With Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer sharing a table at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Detroit, all eyes focused toward the left side of the room in hopes of getting a glimpse of how the three coaches would interact in their first public meeting. That it was held in a recruiting battleground all three hope to control, with 1,200 recruiting prospects working out a stone’s throw from where they sat, only added to the mood.
But when the questions started coming – 'Isn’t this weird for you?' – it was olive branches instead of arrows that filled the air.
“I think I speak on behalf of Jim and Mark – maybe I shouldn’t do this – but we don’t even look at it that way,” Meyer said. “We’re doing our jobs, and our jobs are educators and leaders. You have a chance to make an impact on a young guy’s life and you’re going to do that. I don’t look at it as odd at all. I know I get a lot of questions about it, but it’s not odd at all. I’ve been around a lot of great coaches my entire life, and this is no exception.”
Although it was the first public meeting of the three since Harbaugh’s hiring, the Wolverines head coach noted that the trio had actually spent some time together already.
“We met at the Big Ten meetings, and I don’t know what the next time would be, but it’s a pleasure. A privilege. A blessing,” Harbaugh said to laughs.
Rivals on the field, the trio of coaches spent much of the press conference defending each other and the conference they share. When asked about how Harbaugh’s hiring had impacted the conference, Dantonio was effusive in his praise of Harbaugh and his peers.
“The Big Ten conference has the best coaches in America,” he said. “When the opportunity arises to hire someone else, they’re going to hire someone who’s a very, very good football coach. Football’s played at an extremely high level here, and it’s important in the Midwest to so many different people. People understand the value of work in this conference, and they begin a program or end a program with hard work.”
He then turned to Meyer, who added his own defense of the teams and the coaches he'll need to beat this fall.
“The Big Ten conference for some reason was kicked around for a while,” Meyer said. “Whatever was the perception three or four years ago is not the perception anymore. We all have a job to continue to ride that momentum, and hiring quality, quality coaches is a big part of that momentum. I’m proud to represent the Big Ten, and I’m proud to be a part of this incredible momentum in this part of the country.”
Their grouping in the same division, one that also includes Penn State, means that at least one of the coaches will finish no better than third in his own half of the conference. That reality combined with the need to fulfill high expectations will lend itself to brutal competition this season. On a warm June day in Detroit, though, the three rivals were all smiles.