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He didn't play well with others? Well, who needs others? Jim took a wire hanger, a net and some tape and made a basketball hoop in the basement. He played music on his cassette player during his imaginary pregame layup drill. He taped a uniform number to his T-shirt. Then he played game after game. He kept stats and standings. He did not mind that there was nobody else in the room.
One time the boys were at their maternal grandfather's place in Ohio, and Jim sprinted off. John knew where Jim had gone. It was the same direction Jim always wanted to go. Up. "If there was a tree anywhere, I would climb it," Jim says. "I would go up there just to go up there, thinking about stuff. I liked being alone."
When Jim was in elementary school, he told people he would be an NFL quarterback. He became the varsity quarterback at Ann Arbor's Pioneer High as a sophomore—and that was too late for him. But Jim was so lightly recruited out of high school that when Schembechler finally invited him to come to Michigan, in 1982, Jim had to ask, "Is that a full scholarship, Bo?"
"I don't think I've been around anybody who worked harder as a player than Jim did," says longtime NFL coach Cam Cameron, who coached Harbaugh as a graduate assistant at Michigan. "Jim's answer to everything early on was physical. He was going to outwork you physically." Michigan players were expected to choose between morning and afternoon workouts in the summer. Harbaugh did both, every day. After being named the starter his sophomore year, 1984, he broke his arm five games into the season and couldn't play for the first time in his life. The beast darted from the practice field to the library, and Jim became an A student. When the arm healed, the beast went back to the practice field and Jim became a B student again.
As a junior Jim led the nation in passing efficiency and guided Michigan to a 10-1-1 record, a Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska and the No. 2 ranking. His final season he was a second-team All-America as the Wolverines went 11--2.
Before the next-to-last regular-season game of his college career, Jim opened his mouth and the beast spoke: "I guarantee you we'll beat Ohio State and be in Pasadena." Jim didn't plan to say it. But he had planned to do it for years. "From the time I had sat up in those trees, I knew I was going to play in a Rose Bowl game," he says. "I knew that was my destiny."
Michigan beat Ohio State to go to Pasadena, where it would lose to Arizona State 22--15. Jim was named Big Ten Player of the Year and came in third in the Heisman Trophy voting. He went on to a 15-year NFL career with six teams. And whenever anybody asked him about life after football, he had an answer: He would be a coach.
After retiring as a player, he took a job as an offensive assistant with the Raiders in 2002. When they sat him down at a laptop to teach him how to use software to diagram plays, Harbaugh asked, "How do you turn it on?" He had never used a computer. He made $50,000 a year, working 20-hour days, sleeping under his desk. One time he was so exhausted that he fell asleep with his head on his computer keyboard; he woke up to a string of K's on the screen. Another time he woke up at the wheel of his car in his driveway before dawn, unsure if he was leaving for work or had just come home. Six years earlier Harbaugh had come within one play of leading the Colts to the Super Bowl. Now he was a grunt.
Almost every Sunday, an opposing player would say, "You're Jim Harbaugh, right?"
"Yeah," he'd say, "I'm Jim Harbaugh."