Fellow Michigan Wolverine fans probably recognize this quote about enthusiasm from Jim Harbaugh, the current football coach. It’s the response he gave to a question about how he was going to approach his job. I couldn’t find the reference, but I’m guessing it was an interview or press conference shortly after he was hired in December 2014.
“I’m going to attack the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
At the time, I didn’t think much of it. It’s the kind of grandiose thing that I wanted to hear from a new coach, tempered with the knowledge that he had said the same thing at his earlier coaching stops. Heck, everybody’s enthusiastic when they start a new job. As a fan that had just endured nearly a decade of disappointment, my reaction was, “Meh, just words, I’ll get excited when I see results.”
I did some digging and learned that Jim Harbaugh has lived these words for a lot longer than he’s been a football coach. This ESPN article (sorry, available only to subscribers of ESPN Insider) attributes the words to Jim’s father, Jack. As early as first grade, Jim and his brother John would be driven to school and left with these stern words. “Now go out there and attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
I’m tempted to document their football accomplishments here, but suffice it to say that all three of these Harbaughs are extremely successful coaches. When talking about any of them, players and coaches and team executives consistently use the word “enthusiasm.” Sure, most coaches have enthusiasm, but the Harbaughs seem to have reserved the far end of the spectrum labeled Unknown to Mankind (imagine these last words spoken by UM alumnus James Earl Jones for proper emphasis).
As a student of leadership – and yes, a fan of the Wolverines – I think there’s a lesson here. The way that Jim Harbaugh conducts himself as a coach and a leader sets the tone for the players and staff. His enthusiasm is contagious because he brings it assertively, at a very high level, each and every day. The players have bought into him as their coach and the team has collectively taken on his personality.
How well does a soft trait like enthusiasm translate to success on the field? Michigan just beat Maryland 28-0 for their second consecutive shutout. They are now 4-1 and ranked 18th in the country. Their only loss was a 17-24 grinder in the first game at 5th-ranked Utah. The team has gotten visibly better in each game since then and those are the kind of results fans have longed to see. With roughly the same level of talent that went 5-7 last season under Brady Hoke, ESPN analysts are now projecting a 10-2 season under Jim Harbaugh.
What? Get real! Most of these games haven’t been played yet and even if they had enthusiasm wouldn’t account for 100% of the turnaround. And yet, it is clear the team is playing better and that Jim Harbaugh has brought a new level of enthusiasm. It’s not much of a leap to think those two facts are related.
I’m excited about Michigan football again. Harbaugh’s success makes me want to attack the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. My brand of enthusiasm isn’t the same as Jim Harbaugh’s, of course. Honestly, he seems a little high-strung for my taste. But I can still bring it assertively, at a very high level, each and every day. Go Blue!