It started last week when Harbaugh gave an interview to CBS Sportsline's Dennis Dodd for a feature story on the new Cardinal coach bringing "fresh air" to the Stanford program (which you can read here). At some point, a tangential discussion brought them to the topic of coaching longevity as a key component to success in college football programs. Since his hire, Harbaugh has stated a goal of planting his roots on The Farm and breaking the records of years and wins achieved by previous Stanford coaches.
Then Harbaugh let loose a comment to Dodd that Carroll was near the end of his tenure at USC: "He's only got one more year, though. He'll be there one more year. That's what I've heard. I heard it inside the staff."
That Carroll has and will continue to be courted by the NFL is no secret. Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga flew all the way to Costa Rica in January to interview Carroll. The fact that Harbaugh was willing to project his confidence and privileged information in the public media was surprising and raised a nice little firestorm last week.
Carroll according to the LA Times was "miffed" that the Pac-10's newest head coach would talk about his future. The seven-year Trojans coach fired a cautionary warning shot in return to Harbaugh: "If he's going to make statements like that, he ought to get his information right... And if he has any questions about it, he should call me."
College football coaches seldom engage publicly in verbal jousts these days. That is something of an era largely passed by. Harbaugh apparently is a throwback kind of coach, forged in the fires of Michigan rivalries with Ohio State and Notre Dame.
Or he simply wants to bring swagger back to Stanford, taking a personal (and public) lead for his players and recruits. If Harbaugh played by today's rules, he would have done one or more things expected of a head coach in his position. He might deny that he said anything, or that he was misquoted. Harbaugh could also call Carroll to explain what happened, apologize and smooth things over.
To the contrary, the first-year Cardinal head coach has not backed off. When asked if he called Carroll following the published quotes, Harbaugh retorts, "I don't have any questions about his future."
"I definitely said that," Harbaugh asserts. "I said what I've heard - that he won't be there past next year."
"We bow to no man. We bow to no program here at Stanford University," he adds defiantly.
That's tough talk for a coach rebuilding fresh off a 1-11 season. More so for someone in his first year leading a Division I-A program. But that is the bravado that Harbaugh brings to the job. He isn't aiming to elevate Stanford so that they can finish second to the Pac-10's 500-pound gorilla, even if that is the best case scenario most objective observers could see - with all the stars and planets in alignment. He's gunning for something bigger. He's uttering the words "BCS Championship" in press conferences, to his players and in conversations with recruits.
Harbaugh has yet to coach in a Pac-10 game. Heck, he has yet to conduct a Stanford practice where a football is present. Just three months into the job, he is adapting this situation as an opportunity to throw down the gauntlet. He believes he can change the face of Stanford Football, and that means being unafraid and unapologetic to the sitting chieftain of the conference.
"You say what you think. That's what I thought. That's what I think right now," Harbaugh states matter-of-factly. "But we're not really worried. We bow to nobody or no program. We are Stanford. That's all you need to say about that."
It's hard to believe that this will be the final word Harbaugh needs to say on this issue. But it really is all he needs to say about who he is and what he wants to achieve at Stanford. Now he has to get it done.
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