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Signing of the Stars shines spotlight on Michigan football

February 4th, 2016 by Justin Potts


Signing of the Stars(MGoBlue.com)

Dense fog blanketing Interstate-94 from Chicago to Ann Arbor in the wee hours of Wednesday morning provided an apt metaphor for the current state of Michigan football. I knew the destination was ahead, but could only see a few feet at a time. As long as I stayed the course I would get to where I was going, despite the vast unseen in between.

By Wednesday afternoon, a good portion of the fog separating the Michigan program from where it stands now to where it wants to be had been lifted as Jim Harbaugh polished off a top-five recruiting class in style with a star-studded event in Hill Auditorium. The one-of-a-kind Signing of the Stars event was streamed live via The Players’ Tribune, drawing a large audience and making Michigan the talk of the college football world on National Signing Day.

During the two hour event seven early-enrollees were introduced by duos of celebrities, resembling an awards show like the ESPYs or the Oscars. Each player walked up onto the stage to applause from the audience, similar to NFL Draft day. Their highlight reels were then broken down by a panel of experts made up of ESPN analyst Todd McShay, former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz, and former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan.

“That was originally Harbaugh’s idea,” said Matthew Mills, the founder and executive producer of Spacestation, the New York-based production agency that produced the event. “We were told that they wanted something that felt like a combination of NFL Draft day, College GameDay, and an awards show. And I think we delivered that.”

The members of the 2016 recruiting class that were on hand to be celebrated for the night agreed.

Carlo Kemp(MGoBlue.com)

“It felt like NFL Draft day, sitting in your seat and waiting to hear your name called to go say your two lines and stand up there with Coach Harbaugh,” said defensive end Carlo Kemp, who enrolled a month ago. “It was like waiting to get drafted.”

Former Michigan quarterback and current Jacksonville Jaguars running back Denard Robinson, who along with fellow former Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock, was among the day’s presenters, echoed that sentiment.

“It was crazy because during the pre-runs for the whole thing it was kind of funny looking and you’re like ‘how’s this going to set up, how’s it going to be?’ and now you see it and it’s like ‘wow!’ It’s a great idea,” Robinson said. “It’s almost like draft day. You’ve got guys announcing you, you’ve got guys breaking down your highlights, it’s like getting drafted. You come to Michigan for things like this and to get drafted because a lot of people get drafted from this school.”

Per Mills, as Michigan worked to confirm celebrity attendees, who ranged from Tom Brady and Derek Jeter to Josh Gracin and Migos, other celebrities were “coming out of the woodwork” to ask to participate. So much so that Mills and Michigan couldn’t fit them all into the program. Instead, they filmed video montages of Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Robert Patrick, Dick Enberg, Verne Troyer and many more congratulating the recruiting class.

“Usually (coaches) sit by the fax machine and the coach stands up and talks and usually says the same kind of things, so I wanted to do something different, wanted to do something awesome,” Harbaugh said after the event.

SotS(MGoBlue.com)

Although he was traveling across the country, climbing trees, sleeping at recruits’ homes, and attending classes with them, Harbaugh was involved with the planning throughout the process, said Mills.

“He contributed a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We took our cue from him in that regard. He said ‘make this bold and give people something unique’, and I think we gave them that. He was very involved in the process and the creative process. We were giving him briefs about ‘we’d like to do this, we’d like to do that’ and he would say yea or nay or he would amplify something. He was very collaborative and we just had a blast working with him.”

It was a grand spectacle that provided water cooler talk in offices nationwide, some good and some who thought it was over the top. But those who will take notice the most are still in high school and Harbaugh will be battling for their commitments in the years to come.

“Sixteen and 17 year old kids are going to love this,” Kemp said. “I mean, if I knew this was going to happen I probably would have committed even earlier. It’s awesome, it was great. I’m glad to be a part of it and I’ll remember February 3, 2016 for the rest of my life.”

Robinson, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, concurred.

“I think it’s a big deal. It’s going to put us back on the map a little bit. This was a great idea to have guys come out like this. We’ve had so many celebrities come out, actually announcing these guys, so it’s big. I mean as an 18-year old you’ve got Derek Jeter announcing you, Tom Brady announcing you, Ric Flair, Desmond Howard. They get to announce you when you’re 18 years old. It means everything and coming to Michigan is going to be a great opportunity.”

But in addition to celebrating a top five recruiting class, the purpose of the event was to raise awareness and money for pediatric cancer, an issue that has gripped the Michigan family since last year. Chad Carr, the grandson of former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr passed away on Nov. 23 after a battle with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Giloma (DIPG).

