Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh pulled a Pittsburg State T-shirt over the top of his long-sleeve, navy blue Michigan shirt Wednesday morning, walked down the stairs of the Plaster Center with a slight limp, thanks to 15 seasons as an NFL quarterback, and went to work.
“I came here because I wanted to know what makes this program so great,” Harbaugh said. “When (Pittsburg State coach) Tim Beck reached out, I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to learn. I’m always trying to learn how people win and become great.”
Harbaugh and his coaching staff — 21 Michigan assistants were on hand — plus college coaches from Pitt State and around the area ran almost 300 campers through drills at the Gorillas’ indoor practice facility and at Carnie Smith Stadium for three hours before heading out to another camp Wednesday night in the Kansas City area, at Blue Springs South High.
Michigan has 25 satellite camps scheduled, so far, in 15 states — a controversial move that has drawn fire from other college coaches, most notably Alabama’s Nick Saban.
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“I don’t pay too much attention to the drama,” said Harbaugh, who played at Michigan in the mid-1980s. “You say drama, but I see a lot of kids and parents that are having a great experience and getting a lot out of this camp.”
And while Harbaugh professed he was here to learn and to teach, the camp’s location also fell in line with a common trait of Michigan’s other satellite camps — the proximity to a top-level recruit the Wolverines are chasing.
In this case, it was 6-foot-5, 250-pound Pittsburg High senior tight end/defensive end Trevor Kent, the top-rated recruit from Kansas who’s given Northwestern a non-binding commitment.
Kent, who did not participate in drills, spent a good portion of the camp chatting with Michigan coaches, including Harbaugh, who talked with Kent for a few minutes in the indoor facility.
“This is huge for our community, and it’s great for (the Michigan coaches) to be in town,” Kent said. “They’ve been recruiting me, so it was a good opportunity to come over and talk to them face-to-face … it’s amazing to get to talk to someone like (Harbaugh), who is a legendary coach.
“I’m still committed to Northwestern and I don’t see that changing, but since these coaches are in town I wanted to come over and talk with them.”
The campers ran through drills and competed in races indoors, with Harbaugh holding up winners’ arms like a victorious boxer afterward and announcing their name on a megaphone before he and Beck led the skill position players on the “Gorilla Walk” — the path from the Plaster Center to Carnie Smith Stadium — for another hour of drills in the searing heat.
“That’s the kind of heat that will carve your body and sharpen your mind,” Harbaugh said. “So right now, my mind is feeling sharp and my body is feeling carved. That blacktop was singing on the walk over.”
Beck, who led Pitt State to the NCAA Division II national title in 2011, gifted Harbaugh with a small gorilla statue with Harbaugh’s name and college number on the back. Harbaugh wore No. 4 when he played at Michigan.
“The attention (the camp) brought to our program was unbelievable,” Beck said. “Just an unbelievably humble, down-to-earth group of coaches. We had some guys we both knew that tied us together, so it was a good fit right when (Harbaugh) called.
“The way the camp was run was really sharp, we did some old-school things that you don’t see a lot of any more, like just trying to see who moves well laterally and who can get to what spot the fastest.”
Harbaugh ended the camp by heaping praise on Beck and Pittsburg State’s program.
“I feel like this is the start of a great friendship between me and (Beck),” said Harbaugh, who is entering his second season. “Everything here is top-notch. You can see why they’ve been so successful and why they win so much.”