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Jim Harbaugh: Florida practices 'very beneficial' for Wolverines

BRADENTON, Fla. -- After Michigan wrapped up its final spring practice in Florida on Friday night, coach Jim Harbaugh dished out a bit of advice.

"I would recommend this to other football programs," Harbaugh said. "I'd recommend it to us to do it again. There were no negatives. There were all positives."

Harbaugh has been the target of criticism from commissioners and coaches across the country for his decision to bring Michigan to Florida during spring break and practice at the IMG Academy, an elite high school that is home to many Football Bowl Subdivision prospects.

But after an open practice that drew some 5,000 Michigan fans, Harbaugh had no reason to back down from his critics. Not only did his team practice four times in Florida, it also got trips to the beach and a spring training game, had competitive pingpong tournaments, and heard from guest lecturers -- all in the name of football and team bonding. Harbaugh even said he'd consider going on the road for preseason practice.

"The feedback's been really good, the morale's been very high and the development's been good, but I also think it's been real good on guys getting to know each other better," Harbaugh said. "You can learn a lot by watching. I saw that with our team. I think they had a lot of fun. I think they worked extremely hard. I thought it was very beneficial for us."

Commissioners and coaches have complained about the trip to Florida, citing increasing time demands on student-athletes, while also fearing an unspoken recruiting advantage. That has led to some discussion about whether the NCAA will ban spring practices off campus in the future.

Asked whether he thinks that is a possibility, Harbaugh said, "You know my feelings on it. The arguments don't hold water, and this is a great thing for everybody involved."

Harbaugh also made headlines this week when he tweeted a message to Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who intimated that he wanted to join Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio for lunch here so they could watch Michigan practice.

No coaches were allowed to attend because it is a quiet period in recruiting. The Wolverines needed to keep their distance from IMG students this week to avoid NCAA violations, but IMG football players were allowed to sit in the stands and check out Friday's show.

Harbaugh was asked for his reaction to coaches taking him on and mentioned comments that alluded to spring practice in Florida resembling a circus atmosphere.

"As a youngster, I remember the circus coming to town," Harbaugh said. "I remember looking forward to it, saving my pennies up and dollars up because the circus was coming to town. And every circus that I ever went to, I always left feeling really great about it, and it was a lot of fun. That's the way I feel about this. It was much anticipated, and it was a heck of a lot of fun."

His players agreed.

"It's been wonderful," running back Drake Johnson said. "I think the team bonding aspect was the best. Obviously, we're here to learn football, but I think being together this whole time, sometimes being on campus can kind of spread you away from your team because you're caught up in school life. Being here has allowed us to accelerate the process of learning."

K.K. Hahn, a receiver at IMG who will be going to Ann Arbor as a preferred walk-on in the fall, said the energy around Michigan is palpable.

"It definitely feels like something is happening right now," said Hahn, who is from Bethesda, Maryland.

Joshua Uche, a linebacker from Miami and a Michigan signee, made the three-hour trip north with his high school coach to watch the Wolverines and spend some time with his future teammates.

"[Harbaugh] finding that loophole and doing something different, being outside the box, is pretty cool to me," he said.

Uche was committed to Miami for a few months and then considered signing with Florida or Alabama. When Michigan hired defensive coordinator Don Brown, who had been recruiting Uche for Boston College, the linebacker took a visit to Ann Arbor in January.

"And I loved it," Uche said. "People in Florida, they never hear about Michigan, so they never end up taking their visits there or anything. Once you get up there, they'll love it."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.