Michigan's Jim Harbaugh Once Again Prepared to Dominate Offseason

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterJanuary 11, 2016

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh takes a selfie with first lady Michelle Obama, center, and Grammy award winner Ciara during the citywide College Signing Day, Friday, May 1, 2015, at Wayne State University in Detroit. The first lady talked to a rally of more than 2,000 Detroit high school students about the importance of committing to education beyond high school as part of her
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

After a season that's included an unprecedented quarterback controversy at Ohio State, the breaking of Barry Sanders' 27-year-old all-purpose yardage record and seemingly more stunning finishes than any year in recent memory, only one team will have the right to call itself the national champion of college football in 2015.

And as Clemson and Alabama prepare to face off in Monday night's College Football Playoff championship game, it will either be the Tigers or the Crimson Tide who will soon find themselves the talk of the college football world.

But with national signing day three weeks away and spring practice soon to follow, it won't be long until offseason storylines overshadow the spotlight cast upon the winner of Monday night's title game. In fact, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has already gotten a head start on turning the Wolverines into college football's must-follow team of the offseason, which would make 2016 not entirely dissimilar from its predecessor.

What appeared to be Harbaugh's way of creating positive buzz for a program in need of just that a year ago is now looking more like a mere warm-up act. Last year, it was subtweets (allegedly) aimed at Urban Meyer, shirtless pictures captured during his program's groundbreaking satellite camp tour and an offseason full of Twitter flirting with the likes of Judge Judy, Ciara and Lil Wayne, all seemingly in the name of positive publicity for the Michigan program.

"I'm not striving to be creating any buzz," Harbaugh said when asked about his offseason at Big Ten media days last summer. "Just striving to coach the football team."

Less than two weeks into his second offseason in charge of the Wolverines, Harbaugh's actions seem to indicate otherwise.

Tony Ding/Associated Press

After leading his alma mater to a 10-3 record, capped by a 41-7 blowout win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl, Harbaugh has been back at it on social media, creating headlines for Michigan 140 characters or less at a time.

It started with his plea for Michigan Stadium to host WrestleMania (including a Twitter interaction with professional wrestling legend Ric Flair) and continued with a not-so-subtle shot at his former employer, the San Francisco 49ers, after they parted ways with Harbaugh's replacement, Jim Tomsula, following a 5-11 season.

Throw in a budding friendship with rapper Wale, and Harbaugh's annual publicity tour is ahead of schedule in 2016.

But perhaps the biggest plans for Harbaugh's second offseason in Ann Arbor were revealed Sunday, with TheWolverine.com's (h/t Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press) report that the Michigan head coach hopes to hold at least a portion of the Wolverines' spring practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

"Harbaugh has made multiple trips to visit the campus during recruiting since coming to Michigan, including a trip during Michigan's football bye week last October," Snyder wrote. "Michigan is in the enviable position of having a large football budget (over $64 million surplus for the 2013-14 fiscal year), so the resources would not be a problem."

It's right out of the Harbaugh playbook: build buzz for the program with a move sure to garner attention, and simultaneously strengthen your national recruiting base.

Per Rivals.com, IMG Academy is the home of no fewer than 20 prospects in the 2017 class, including uncommitted 5-star defensive end Josh Kaindoh, who just happens to hold an offer from the Wolverines.

Even outside of IMG, Michigan's mere presence for any sort of extended period of time would likely bolster its recruiting efforts in South Florida, just as Harbaugh's satellite camp tour did a year ago.

Harbaugh took national recruiting to the next level in 2015, embarking on a nine-stop summer trek with stops in Indiana, Alabama, FloridaPennsylvania, Texas, California and Michigan—much to the displeasure of SEC coaches.

Between the publicity generated by the "Summer Swarm Tour" and the connections made on it, the results speak for themselves, with the Wolverines laying claim to the nation's second-ranked recruiting class three weeks before national signing day.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Whether merely hosting a portion of spring practice in the Sunshine State will help yield similar results remains to be seen. But it wouldn't be a surprise to see other programs soon follow suit, much like Meyer and Penn State's James Franklin did with satellite camps of their own in the past year.

But regardless of the impact made by Harbaugh's big spring, his second offseason in the spotlight is just getting started. The tweets to celebrities won't stop, nor will the headline-worthy quotes, and at some point Michigan will reveal college football's first uniforms under Nike's Jordan Brand.

"It's gonna be awesome," Harbaugh said of his program's new threads, which, just by their association with Michael Jordan, have already caused a stir on the recruiting trail.

A successful season on the field should only boost Harbaugh's efforts off it, as opposed to a year ago when he was selling hope and not much else. The Wolverines' 2017 class includes five commits, leaving plenty of room for Harbaugh to make the most of another year's worth of publicity.

Less than two weeks into 2016, he appears hellbent on doing just that. After Monday night's national title game, the second Offseason of Harbaugh will officially be underway. It already appears to be as unpredictable as the first.


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.