ANN ARBOR, Mich. — By most accounts, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is a football genius. A savant of the gridiron. A master of smash-mouth.
A Super Bowl appearance and three straight NFC title game bids with the San Francisco 49ers; an Orange Bowl win at Stanford, not to mention a Heisman winner in quarterback Andrew Luck — those are major resume points.
In 2015, Harbaugh turned a previously 5-7 Michigan team into a 10-3 Citrus Bowl champion and 2016 national contender.
The guy knows what he’s doing. He can coach.
He gets results relatively early.
Yet, even an efficient pro’s pro needs assistance from time to time: Enter Biff Poggi, the father of Wolverines fullback Henry Poggi and expert problem-solver and tactician, a man with more than 30 years of coaching experience.
Prior to moving west to Ann Arbor, he had coached at The Gilman School in Baltimore for 19 years. He knows how to recruit and how to manage talent — just another ace in a stacked deck of coaches at Michigan.
The Wolverines’ new associate head coach has spent most of his time “behind the scenes,” according to tight end Jake Butt, who rooms with Poggi’s son. Players haven’t seen Poggi on-site too often, but he’s steadily reviewing film and fine-tuning Harbaugh’s growing program.
“With the way we think of everybody in our organization, and there’s no ‘little people,’ there’s everybody… everybody has a role, everybody is a professional,” Harbaugh said Monday at the Crisler Center.
“We all have things that we’re good at, you know. And we all have things that we’re ‘medium-good’ at, and then we all have things that we’re ‘not-so-good’ at.”
It’s all about knowing when to seek an extra set of eyes or second opinion. Quality control.
“What makes up the team, is when you can recognize, ‘Hey, I need a little help in this area… I’m really good at this… I’m not so good at this over here,'” Harbaugh continued. “That’s how it all comes together — that everybody does a little and it adds up to a lot. My teams have experienced and found that to be the case on good teams — and even great teams and championship teams.”
That said, Harbaugh won’t be the only one utilizing Poggi’s expertise — Poggi’s there for all to inquire. In the event defensive line coach Greg Mattison — who is also a pro’s pro — needs a lift, Poggi will be there to facilitate. The same goes for offensive coordinator and O-line coach Tim Drevno.
“Football-wise, he’s a line coach at heart… and he has a great love and affection for line play,” Harbaugh said. “Biff is one of those guys… you talk about having strengths, and ‘medium’ strengths, and then things that you’re ‘not-so-good’ at — he’s good at everything. He’s good across the board. He’s been a trusted agent and known friend.”
Back in January, Poggi left Gilman. Back in early August, he made his next move public, per Katherine Dunn of the Baltimore Sun: He was leaving Gilman for Michigan, where, in addition to Henry, his daughter Mellie was enrolled. It may not be a permanent move, though. Poggi has expressed interest in returning to the Baltimore prep scene and reuniting with his former Gilman staff at St. Frances.
For now, however, his knowledge is at Michigan’s disposal — an open book for Harbaugh and Co. to study and retain. It comes with chapters penned by days at Brown, The Citadel and Temple. His true value with the Wolverines remains to be seen — but it’s safe to project a positive interaction.
These chances only come around so often — having a personality such as Poggi. Conversely, the chance to merge with a Goliath-in-the-making while watching your kids attend a prestigious university (and watch your son play) doesn’t exactly present itself every day, either.
Poggi also has a former player in Stephen Spanellis, a frosh O-liner, at Michigan — someone who could greatly develop with Poggi’s familiar influence.
It’s a perfectly-timed union all around.
One that’s all for the better.
“I felt like if I was ever going to do it, this is like the sun, the moon and the stars have lined up and I really am very comfortable with Jim and the coaching staff,” Poggi said, per Dunn.