Sam Webb

Helping Jim Harbaugh execute his vast array of ideas is J.T. Rogan's specialty.

Director of Communications & Operations for the Head Football Coach is J.T. Rogan's official title, but Jim Harbaugh's right-hand man is definitely an apt and more succinct description. The Michigan Insider went one-on-one with Rogan to learn more about his longstanding relationship with his boss, how they get so much done, the upcoming trip to Rome, and more.

Sam Webb:  It’s great to have someone who speaks Jim; it is a language. You speak Jim.  Before we get into the unique relationship that you guys have here now and the way you can understand his needs, take me back to the beginning of your relationship with Jim Harbaugh.  Take me through that whole experience.

J.T. Rogan:  “Let me first clarify, I speak Coach Harbaugh.  I don’t speak Jim. (Laughter).  It goes back all the way to 2004.  We both lived in Coronado, California, just outside downtown San Diego.  It is a beautiful island there.  I played high school football there.  I was a pretty good running back at Coronado High School and everybody in Coronado were telling Coach Harbaugh, ‘hey, you got to take a look at this J.T. guy. ‘ Okay, alright, low level of football, not very good.  I was one of the leading rushers in San Diego County that year behind Arian Foster out of Mission Bay High School.  Everyone was wearing him out, you got to take him out and you’ve got to bring him the University of San Diego.  You’re the newly hired head coach there and he basically had to tell people, ‘this guy is not very good and he is not going to be a college football player… 5-9, 160 pounds are a dime a dozen.’  I run into him the night prior to training camp starting at USD.  I’m like, ‘Coach, I’m going to USD, when can I come to camp.  There are 110 guys, non-scholarship players that are at camp and I’m not one of them.’  Thankfully, a couple of days in there is attrition, you lose a guy or two and so finally he invites me to camp.  I end up being a back up my first year, starting for him the following two years.  He ended up leaving and going to Stanford, but I ended up being the all time leading rusher at the University of San Diego and then coached with him at Stanford in 2010.  I tried out with him at the 49ers in 2012 as a punt returner, kick returner, running back.  Then he called me on August 6th or 7th and said he couldn’t imagine anyone better for the job to work with him at Michigan and so I’m thrilled and enthused to be here and I had no idea what big time football was.  I thought USC-UCLA was a rivalry and that was big time football because that’s all I knew down in Southern California, but this is something else.  I love it!”

Sam Webb:  My impression of Coach Harbaugh, he is an idea guy.  Idea guys have ideas, you’ve got to have people around you that can roll with those ‘idea’ punches, because they sometimes come in a flurry.  You have experience with that.  You’ve dealt with that before and to me that is one of the things that makes the relationship between you two works so well because that doesn’t seem to fluster you at all.  All the ideas… ‘I want to do this and want to do that,’ you just roll right with it.  Have you always been able to do it or is that something you’ve learned over time with Jim?

J.T. Rogan:  “It’s been an evolution.  He has evolved as a coach and I’ve evolved as a player into a coach and a person now in more of administrative role.  You are what he needs, so you help facilitate the ideas.  You help put them to action, you help to improve them, you help modify them or you just compliment their brilliance.  There are so many different ways to help him because he is moving a mile a minute.  He wants to reduce drag, be the best.  You want to talk about leaders and best, some people at Michigan say it – he lives it, breathes it, sleeps it, eats it.  He said to our team, he observes no major holidays, he takes no days off, he takes no vacation and that would be good for everyone else to do the same thing (laughter).  That’s my schedule.  People ask me, what do you do? What is your work life like?  It is like supporting the head coach would need to be in order for this thing to go well.”

Sam Webb:  I think that sums it up very well.  As you guys look at your off-season endeavors, like going to Rome.  That strikes me as, alright I want to go to Rome and then you and Biff and now you guys got to go execute that.  Is that kind of the way it breaks down for you?

J.T. Rogan:  “He micromanages some things and so the daily practice plan is to the minute, to the rep.  He plans that all out in painstaking detail.  Rome, same thing, he took the lead on that and he wanted to know, so he tasked people with putting this stuff in place, but there was comparisons between different opportunities, who could do what and who could do it at the highest level.  So when you talk about all the various elements of Rome and all the various elements of things that really peak his interest.  Why are you going to one coaching clinic and not another?  Why are you going to do this and not that?  There is a method to it and you try and help support that and be a support system for one of the highest functioning individuals on the planet.”

Sam Webb:  Have you seen him do anything that has surprised you?  Were you surprised when he broke out dancing, doing an Usher imitation?  Have you seen anything like, wow I can’t believe that coach did that?

