As he roamed the Michigan sidelines for the first Saturday this season, Jim Harbaugh kept hearing, "Welcome back, welcome back." To which he would shrug and say later, "I never really left."
"But I wasn’t where I was supposed to," Harbaugh admitted after Michigan's 31-7 win over Rutgers. "So it was great to be back in there in the action, where the competition is."
Harbaugh's season debut started with a glitch. His defense surrendered a 69-yard touchdown on the third play of the game, marking Michigan's first deficit this season. It was all Wolverines from there. They outgained Rutgers by a tidy 333 yards after the Scarlet Knights' opening drive and turned a 14-7 game at halftime into another blue-sky blowout at the Big House.
Before the game, Blake Corum said Harbaugh -- back from serving Michigan's self-imposed three-game suspension for various NCAA infractions -- gave a speech to the team that set the tone for the day. And after the game, Corum smiled and said, "I wish you could’ve seen him in the locker room."
"He was just happy as heck," said Corum. "He was just, as he says, ‘Cool Guy Jim.’ It was just great seeing his energy in the locker room after a win. I think he’s going to have a good rest of the day."
Cool Guy Jim?
"I think that’s what most people refer to me as," Harbaugh grinned. "And then as we get closer to the game, I turn into Dead Serious Jim. But there’s just no better place to be than in the locker room after you win. Everyone gets in there and you just think to yourself, 'Who could have it better than I do, who could have it better than us?'"
Once again on Saturday, No. 2 Michigan had its way with an inferior foe. This is not so much a knock on Rutgers, who entered the game 3-0 and will hold its own this season in the Big Ten, as it is a nod to Michigan's stature in its conference and in the country. Harbaugh has molded a team that's stronger, deeper and more talented than almost anything it encounters. The Wolverines might not be truly tested until they visit Penn State in November.
Corum was his typically stout self Saturday, rushing for 97 yards and two touchdowns against a defense that, like those before it, tried and failed to stop Michigan on the ground. And whenever the offense was slowed, J.J. McCarthy picked up the pace, throwing for 200-plus and running for 50-plus.
Harbaugh had 98-year-old Marv Leavy on his mind Saturday, the Hall of Fame coach whose legendary career is captured in the book, Where Else Would You Rather Be? While Harbaugh, 58, maintains that the best part of football is playing it, "second best is being able to coach it," he said. "Nowhere I’d rather be than on the sideline coaching our team."
"Marv Leavy used to say that all the time. It still resonates," said Harbaugh. "I felt Marv Leavy today, and I really wanted that win. Coach was happy, but our players wanted it even more. You could just tell by the way they were playing."
Indeed, Corum said seeing Harbaugh back was all the motivation Michigan needed. As linebacker Junior Colson put it, "He brings a lot of juice to the team." Harbaugh's ban was fair, and his return was fairly tame, a continuation of the norm for his well-oiled team. The coach wasn't the only key cog back in action Saturday; starting defensive backs Will Johnson and Rod Moore returned from injuries.
Harbaugh smiled and said you might have seen "me, Will and Rod on a milk carton: in some ways you couldn't find us."
"But we’ve been found," he said. "We’re back playing."