It was meant as harsh criticism, but I took it as a compliment.

This incident took place awhile ago. As a fan University of Michigan athletics I am now reminded of it on a seemingly daily basis. I loved Jim Harbaugh as a player for the Wolverines. His legacy cemented in my heart when he guaranteed a win over Ohio State before the 1986 installment of The Game which was played on the road in Columbus, Ohio. The only thing greater than that bravado was coach Bo Schembechler's response "Our quarterback shot his mouth off, and now we've got to go down there and prove him right. Let's go back him up!"  And they did.

Jim Harbaugh is relentless and works at being omnipresent.  Just look at this past week's recruiting news. Michigan received 6 verbal commitments in 9 days and dominated the recruiting news cycles. The controversial satellite camp circuit he has embarked on the past two summers is another example.  Both Ohio State and Penn State conducted similar satellite camps, but did you hear about those?  Probably not.  Harbaugh is to college football what Barnum was to circuses.  Sleepovers at recruits houses. Throwing out first pitches at baseball games. Showing up at the World Series game with his baseball glove that elicited a national story on how many baseballs he has collected over the years including winning a battle over a kid for one?  How about the signing day extravaganza Michigan hosted last February to introduce their new recruits.

Okay, you get the picture.

A coach for one of my son's high school teams called me one night and told me I was relentless and omnipresent. This occurred in the midst of the worst season the program had endured in many a year. There were several players from an ultra successful club team I coached on that high school team. The young coach, whom I recommended for the position, was struggling mightily. The team was under performing and players were seeking me out. It was difficult for me to avoid them as I not only coached them in club but they were / are also friends of my son and were often at our house. I did my best to be supportive of the new coach, but he evidently felt threatened by my coach / player relationships with many of the players he also coached.  I can appreciate and understand that.

In the telephone conversation that evening the new coach stated his belief that he was unable to be effective as a coach because of my relentless omnipresence hovering over his program.  In short, he was lashing out and blaming me for the team underachieving. Now, I had never attended a practice and had offered zero input to any coach on anything related to that high school team up to this point in time. I attended games to cheer on my son and his friends. That was the extent of my involvement.  I had supported the coach to the players who wanted to vent. I was surprised by the coach's comments. Hurt and angry as well. In my reply I told the coach he was wrong to play someone who had always played forward as a defender and a another who had always played as  defender as a forward. I ended the conversation by saying I would only cheer for my son the rest of the season. I wouldn't even applaud other players efforts. He thanked me and informed me this is what he wanted.
Two things happened almost immediately as a result of that conversation. First, the personnel changes I suggested were made. Secondly, the team performance improved dramatically.  A third, more subtle change also occurred - that coach lost the respect of many on that team. In effect, he lost that team by making his coaching struggles about me. The conversations with players I had after that telephone conversation were supportive of me. The players tone was devoid of hope even as I counselled my son that they were a good team and could make a strong run in the tournament. This fell on deaf ears. They no longer believed in their coaches and had begun to doubt themselves.

That high school season and the conversation with the high school coach has stayed with me over the years. Missed opportunities for those players has haunted me. They held so much more potential than what they delivered upon on the pitch. The idea that I was relentlessly omnipresent has held as well.  I know it was meant in an adverse sense, but I did not then and do not now take it as such.  I watch Coach Harbaugh and see much of myself in him.  Old school yet innovative at the same time. A deep love for the game and a passion for the people who play it - not just as players but as young men entrusted to my care.

I am too strong a personality?  That is what the young coach stated.  What he likely meant is that he was threatened by me, by my established relationships with players and my 3 decades of experience in coaching the game. I begun as his biggest ally. I recommend him to the athletic director on board of education members for the job.  Even after the season when I was approached and asked to re-evaluate my recommendation of him for the coaching position I continued to voice my support for him to remain as the head coach.

I am relentless and omnipresent.  That is a goal of mine. These are traits I look for in players.  I want leaders who believe they will win every game and who will be relentless in pursuit of victory. I will outwork everyone of the student athletes entrusted to me because they will need to outwork the opponents they face on the pitch. I set the standard that they will strive to meet. To that end, I attempt to surround myself with the very best, the very brightest, soccer minds I can find to assist me. I am fearless in learning from others. I want my philosophies and thought processes to be challenged on a daily basis.  I need to continue to grow as both a person and a coach.  The new high school coach, probably unknowingly, contributed to this process. What he likely intended as harsh criticism. I took as affirmation that I am passionate, compassionate and driven to be the best I can be. Did the experience change me?  It made me reflect and learn. I am better for it. More driven and relentless than ever before. These characteristics and my omnipresence are not (yet) met in my current situation by the student / athletes and their families. I will continue to be relentless and omnipresent in building the relationships that will build these characteristics in the core group that can lead and elevate the program to a higher level.

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