The Example of Jim Harbaugh

For the son of a longtime college football coach, Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh did not learn one very important lesson at his father’s feet — not blaming the referees for his team’s loss.

In case you missed it, the Michigan-Ohio State football game last weekend was one for the ages. It pitted two premier, powerhouse teams against one another, each ranked in the top 3 of college football’s poll. Not only was the number 2 ranking possibly up for grabs, but so was a possible trip to the national championship game.

In other words, there was a lot on the line.

Harbaugh has worked miracles as a pro and college football coach with the San Francisco 49er’s, Stanford Cardinal and at Michigan. But his antics and comments after the game on Saturday should be required viewing for all interested coaches from youth to pro sports leagues on how NOT to handle a post-game news conference.

Harbaugh said he was “bitterly disappointed” in the officiating. That, in and of itself, is a horrible example to set for athletes, coaches and fans. To blame the referees for your team’s loss is no-no and it sets a terrible example for anyone watching the game or is invested in its outcome. Comments like that make the fan base feel as if there is something sinister at play in the result and that their team is being treated unfairly. Do referees make mistakes? Of course they do. Now, I’m not saying that the referees did make a mistake in that game but even if they did, usually, those mistakes even out over time.

But even if the refs did screw up — and Harbaugh’s big complaint was on whether the Ohio State quarterback got a first down on a 4th down that could’ve ended the game in overtime — Harbaugh knows better than to blame them for his team’s loss.

Maybe if his team hadn’t fumbled a snap on the 2-yard line earlier in the game, it never would’ve made it to OT. My point is that there are myriad opportunities in a game when Michigan could’ve rendered the referees inconsequential. They could’ve won the game on their own merit and not even made the refs part of the conversation.

And Harbaugh’s words cost the University of Michigan. The school was fined $10,000 and Harbaugh earned a public reprimand.

The bottom line is that young players and aspiring coaches look up to people like Jim Harbaugh and want to emulate them. When Harbaugh — or other players or coaches — act callously, it reflects poorly on everyone. I can only imagine how difficult it is to sit and answer questions after a hard-fought, emotional game and try to keep your feelings in check. But Harbaugh should’ve taken a knee in the locker room until he was under control and able to answer those questions without questioning the skill and integrity of the referees. It’s like your parents always reminded you, if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.

Young people need to hear and see positive role models in the sports world. They need to know that it’s possible to lose and be a good sport and not blame others for the defeat.

What could Harbaugh have done differently? He could’ve trotted out the old standby’s about leaving it all on the field. He could’ve complimented Ohio State on their victory. He could’ve been magnanimous even in defeat.

If he had, maybe some impressionable young people wouldn’t have learned such a negative lesson.

(Photo credit: MGoBlog via / CC BY-NC)


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About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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  1. Lois Stanley says:

    He needs more reprimanding from the U of MI. He might be taking his cue from Pres. elect Trump who is never at fault for anything. VERY poor sport.

    • Happiest Daddy says:

      HI Lois. Thanks for your comment! I think this is a problem society-wide — some people wanting to blame others for their failures or inability to accomplish something. I was raised with the opposite mindset — that nothing is promised except what we rightfully earn.

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