- David Lombardi, ESPN Staff Writer
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David Shaw, who worked on Jim Harbaugh's staff at the University of San Diego and Stanford for five years (2006-10), knows a thing or two about how Michigan's new coach operates. With Harbaugh back in the college game, Shaw -- his successor as the Cardinal's head coach -- provided some fascinating insight into his former boss at Pac-12 media days.
Some of Shaw's thoughts led to a trip down memory lane that'll take fans back to the Pac-10 days, and they also offered a preview of Utah's first 2015 test: Kyle Whittingham's team faces Harbaugh's Wolverines in the season opener.
Shaw on whether Harbaugh’s return to college football is a good thing:
"I don’t know if its good or not; I know it’s not boring [laughs]. I think he brings an energy and enthusiasm to everything he does that’s fun to watch.
"He’s revitalized a fan base. It’s going to be fun watching him on the sidelines against ... Michigan State, rekindling those rivalries. Because when it’s all said and done, Jim Harbaugh bleeds Michigan blue. He’s a Michigan man, through and through. He wants to restore that team to its past glory.
"There are going to be some fireworks along the way.”
On what it was like working under Harbaugh (at San Diego and Stanford for five years):
"As I said, it’s not boring. Every day there’s a twist. Every day there’s excitement. You walk in every single day and say, ‘OK, what’s it gonna be today?’ The bottom line is he is always in competition mode. There’s no 'off.' Some guys turn it off. There’s no ‘off’ for Jim.
"We had a lot of guys on the first staff that played basketball. And we had pick-up basketball games where you’d think that there was either money or someone’s life on the line. That’s just the way it was. There are still stories of racquetball games, when guys lost, they didn’t know if they were gonna get fired or not [laughs]. That was the intensity of the environment.
"But it produces an environment where you’re gonna either sink or swim. If you can operate in this environment, great. If you can’t, then just get the hell out of the way. That’s the way Jim is. Guys either get on or they get out of the way. Don’t get me wrong now: It’s wild, but it’s fun to be a part of. Because everyone that we’ll be playing, they’re going to have a fight on their hands, because we’re gonna fight them first."
On what Michigan’s opener against Utah will be like:
"[When Michigan opens up against Utah], it’s going to be a lot like [the recent Stanford-Utah] games: It’s going to be physical. Make no mistake about it: Jim likes tough guys. He likes to play a tough brand of football. And that’s the way they are at Utah. It’s gonna be smashmouth, it’s gonna be fun, but it’s gonna be physical.”
On how Shaw personally handled the intensity of Harbaugh's environment:
"I coached five years under Jon Gruden, so I’ve been through the wringer a few times. I’ve played for tough coaches, played for competitive guys, I’ve played for guys who like to keep everyone on edge, so I can handle that environment. I understood that environment, and I also understood that’s the environment Jim needs. He needs to be in a tough, competitive environment. And it’s an environment that works, that wins."
On how Michigan will do under Harbaugh:
"They’re going to win, I have no doubts about it."
But will they win the ultimate prize down the road?
"That’s the question only Jim can answer. But he won’t answer it. Because Jim is not looking five, six, seven years down the road. Jim is looking at this year. Some people say that’s coachspeak, but that’s how he is. He sees this 2015 season as an opportunity to restore Michigan to where it should be, and I’m telling ya, he’s not thinking about anything else."
Shaw went on to talk about how he thinks Michigan already has a very solid reserve of talent because of good recruiting the past three years. He believes Harbaugh’s success there will come quickly.
On his experience sitting next to Harbaugh before Stanford’s 24-23 upset over USC (2007) as 41-point underdogs:
"Jim came and sat next to me in my office, sitting chair to chair [watching USC film].
"'What do you think?’ we asked each other. We both said: 'I’ve never seen anything like this. Damn, they’re good. Damn, they’re fast.’
"Jim and I shared 45 minutes of nearly absolute silence watching these [USC] guys run around and crush people."
A few days later, Stanford won 24-23 at the Coliseum. The Cardinal's buses returned to campus late at night. Shaw shared one more Harbaugh story:
"There's 4,000 people waiting for the buses going crazy. I'm like, 'Oh my God, I've gotta protect Jim, he's going to get mobbed.' So we stop, the doors open, I'm about to grab Jim, and he just takes off into the middle of the mayhem. I thought he was gonna get trampled. I still to this day don't know how he did it. He found a wooden box to stand on, and he found a bullhorn. How'd he find a bullhorn [laughs]? So here he is, just getting the crowd even more excited, giving this unbelievable speech. It was unbelievable."