Harbaugh-Chad Carr

While Harbaugh’s recruiting tactics have drawn criticism from rival coaches, players, and fans, there was no more telling moment than shortly after 1pm. As the nation’s consensus top recruit, Rashan Gary, whom Harbaugh and his staff had been courting for over a year, was announcing his commitment to Michigan over Clemson live on ESPNU, Harbaugh wasn’t glued to a television set or a smartphone. He wasn’t backstage working the phones. He wasn’t eagerly awaiting a text message or a call or a tweet.

No, he was standing on stage, flanked by his wife Sarah to his right and Tammi Carr to his left. He was telling the 3,500 fans in attendance and the rest of the country watching the live stream the importance of a five year old kid, urging them to visit ChadToug.org and donate to help fund research that may someday save other kids like Chad who suffer from DIPG.

Word of Gary’s commitment spread through the Hill Auditorium crowd as they wiped their damp eyes — a poignant reminder of what matters most.

  • 9blackdog

    I’m shocked! Michigan used to mean “Class”. Where are we heading? Ohio State used to be classless. Unfortunately Jim has brought a clownish and creepy environment surrounding his recruiting eforts. I hope in the short term, Parents and recruits wil not get insulted intellectually by thinking that they can be influenced by this type of tactics. The reputation academically used to be the attraction. Let’s see if a black recruit realizes that jim probably will not stay over nigjt in the hood or some kid who’s career does not go according to plan and cries foul play in regards to the recruitment methods like staying overnight in his room.

  • maizeandgoblue

    Oh wow, where to start? You do realize that the majority of the kids Harbaugh signed in this class excel academically, and are very well spoken, right? Lou Holtz and Mike Shanahan kept talking about that at the event on Wednesday. Ahmir Mitchell said that the academics at Michigan are what drew him to Michigan the most. Other players echoed that.

    The thing a lot of people don’t realize is that the “antics” you refer to aren’t antics. They are Jim Harbaugh. They are his personality. They are his creativity, his competitiveness. It’s what draws kids (and their parents) to him. Consider this quote from Carlo Kemp on Wednesday:

    “I’ve never met anyone like Coach Harbaugh. The greatest thing about Coach Harbaugh is he’s not what you see in the media. He’s a human. He’s a guy that likes to coach you up, joke with you, and if he has to climb a tree he will. He’ll do whatever it takes to satisfy your needs. What sold me is I wanted to go to a coach who if I need something, if I’m not doing well, I can go to him and feel comfortable that his door will be wide open for me to come ask that question.”

    Other commits said the same thing.

    Clownish and creepy? On the surface from an outsider or a rival, maybe. But not to the kids and their parents. Harbaugh said on Wednesday (and again today on ESPN) that if he’s recruiting a kid to come play for him he wants to know that kid’s family. He has one visit with a recruit, so why not make the most of it – have breakfast with the family, go to school with the kid and meet his teachers and counselors, meet his brothers and sisters, grandma and grandpa, etc. Because over the next 3-4 years there will be times when the parents may need to call Coach or he needs to call them, and that will be easier if there’s already a familiarity or a relationship there. As a coach of 18, 19, 20 year old kids he’s a mentor, helping them grow in the first time in their life they’re away from mom and dad. So to want to get to know the family, to me, is 100% class. It’s not like he’s climbing up a ladder and sneaking through the kid’s window late at night while mom and dad are asleep.

    Would he do the same in the hood? Who knows, but it’s a straw man argument at this point. For the most part he’s recruiting players who have strong family support, who excel academically, who don’t get into trouble. Because that’s what he wants his team to model while also competing for championships. He only did a few sleepovers, but not with every “white” or “wealthy” recruit. Devin Bush talked about how Harbaugh played spades with his family for over four hours. Other recruits have similar stories. it’s about spending time with the kid, with his family, and connecting. We’re used to Hoke, but that got us 5, 6, 7 losses a year. Sure, Harbaugh is pushing the limits a little bit, but as long as he’s not handing out stacks of cash, etc it’s the new reality we all need to adjust to.

  • 9blackdog

    That all sounds great and I appreciate the positive feedback. I guess you can view it in a couple of ways. Some may think he is acting like Goober in Mayberry and has no sense of what cans of worms he possibly can open. This isn’t the 1950’s. All it takes is one disgruntled kid and all hell will break loose. Others have stated that most adults would not allow themselves to be caught up in any type of compromising situations that can derive from sleep overs and getting too close to student’s familiy members. Jim has the reputation of being an odd ball and not particularly like by his peers. I’m surprise the university has not told him to tone it down.Oh well, maybe times have changed.