J.T. Rogan:  “There have been a couple of things that really surprised me and people would never get it.  It is not the outrageous or outlandish stuff.  It is the fact that there are people that are having trouble helping themselves and he goes to the ends of the earth to try and help them.  People don’t understand how compassionate he is and how sincerely he takes it in wanting to help others in the program.  People who have done any measure of good here, he will really give recommendations, give support, try and help when appropriate and it is that that has really surprised me the most.  I knew he had a big heart, but seeing it on a daily basis from behind the curtain and behind the scenes and being able to facilitate all those different opportunities, it is really something remarkable and something that the media typically doesn’t capture and people wouldn’t know unless they saw these slivers.  Like on the Summer Swarm tour last year, people would see us and he impacted the lives of so many different student athletes and parents and communities and the NCAA has their spin on it and Pete Finebaum has…see what I did there (laughter).”

Sam Webb:  I did.  (Laughter).

J.T. Rogan:  “He has got his look on it, but when you talk about the good that it did the game of football and the good it did for the program and the university as a whole, it can’t be measured and people typically just don’t see that.  That’s the surprising part for me with Coach Harbaugh.”

Sam Webb:  I call you Coach Harbaugh’s right-hand man.  What is the appropriate title?

J.T. Rogan:  “The Director of Operations and Communication for the head football coach of the University of Michigan.  Can you get a longer title.” 

Sam Webb:  Translation, Coach Harbaugh’s right hand man.

J.T. Rogan:  “Much easier that way.  I saw Swiss army knife, Jim Brandstatter says Coach Harbaugh’s ‘Man Friday’, which is an adage that refers to a TV show way before my time.

Sam Webb:  Mine too.

J.T. Rogan:  “Typically, he does that in his own charming way, Jim Brandstatter. I just love being able to help a friend, that’s really what it is.  Right hand man, but I get to work every day with him.  We’re getting to the point where we laugh and laugh a lot over innocuous, inane things, over funny complex things.  It is really a great opportunity for me and I’m so thrilled to be here at Michigan.  I’ve been here seven months.  People have warned me about the winter, winter has come and gone.  The weather has been beautiful.  I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and nobody can tell me otherwise.”

Sam Webb:  People have an impression of Jim and you can lend some clarity to those impressions.  One of them is that all of these things that captured the imagination and gains so much attention nationally that he does from the Summer Swarm tour to getting on go-carts on visits, climbing trees or whatever.  They think it is all this contrived thing to get attention.  My take on that is when people ask me, this is more extemporaneous than you think, this is more him just being him.  A very unpretentious guy.  There is no pretense about Jim Harbaugh.  Can you separate fact from fiction, how much of what people see on recruiting visits as far as camps and whatnot; how much of it is attention grabbing and how much is Coach Harbaugh being Coach Harbaugh?

J.T. Rogan:  “Sam let’s call you Coach Harbaugh for now.  Do you like climbing trees, yes or no?  Not really?”

Sam Webb:  Not really.

J.T. Rogan:  “Could you imagine there are a faction of people who grew up climbing trees and liked climbing trees?”

Sam Webb:  Sure.

J.T. Rogan:  “Do you like driving go-carts?”

Sam Webb:  I do.

J.T. Rogan:  “Do you like spreading the game of football and talking to people about football and espousing the greatness of Michigan football?”

Sam Webb:  I absolutely do.

J.T. Rogan:  “Do you have a couple of habits or tendencies that are a little off kilter, but things that you enjoy doing?”

Sam Webb:  It’s true, I do (laughter).

J.T. Rogan:  “I went to a prosciutto tasting at Zingerman’s on Monday night.  I’m a little off too (laughter).  I’ve got some things that people would say, well that’s a little different right.  If you could just think that these celebrities or head coaches are allowed to have their own personalities and they might have some things that make them a little bit different and you can accept that instead of trying to seek and judge and try to take exception to.  If you could just understand that there was no gimmick or shenanigan there and he is just a regular guy, maybe if you just change your lens and perspective on it a little bit, you might be able to come to terms with the fact that there is no pretense like you’re saying.  It is just very matter of fact and what you see is what you get.”

Sam Webb:  We talk about all these things that we’ve seen him do… I’m curious before when you were a player or worked with him at Stanford, are there any things that you can recall that really just jumped out at you?  They talked about him wearing his cleats when they were in Utah, his cleats to a Mormon church, things like that.  Do you have any stories like that on Coach Harbaugh?

