-shirt.  "All In" is a lock. You can see it in the locker room when team leaders are interviewed. You can see it on the field as they grind harder and finish plays. There's some swagger there now. No doubt these players felt pride in playing for Michigan even during the Dark Ages. Add to that pride a dose of real hope and the feeling that comes from a good performance and it's a new ballgame. I know it's early in the season and the future holds some daunting challenges, but the way these guys played Saturday reminded me of watching Michigan in the old (good) days. It was the power football I grew up with and I was as giddy as 12-year old me watching it unfold.

So back to our love story on the sidelines. I mean, could you just watch Jim Harbaugh coach the Wolverines all day long? I don't know if the home sideline has seen that level of laser-focus and energy since Bo stalked the coaching box. The coordinators do their jobs well but Harbaugh isn't blindly delegating control of the game. He misses nothing. He makes adjustments to the game plan (not his noose or his story, as Rich Rod and Hoke did more often than not.) And the way he vehemently argued calls with the officials with arms, legs, words, and clipboards flying? Pinch me. I've been waiting for someone to give a real damn down on that field for eternity. ESPN may call it a tantrum. I call it letting the B1G's stellar officiating crew [insert tongue in cheek] know that things have changed in Ann Arbor. He asserted himself as alpha like all the great coaches do and eventually it will lead to an edge. Bo did it. Uncle Urbz does it. It fires up the team, too. When your coach sticks his neck on the line for you, playing harder for him and for each other burns like a fire in the belly. 

Harbaugh reminds me of one of the best managers I ever had. He came to us from GE and in our office, they treated this man like a god. Most of the mid-level guys on his staff were a bit afraid of him, but I wasn't. I could see right away that he was a real leader. Like Jim, he was scary smart, quirky, dry-humored, and liked making people who deserved it feel a bit awkward. He begged me not to accept another internal offer and pitched hard for me to join his team. He said "Our job won't be easy, but I promise you, we're gonna have fun meeting the challenge." He also walked straight over to HR with the sticky note that listed the non-negotiable salary the guy down the hall offered me and came back a few minutes later offering me a 10% raise. I said, "yes" and he delivered on his promises. His role, in his words, was to remove obstacles to MY success. He had the honor of a Boy Scout in his dealings with others--playing fairly within the rules, but squeezing everything he could from those rules. I actually sobbed when he left a couple years later. I guess I had platonic fan love for him, too.

If you've ever been asked in a job interview "What characterized the best manager you've ever had?" I think of the GE guy and say "I would follow him without question or hesitation into battle." This is the the same thing I think the Michigan football team and the coaching staff would say of Jim Harbaugh. He's pulled together the factions and created an army of the willing (and increasingly able.) Their work will be hard, but they'll have fun meeting the challenge.

In light of all this goodness, I anticipate being sick with Harbaugh fan love for years to come. We have but to watch and enjoy as he spearheads our journey back into the light.

So join me in my happy state and...

Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love! 
Solomon 5:1

Go Blue!

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