Jim Harbaugh Era Is Officially Underway as Michigan Gears Up for Spring Game

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterApril 2, 2015

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It's no secret that Jim Harbaugh is big on symbolism.

So as the new Michigan head coach prepares for the 15th and final spring practice of his first year in charge of his alma mater, it's hard to imagine he isn't already excited to take part in this Saturday's Maize and Blue Spring Game.

Because for the first time since taking over as the Wolverines head coach at the end of 2014, Harbaugh will take the field at Michigan Stadium with his new team. After the Brady Hoke era in Ann Arbor came to a disappointing end with a 5-7 season a year ago, there Harbaugh will be, likely in his trademark block M hat, Michigan pullover and khaki pants, standing in the same stadium where he quarterbacked the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship in 1986.

It won't quite be the same as when he runs onto the field for Michigan's official home opener against Oregon State five months from now, but make no mistake: The Harbaugh era in Ann Arbor is officially underway. The last three months have proved as much, as the former 49ers head coach has done his best to lay a foundation to help the Wolverines return to their winning ways.

ANN ARBOR, MI - DECEMBER 30:  Jim Harbaugh speaks as he is introduced as the new Head Coach of the University of Michigan football team at the Junge Family Champions Center on December 30, 2014 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Image
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It hasn't just been on the field—after all, there's only so much you can accomplish with player development in 15 spring practices—but more in the mindset that's currently being instilled at Michigan.

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"You tell a high school kid, you tell another college kid they're going to have a four-hour practice, they're going to look at you like, 'You're a bit crazy,'" linebacker Joe Bolden said. "But at the same time, you don't even think about it when you're out there... If you want to get better, your body can take a lot more than you think it can."

Perhaps there's no better example of how the Harbaugh regime will handle its business compared to its predecessor than the spring game itself, which will embody the competitive spirit that the Wolverines' new head coach strives for.

As opposed to the past two years, where Hoke used the spring-game platform to host what were closer to practices than scrimmages, Saturday's exhibition will do its best to simulate an actual game. Earlier this week, defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno held a draft of the Michigan roster in order to choose their respective Maize and Blue teams.

"Choose up sides," Harbaugh said of his spring-game strategy. "Just like the playground."

Although he oversees the game more than he actually coaches in it—if that's even possible for him—Harbaugh's presence will be apparent.

That will be the case even more so this fall, as Harbaugh's plans to instill an old-school feel in Ann Arbor are already becoming apparent. Last week, it was revealed via multiple reports that Harbaugh will be getting rid of the Wolverines' Legends jerseys program—which was created by former athletic director Dave Brandon—and bringing back helmet stickers, which he wore under Bo Schembechler in the mid-1980s.

The return of Schembechler's style in Ann Arbor has already been easy to see this spring, and in more ways than Harbaugh's retro block M hats. During a visit for the Wolverines' high school coaching clinic last month, Jim's brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, detailed how his younger brother's biggest influence was already showing up at Michigan practices.

"He threw everybody out of practice. It got a little crazy because there was so many people there visiting," John said. "He pulled a classic Bo. I know the guys thought Bo was back."

According to Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News, about 300 former Michigan football players are expected to attend Saturday's spring game, adding significance and nostalgia to the event. 

"He's one of our own—that's the draw," former Wolverines linebacker, president of the UM Letterwinners Club and former Harbaugh teammate Bob Stites told Chengelis. "That's the first thing I told him, too. I said, 'Thanks for coming back,' and he said, 'It's the right thing to do.'"

Jim Harbaugh (left) and Bo Schembechler.
Jim Harbaugh (left) and Bo Schembechler.Reed Saxon/Associated Press

That might be the biggest takeaway from Michigan this spring, as it's still too early to make determinations on some of the Wolverines personnel. Michigan's starting quarterback for the season might not even be enrolled in the school yet, with a report by ESPN.com's Dan Murphy revealing Iowa graduate transfer Jake Rudock will be heading to Ann Arbor.

But that doesn't mean that this spring has been meaningless, as Harbaugh continues to establish his preferred culture at Michigan. This Saturday will go a long way toward doing just that, as the Wolverines turn the page on the start of their new year and look forward to the actual season.

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.