For anyone who loves college football, this part of the year after National Signing Day is usually a long period of little news and activity until spring games. Not so much with the Michigan Football program and Coach Harbaugh. Based on where the program was at the end of the 2014 season, Coach Harbaugh is exceeding expectations at a very fast pace in many ways. His first year ended the in the top 15 of the college football rankings with a top 5 defense, a 10-3 record with a dominating win against Florida in the Citrus Bowl with players he inherited from Coach Hoke, and the addition of transfer quarterback Jake Rudock.
After National Signing Day, the program moves forward to the next phase of the year leading up the yearly spring game at The Big House. Many use what precious time they have to practice and train before returning after summer break for pre-season practice, leading up to the season home opener against Hawaii over Labor Day weekend. We have had a mild winter in Ann Arbor so far compared to previous winters, but nothing like the warm sunshine in the south.
Most college kids look forward to spring break as a week off class to relax, go home to see family, or go on vacation with friends to a warm destination. What can Coach Harbaugh do since he can’t control the weather in Ann Arbor? How about go to the football powerhouse IMG academy in Bradenton, Florida for a week when school is on spring break? Brilliant….expensive, but brilliant! The Michigan Football program is moving their operations down to sunny Bradenton, Florida for a week of February 29-March 4 while the school is on spring break. This will be the first time a college football team will leave their home state during the spring for a week to practice. This is possible with the recent NCAA revision at the start of the 2014 season where teams are now allowed to travel for offsite practices and pay for “reasonable entertainment” while they are on the road.
When I played college golf, we planned trips to Florida and Hawaii for spring break, tournaments on the west coast and the south to prepare for conference championship play. I know this is a much larger scale than golf, but with the massive budgets top programs have to work with, its hard to think we have never heard a team consider this before or try it. Since this will be a first, just like some of the other first time unconventional approaches Coach Harbaugh has taken while coaching Michigan, we will have to sit back and watch what benefits this has on the team, staff, and recruiting. While this time will still have to follow the NCAA four-hour time limit, players will have extra time to bond, study the playbook and also strengthen the relationship between Michigan and IMG, which has one of the most talent-dense high school programs in the country. Several prospects for 2017 recruiting class are with IMG Academy; Will Ignot, Joshua Kainboh, Jordan Anthony, Cesar Ruiz, and Robert Hainsey.
It will be interesting to see if and what other programs try following Michigan making this financial decision and leaving their state to practice for spring break week in the future.
Coach Harbaugh’s competitive mentality of outworking them all and being united will hopefully continue to pay off, as we have seen already on the recruiting trail and last summer satellite camps. I am excited to see what other unconventional methods Coach Harbaugh will surprise everyone with, but he is moving at a fast pace that will bring future success to Michigan Football for years to come.