Steve Spurrier’s departure from South Carolina last season left a void in more than the Gamecocks’ locker room. College football lost its maverick.
Spurrier spoke with the boldness of a fourth-and-15 quarterback draw. He snapped sly insults at his rivals suited for the opening monologue of late night TV. However, Spurrier’s candor provided more than one-liners. He spoke with conviction about important issues, even if he was the only one talking.
Spurrier resigned from the game without naming a successor, but perhaps, we can replace The Visor with The Khakis.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is quick on his feet and quick on the trigger. He is aggressive and occasionally abrasive. He is unafraid to challenge his foes publicly, and he is an equal opportunity disputant.
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Although he shares the fashion sense of Jake from State Farm, Harbaugh could be the invigorating voice to broach discussions of change in college athletics.
Thus far, most of Harbaugh’s exchanges stem from the maelstrom he stirred with his satellite camp tour through the cherished fertile Southern recruiting territories. This summer, the Michigan staff will visit 39 camps, including stops in Australia and American Samoa.
The barnstorming strategy has been overblown into an issue of student-athlete welfare. Detractors have raised concerns that the camp process is transforming into the summer basketball circuit, beset with third-party handlers but no skill development. Defenders have assessed the burden of travel expenses for a family to send a prospect to multiple camps and the opportunity for coaches at smaller colleges to visit larger campuses to scout talent.
There is merit in both stances but also some disingenuous posturing. College coaches must always talk the fine line between concern for athletes and protection of their own interests, their reputation, their record, their livelihood.
Evidently, Harbaugh approaches every criticism as a threat to all those things. And like Spurrier, Harbaugh is not afraid to return fire.
He has not used the Spurrier one-liners, though. Harbaugh is not as clever. He is not as charming. He is more petty than witty, more megaphone than microphone.
But he is just as hilarious.
Plus, Harbaugh has utilized something Spurrier rarely did – Twitter. He does not need a press conference. He does not need a soundbite. He does not need a good reason. He can poke other coaches with his thumbs.
Harbaugh has tweeted slights to rival Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, Georgia coach Kirby Smart, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and even the Godfather Nick Saban.
Harbaugh has ripped through the fabricated notions of college football decorum. He values competition over conciliation.
It is the closest we may get to a straight shooter. My hope is that Harbaugh does not aim solely at his rivals. I hope he challenges the entire system. Spurrier did not simply push buttons. He pushed the envelope.