ANN ARBOR, Mich.
- By the time Jim Harbaugh walked onto the court at halftime of the Michigan basketball game, his homecoming had turned into a full-fledged pep rally.
"I pledge to you that we will do our very best to carry on the great tradition of Michigan - excellence all across the board," the Wolverines' new football coach said to the cheering crowd at Crisler Center during yesterday's matinee win against Illinois - in an overtime thriller, naturally.
"You know how to make a guy feel at home," Harbaugh yelled, his voice sounding hoarse from a whirlwind few days.
Harbaugh is back. And none too soon for fans who desperately want him to save the football program where he starred as a quarterback 30 years ago - one that has fallen into the middle of the pack at best in the Big Ten Conference and become an afterthought in the national landscape.
The day began with a packed news conference, onlookers peeking through the windows from outside at the famous alumni as he strode to the podium for a smiling, lighthearted session as his family watched from a few feet away.
"Michigan's always been great. It's always been great. I always believe in it," Harbaugh said. "In terms of selling something, you're selling something you believe in in your core."
As a starting quarterback for three seasons under Bo Schembechler, he is remembered for delivering a victory he guaranteed over Ohio State in 1986, the same season he was Big Ten Player of the Year and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting.
The famously confident Harbaugh stopped short of any real bluster as he took the reins of the storied program. After all, he inherits a team that has lost 10 of its last 11 games to archrival Ohio State and six of its last seven to Michigan State. If those two rivals were looking for bulletin-board material from Harbaugh, he didn't give them much - not yet, at least.
"They're outstanding programs. No, I make no guarantees," he said. "I made a guarantee a long time ago, and I've learned from that, and I've grown. I understand that you don't make guarantees."
Harbaugh's 7-year deal is worth about $40 million, not counting performance bonuses. His $5 million annual salary increases by 10 percent after years three and five, and he also received a $2 million signing bonus.
This past season was the third time in 7 years Michigan finished with a losing record. The program's most recent sub-.500 season before this dismal stretch came in 1967, 2 years before Schembechler began his run as coach.
The longer Michigan's coaching search went on, the more obvious it became that the school was focused on Harbaugh, who was finally available after his NFL season ended Sunday. The 51-year-old Harbaugh coached the San Francisco 49ers to three straight NFC Championship Games, but the team missed the playoffs this season at 8-8 and he left in what both sides called a mutual decision.