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Michigan running backs coach Jay Harbaugh opens up about his transition away from tight ends ahead of spring football practice.

Michigan running backs coach Jay Harbaugh opens up about his transition away from tight ends ahead of spring football practice.

Interview by Sam Webb

Story by Kyle Bogenschutz

Michigan's coaching staff once again went through a little bit of shuffling this off-season.

With Tyrone Wheatley headed back to the NFL as the running backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, that meant Jim Harbaugh had a decision to make.

Instead of hiring from the outside, Harbaugh called on his own son Jay, the Wolverines tight ends coach each of the last two seasons, to immediately take over Wheatley's duties.

“No it was instant," Jay Harbaugh said. "I was excited. I think it was 11:30 at night. I remember I was on the road recruiting in Houston and I had just been in three states that day and it was a long day and he called me and let me know. 

"I don’t know, I was excited. It is a nice new opportunity and new challenge. It is a great group of guys to work with. I was fired up.” 

Harbaugh isn't one to call the transition from tight ends to running backs a challenge, more so just a changing of vantage point.

Instead of looking at ways to improve and integrate at one position, looking at the offense, protections and the scheme from the backfield  is all it takes. 

Stepping into a new room doesn't feel all that different to Harbaugh at this stage as the Wolverines get set for spring football practice.  

"It is always a team effort, so there is that familiarity," Harbaugh said. "I don’t know man, coaching is coaching.

"You’re just trying to help players make plays and that is what they want and expect and that’s how you earn their respect in term.  It is not all that complicated I guess.” 

Juggling snaps and carries, while also managing egos, at the running back position can be a challenge at times.

Deciding whether or not to go with more of a running back by committee approach, a situational approach, or simply looking to find that lead back remains a question Harbaugh will ponder leading up to fall camp.

“It is way too early to tell at this point," he said. "We’ve got a lot of football left before we go down to Dallas for that first game.  We’ll see who emerges and what’s peoples strengths and weaknesses are and it is all about putting those guys in a position to make plays.  

"If that means that one guy gets 70% of it, then so be it.  If it means, hey this guy runs more of these types of players, this guy runs these and so on, I’m open to that too.  At the end of the day, we’ve got to get first down and makes plays, so we’re flexible.  It is just too early to determine really who is going to do what for us.” 

Yet to get on the field with the running backs, Harbaugh will have plenty of time to decide what the main areas of focus will be in practice and in games.

In the here and now though, the fundamentals of football remain the same at all positions on offense, including running back.

"The most important thing is take care of the football and protect the quarterback in that order," Harbaugh said. "After those two things, you want to make sure that you can get a little more than what is there.  

"If there is five yards, let’s try and get six, let’s get seven occasionally, get 50.  That’s what important to us as a group and no matter where you go or what the scheme is, it is always emphasizes those things and that’s always a challenge.  If you can do those things, you’re going to be pretty darn good.”

Stay tuned to The Michigan Insider for Harbaugh's breakdown of each of his running backs. To hear his commentary on his transition to running backs coach in its entirety, press play below.


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