South Carolina coach Will Muschamp can remember the first time he took notice of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
It was when Harbaugh was the starting quarterback for Bo Schembechler’s Wolverines, a career that would end with Harbaugh the leading passer in the history of one of college football’s most storied programs.
“I think he had a 14-year career, was a first-round draft pick, had a great career there, the AFC Championship game (in 1996) against Pittsburgh when he was with the Colts,” Muschamp said Thursday during a news conference to preview Monday’s Outback Bowl, when his Gamecocks (8-4) will take on Harbaugh’s Wolverines (8-4). “I remember that game, they lost right at the end there. Then, obviously, when he went to San Diego, he did a fantastic job with a program that had never really won before, then went to Stanford.”
It’s doubtful Harbaugh has similar recall of Muschamp’s playing career, which began as a walk-on at Georgia, progressed to Bulldogs starter and captain but ended short of the NFL. Their coaching careers have followed similar paths. Harbaugh’s first real college job was as a head coach, at the University of San Diego. His first college job actually came during his NFL career, when he served as an unpaid consultant for his father Jack’s Western Kentucky Division I-AA powerhouse team from 1994-2001 (there’s more on that later). Harbaugh then was the Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach for two seasons before going to San Diego. Meanwhile, Muschamp toiled the traditional way, serving as an assistant coach for 13 years before getting his first head coaching job.
Their personalities are similarly diverse, as was on display Thursday in back-to-back appearances in front of the collected media here to cover the game.
Harbaugh said Thursday that South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley “doesn’t rattle or get flinched.” He did not say that Bentley “doesn’t get rattled or flinch” as most people would, and the effect of his speech keeps the listener off rhythm and unsettled.
The action and the effect don’t feel like an accident. Harbaugh clearly is a bright man. He excelled at Michigan. He succeeded in the NFL. He won big at Stanford before anyone else had considered it possible. He coached the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl. He has put his alma mater back into the national college football spotlight.
And there he sits with his archaic eyeglasses and Walmart khakis and proudly pointing out that he’s had the same haircut “since I was 10.” He also talked of being as happy as “a pig in slop” and compared a question to “warmed-up oatmeal.” He manages to seem completely overmatched by his surroundings while actually being in complete control of his environment with his conversational and social rope-a-dope.
Then there’s Muschamp, who puts the straight in straightforward. Oh sure, he has the baseline guile required to be a successful major college football coach, but it’s not his natural setting.
“This is a really fun team to be around as far as their approach to practice, somewhat of a blue-collar mentality,” Muschamp said. “That’s my mentality. That’s what we want to be.”
Monday won’t be the first time Muschamp and Harbaugh have competed against each other. That came when Muschamp was recruiting for Eastern Kentucky in his second full-time collegiate job, while Harbaugh was serving as a recruiter for his father at Western Kentucky. Muschamp didn’t realize Thursday as he relayed that story that Harbaugh apparently had been authorized in that role by the NCAA.
“I remember recruiting in Bradenton, Fla., and Jim was an NFL quarterback with a Western Kentucky warm up suit on recruiting for Western Kentucky,” Muschamp said. “I don’t know how legal that was and there’s a statue of limitations so I’m sure he couldn’t get in trouble for me saying this, but it was unusual.”
Muschamp will have a chance for some revenge Monday.
Who: South Carolina (8-4) vs. Michigan (8-4)
When: Noon Monday
Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Line: Michigan by 8