J.T. Rogan:  “I’m telling the Jordan people.  He wears his cleats to get on the plane, it stays on the plane and you’re talking about it is raining, it is slick surfaces, your climbing the stairs to get on the plane, no regard for that.  He wears them in the hotel room and wears them everywhere.  Those are his shoes.  Something like that, when I came to get recruited, I stopped by his office at University of San Diego, 2004, hey coach, J.T. Rogan from Coronado High, 5’9”, 160 and he starts squeezing my lats, my traps, my biceps, my shoulders and looking at me.  ‘5-9, 160 huh?’ And wanted to see and feel for himself (Laughter).  Just unconventional.  He decided one day he wanted to do 100 pushups at practice.  So he said he was going to do one pushup more each day than the day before and eventually he did 110 at practice.  The things that he does that make him different also make him so captivating and it is all motivated by either his conscience or his father or his competitiveness and it is like A Beautiful Mind.  It is like Russell Crowe, you might not understand it, but boy is it something to behold.”

Sam Webb:  One thing that everyone is coming to understand, if you take a shot at him, there is only so much he is going to let pass before he shoots one right back. 

J.T. Rogan:  “To go back to the Paul Finebaum question, he wanted to know exactly what was taking place.  Does he need to defend his good name?  You’re not going to have to go bad on Nicki Minaj unless you really feel like you’re being attacked (laughter).  If you’re going to go pop culture on it.”

Sam Webb:  A Remy Ma reference in an interview.  I’ve got to give you some credit for that!  

J.T. Rogan:  “Thank you.  So coach (said) what is being said to me about by Paul Finebaum and Paul Finebaum called Coach Harbaugh a cheater.  If somebody calls you a cheater and it is talking about something near and dear to you, your family, your faith, your program, at some point if that is the message that is being out there, you have to come back to it.  There is nothing you can do.  This isn’t the first time.  He said Michigan fans, I don’t remember what he said exactly, but he said they were silly and childish and they are immature.  He had been driving that narrative for a while and maybe that is his brand or maybe he actually believes it.  I don’t know Paul Finebaum well enough to speak on that, but when you attack somebody and you stoke that fire, there is a measure of accountability that people need to have and so every now and then coach has to defend his good name and that’s what happened in that incident.”

Sam Webb:  It wasn’t the first time.  I don’t know what it is or how many times people have to see him take a shot back before they realize, if you do that, there will be an answer.  He doesn’t start any of this.  That’s been my impression, my observation.  None of these back and forth sort of incidents that we’ve witnessed, he hasn’t started any of them.  They’ve all been responses.

J.T. Rogan:  “There are some things that haven’t been responded to.  The way that he ended up ceasing to work for the 49ers, there is no real closure to that.  Sometimes these things work themselves out by themselves.”

Sam Webb:  You’re on fire J.T., you know that right? (Laughter)

J.T. Rogan:  “Thank you.  Michigan State, I saw before the season last year, those who stayed were champions.  They went ahead and took an adage from the University of Michigan and put it out there for public consumption and some times Sam, these things come…they resolve themselves like I said earlier.  Not every time, because if he went after every attacker, it would be a very long day and he wouldn’t get anything done.  Again, sometimes letting sleeping dogs lie and things resolve themselves.”

Sam Webb:  Oliver Martin visits Jim Harbaugh and Pep and they jump in a pool and I didn’t ask Pep about this and something just off the cuff and really put a stamp on the moment.  I’m curious, you guys are going to visit a lot of places in Rome, are their any special things that Coach Harbaugh is going to in Rome?  Is he going to go to the Coliseum, is he going to have a shield and a sword in the middle of the Coliseum, are there any things that you guys have in store when you make it over?

J.T. Rogan:  “With how impromptu he is and how naturally inquisitive that he is, there will be moments like that for sure.  I don’t know how many outlets or who will be covering it, but there will be lots of opportunities and all I can tell you, because I don’t know what is out there and what is not and what they want me to say and what they do not want me to say.  When you talk about the most special elements of Rome and the things that are the most sacred, those are going to be things that ideally and hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to be a part of and interact with and really give to our players and coach has said that he wants to put student back in student-athletes.  He wants there to be a learning component.  The first four days we’re there, no practice.  It is going to be all experiential and there is going to be opera and cooking classes and so much more.”

Sam Webb:  Cooking classes?

J.T. Rogan:  “Yeah right.  Hey, you’re in Italy.  There is so much stuff and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Sam Webb:  He can only cook chicken fingers.  Didn’t he do that for Fairlife commercial Chicken fingers or fish sticks?

J.T. Rogan:  “Yeah fish sticks in the microwave.  You didn’t get fish sticks right the first time.”

Sam Webb:  I didn’t (Laughter). I had chicken on the mind.  Fish sticks.

J.T. Rogan:  “There is so much awesome stuff that is taking place over there and players will really be better off for it, because when you travel, the world then becomes your oyster and it really opens your mind.  I’ve had the benefit to travel a little bit and it has been great and I’m excited to go on the trip and for our players to have that too.”

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