We all know of that one dad who tries way too hard to act cool and hip around the kids in the neighborhood. He hits the whip in front of his kids’ friends, blasts Bieber in the car and even downloaded PokémonGo so he’ll have something to talk to the teens about. He’s a cringe-inducing try-hard, and while he may occasionally be the cool guy that buys the high school kids beer, the try-hard “cool” dad is almost always one of the most universally despised people in the community.
Jim Harbaugh is the try-hard “cool” dad of the college football world, and this past summer, dubbed “The Summer of Harbaugh” by numerous media outlets, is the perfect proof.
This past spring, Harbaugh made it clear in interviews that he was all about reaching out to young talent in the upcoming summer. But what was initially meant to be a carefully orchestrated plan to curry favor with recruits quickly derailed into one of the most cringe-worthy media campaigns college sports has ever seen.
In recent years, college football recruiting has quickly shifted online as coaches have become more desperate to connect with 17-year-old talents. Harbaugh is no exception — having his own Instagram and Twitter accounts that he frequently uses. But it’s not the fact that he has a social media platform that’s the problem — it’s his content.
In the last six months, Harbaugh’s Twitter feed can best be described as “Trumpy.” In a cyber-attempt to raise his street cred with young recruits, he’s been in several Twitter arguments with other FBS head coaches. He even subtweeted Nick Saban for something the Alabama head coach said in an interview (worth noting: Nick Saban, winner of three national championships, chooses not to have a Twitter account).
When he’s not trying to show how much of a bad boy he is on the internet, Harbaugh tries to show how hip he is to the social scene. From Judge Judy to Big Sean, Harbaugh is constantly reaching out to rappers and celebrities. There’s even a photo of the old ball coach awkwardly grinning in a G-EAZY snapback with the caption “thanks 4 my new hat!”
But if social media flubs were his only crime, Harbaugh would be no worse that dozens of other clueless head coaches that try to connect to 18-year-old recruits on social media every day. In July, Harbaugh chose to be featured in a rap song titled “Who’s Got It Better Than Us?” He doubled down on the dork factor by choosing to be the main focus of song’s music video. To spare you the prolonged wincing and discomfort that comes with watching the video, it’s basically just two and a half minutes of Harbaugh driving a yellow sports car while awkwardly avoiding eye contact with the camera.
Nick Saban makes a big deal about flying across the country to visit a kid in California in person, because that’s a big deal. Jim Harbaugh however, is the kind of guy that has a sleepover with a high school kicker and documents the entire thing on social media.
Harbaugh’s try-hard “cool” dad persona has gotten so bad that even really awesome moves — like securing the first ever Jordan-brand football contract — suddenly seems irksome simply because it’s such a Harbaugh move to make. Everyone knows the Jordan brand carries a special allure with young athletes — so naturally Harbaugh had to have it.
Some may claim Harbaugh’s moves are simply indicative of the next stage in college football recruiting. Michigan did land the No. 5 recruiting class this past signing day (Alabama and all of Saban’s glorious old-school tactics sat at No. 1). But what can’t be disputed is that “The Summer of Harbaugh” has severely inflated expectations for the Wolverines, and has greatly widened the target on their back in the process. In trying to be the hip, cool coach of college football, Harbaugh has put himself and his program at the center of the college football stage. Harbaugh may have turned himself into a social pariah of the college football coaching world this summer, but winning can cure everything—even a try-hard dad persona.
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