Michigan Football: Harbaugh Talks 'Special Group,' 'Clint Eastwood' Win
Years ago, then-Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr used the movie Cinderella Man to inspire his team during the 2007 season. That sparked a friendship with actor Russell Crowe and even a visit from the Academy Award winner during Michigan's game with Notre Dame that year.
On Saturday night, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh turned to another actor to make his point about a gritty, 32-29 victory at Nebraska.
"That was a Clint Eastwood type win," he said.
Asked Monday what he meant, he couldn't help but laugh.
"That's a great question," he said. "There are so many Clint Eastwood things, whether it was [Gran Torino] or Dirty Harry, Unforgiven, some different things. Suffice it to say, "go ahead - make my day,'" he said with a laugh, quoting one of Eastwood's most famous movie lines. "There are some other ones I'll keep in my own mind."
It was a game they might have lost in past years, quarterback Cade McNamara said, but this group wasn't going to let it happen even after it lost momentum in an awful third quarter. Eastwood might not be showing up on the Michigan sideline this year like Crowe did — he's getting up there in age, for one — but the U-M team is, every day.
The way they've answered the bell in practice and games has impressed Harbaugh.
"It's a special group of guys that really like football," Harbaugh said. "You see it when they practice — the energy they bring, the fun they're having, the grit, and [there are] more of them like that.
"Start with the coordinators. Just the way they work together, the energy and the passing they bring. I really attribute a lot of that to being a fresh, cohesive group that's been attacking it on defense, offense and special teams."
Though he doesn't like to compare teams, it's clear they have an advantage over last year's group that finished 2-4 and never really seemed invested, fair or not. A few guys, including standout receiver Nico Collins and cornerback Ambry Thomas, opted out.
"I know exactly where Cade's coming from," Harbaugh said. "He's probably more so comparing this team to last year's team, but last year was pretty darn thin when it was all said and done in terms of who really thought it was in their best interest to play football or not based on a worldwide pandemic.
"But there's no doubt this group going back to mid-January, February, just started ... the amount of guys that were bought in, that were hungry to be good, picked up some experience in the '20 season. Just daily, weekly, monthly, the way they worked and came together as a group of players has been very special.
In a lot of ways, he said, it reminds him of some teams he's had in the past, including the 2015-16 team, the '18-'19 team, the '17 team. Even then, however, guys were sitting out with minor injuries or opting out of practice.
Not this group.
"It's a gritty team," he continued. "Through their preparation, they earned that confidence they have, and they have fun doing it, all things I think contribute to the players having confidence.
"... Another attribute to throw on some of the other ones — you've got to pull them back. You've got to to say 'hey, no you can't do that today — can't go in that play,' as opposed to try to talk them into it — like, 'please?' You've got to pull them back rather than talk them into it."
He paused and smiled.
"That's pretty cool. That's being a real football player," he said.
He's got a team of them right up there with his best when incomes to chemistry, and they could finish up there with some of his others.
"Yet to be seen — maybe better," Harbaugh said. "They have the license and the ability.'"
And a tough schedule ahead of them. But they're halfway home with a 6-0 record that few predicted. Though the bye week comes at a great time to heal some bumps and bruises, he's excited to see what the last six games bring.
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