Let me just say this upfront: this is a post about Jim Harbaugh. If that's too old hat for you, or perhaps causes flashbacks of the Alex Smith debates, then please move right along. I will readily admit that I'm a bit stick in the mud about Harbaugh, and his firing. Still. I haven't gotten over it yet. That's actually sort of the point of this post.
Over at SI.com, Michael Rosenberg has an excellent article about the first few months of Harbaugh's tenure with Michigan. As one might expect, their Harbaugh era has been plagued by controversies, mostly media driven, though sometimes the result of the coach himself (see: Sniper, American). To many, myself included, these "controversies" probably seem a lot more like pseudo-controversies, devoid of any real substance except for the fact that Harbaugh sits in the middle of them all. Rosenberg's title (or, at least, his editor's title) does an excellent job of summing it up: "Surrounded by hype, Jim Harbaugh motivated by reality at Michigan."
This, I think, sums up the Harbaugh experience: at the core of all the hype and all the controversies, is a guy who desperately wants to compete and who works hard every single moment of his day in order to compete to his fullest possible potential. Is that going to irk some people? Well, duh. Of course it is. Rosenberg's article does an excellent job at conveying this: sift through all the media attention, and you will find a blue-collar type of guy (literally, as we know from his time with the 49ers).
But, Harbaugh also has the irresistible capacity to charm - something this article also chronicles quite well. He is full of stories about traveling to Peru and quotations from Judge Judy. He "plays" QB in practice when the other QBs are busy. Heck, when he needs to find a house in Ann Arbor, especially after his wife has seen tons without liking any, he simply drives in his car around town during the dead of night until he finds the right house (on the same street that Bo Schembechler lived, to boot).
And this gets at why fans like myself have such a hard time with Harbaugh's departure. Not only did he win (and he won a lot of football games - enough that his firing looks ridiculous to this day, and I suspect it will look ridiculous for years to come although I hope that I am wrong), but he also brought an excitement to a fan base that desperately wanted to be excited. The 49ers have a storied tradition, not simply because we have won so many Super Bowls, but also because we have been associated with some of the greatest names in the sport. We have had personalities and players (and frequently both) walk onto the field wearing red and gold.
Harbaugh brought that to San Francisco, and now that I am seeing him bring it to Michigan. I can't help but be a little jealous. The attitude that Harbaugh brings to a program and the reaction he generates from the fans is part of the reason why owners and GMs should put up with him. He is essentially a one-man show in the football world. Of course, he has his weaknesses (Greg Roman) and his quirks (personality), but the latter enhances the fans' experience - it does not diminish it.