Rick Leach: "Harbaugh is Afraid of Nobody"

Like Jon Falk before him, former Michigan great Rick Leach fought back tears when thinking about the significance of Jim Harbaugh taking the helm of the Michigan football program. During his days as a star signal caller for the Maize & Blue Leach remebers a young Harbaugh following behind him like a kid brother or son.

Sam Webb:  It has been a grand and festive to say the least, as we celebrate the arrival, the return of Jim Harbaugh.  It has been great to catch up to people that knew him (way back) when… not just when he was a player but before that.  Rick how are you doing?

Rick Leach:  “I’m doing wonderful Sam.  It’s an emotional day for me because Jimmy and I go back, his dad goes back.  His dad was a defensive backs coach at the University of Michigan when I played there.  Jimmy being the young man that he was, being a coach’s son, was at practice all the time as you well know.  To see where he has come and what he has accomplished in his life and to go into the coaching profession as you and Ira have documented, at a college in San Diego with no scholarships and took them to two titles.  He took over a Stanford program that was 1-11 and took them to where he did.  In San Francisco, it’s documented, you mentioned it, 46 victories in eight years.  Jimmy got 44 in four years.  To watch what he’s done and to know his family and to know his background and to come back to Michigan, it is like my own son coming there to be the head coach and I love him.  I can’t wait to see him operate, I’ll tell you that.”

Sam Webb:  The magnitude of the move is certainly emanates from what you say and from what Jon Falk says about what it means to you guys personally.  Also when I look back at what he’s become, the people that helped shape him – obviously Bo Schembechler but  I want to hear about your experiences with Jim Harbaugh back when you were a player.  Do you remember him chasing you around and stealing your wrist bands and that kind of thing?

Rick Leach:  “Yes I do.  Jimmy and I spent a lot of time.  Jimmy was a guy (that) was very competitive, extremely active and he wanted to play catch all the time.   He wanted to be around the huddle all the time.  He wanted to be involved all the time to the point that myself and a couple of other guys, a few times, we taped him up in the lockers so we could get him the hell away from us.  His dad’s asking, where’s Jimmy?  I don’t know, I haven’t seen him coach for a while.  You’ve stayed in touch, bless you and Ira, you’ve kept me in the loop and we’ve known what is going behind the scenes for a while.  To sit there and listen to the NFL people, other people to say what they did, he’ll never come here, the NFL, yada yada yada.  Nobody expect the guys that have been in the huddle, that have put on the helmet, that have paid the price and sacrifice and the commitment and the hard work, they know what it’s like to be successful at Michigan.  We’ve gone through a tough time and now everybody understands, you do not just throw your helmet out and say we’re Michigan and win football games.  They’re ain’t nobody better in America right now than Jim Harbaugh to come and take our program over.  I can’t wait.  We’re all very excited and I am too.  I’m trying to hold my emotions in, because I’ve got a lot flowing.”

Sam Webb:  I love that about you.  You wear your emotions on your sleeve.  I appreciate that.

Rick Leach:  “Sam you were talking about it and nobody understands and you mentioned it.  I’ll take you back to a couple of players where everybody talks about the NFL, the money, this and that.  That’s great and most people aspire to that that come, but as Jon Falk said and many people, whether it is Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, Bo Schembechler, anybody.  You will never have the time, the enjoyment and the camaraderie that you will have here at Michigan.  You can go to the NFL or in my case professional baseball and if anybody asks me what are the greatest four years of your life, 1975-1978 and any guy that strapped on that helmet can appreciate that.  When you were talking about the power of Michigan and coming back, you brought up one of the names up, Jake Long.  I’ll give you another one that is a good friend of yours, Tyrone Wheatley.  He came back.  He gave up millions to come back and play one more year at Michigan.  I’m ready Sam.  We need to pull this together.  We got a great leader.  We’ve got enthusiasm and we’ve been through a lot of pain and now it is time to turn that around.  As Jon Falk said, I’m here because today I want to personally thank President Schlissel.  I personally want to thank Jim Hackett, my former teammate that came in, in an extremely difficult situation and he delivered the goods.  I’ll say one thing about Jim Hackett, whether we got Jimmy or not, I was so impressed with how he has handled this, how he has done this and he kept it under wraps like we needed to get done to accomplish this.  Ann Arbor rejoice! Hail to the Victors because today is going to be a great day and we’ve got some great days coming, trust me.”

Sam Webb:  Rick you can appreciate where I’m about to go with this because you’re a Flint guys and us Flint guys talk a lot.  Maybe it’s where we’re from, but we talk a lot.  We tell you what we’re going to do before we do it, when there is a guy that is at the helm that operates in that way that speaks to me, and I imagine it speaks to you.  I wonder did you see the beginning of that when he was a kid.  Was he a talker? Was he brash guy even as a kid.  Did you see that part grow in him when he was around you when he was running around?

Rick Leach:  “We sure did and I’m going to give you one story real quick and it is very meaningful to me Sam.  You know my dad has been going through a lot of health issues lately and he played on the first National Championship team in 1953 at the University of Michigan.  So I’ve got a strong and unlimited tie to the University of Michigan and when we were there and when you talked about my relationship with Jimmy, one of the greatest things in my life was when I left Michigan, Jack Harbaugh wrote a letter to my parents and said many good things about what I brought to Jimmy.  Like I said, he’s like a son to me Sam.   This is deeply emotional, I love Michigan through and through with all my heart that never changed.  I’m just happy as people said, for Ann Arbor, for the University of Michigan and for our program that we’ve got this excitement and enthusiasm and a former player, former coach at the highest level in his profession, gave that all up to come back to Michigan.  Like Jon Falk said, I want Jim Hackett and Jim Harbaugh I’m here 100%, use me any way you want, I’ll do anything for you and the university, trust me.”

Sam Webb:  You’re a baseball guy too, I’m going to make this easy for you, I’m going to throw it right down the middle of the plate and I want you to hit it out of the park now.  Should the rest of the Big Ten, Urban Meyer, college football, should they be scared for what’s coming now that Jim Harbaugh is back at Michigan?

Rick Leach:  “I would say that no coach that is at the level of Urban Meyer or Mark Dantonio, they’re not scared of anybody, but I’ve got news for everybody out there.  Jimmy Harbaugh is afraid of nobody.  That’s proven and his history speaks for itself. I like that competitiveness – that fire.  You know what, we’re not going to take a backseat to anybody.  It might take us a while to get there, but I think it’s great for the Big Ten, for college football, the pageantry, the enthusiasm.”

Sam Webb:  Did you ever guarantee any victories when you were playing?

Rick Leach:  “Noooo, no.  You know what Jimmy is a lot feistier in that regard because I was scared that Schembechler would have hit me in the mouth if I did that.  Don’t forget my senior year, they turned the water off on us in Columbus.  Mr. Harbaugh, #4, his name is Jim Harbaugh, Mr. Meyer, we’ll be down.  You’re at our place, but we’ll come back, we’re going to find you brother.”  

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