Uncommon Lessons From an Uncommon Coach – Part 1

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Today begins a multi-part series titled Lessons From the Gridiron. Today’s installment, Uncommon Lessons From an Uncommon Coach – Part 1, is a character study of one of the most eccentric and competitive men to every play the game of football, James Joseph Harbaugh. Please check back next week for the continuation of this series.


It initially struck me as an unremarkable tweet:

Harbaugh Tweet

Yet the above image featuring the wise words of University of Michigan Head Football Coach Jim Harbaugh has been the desktop background on my PC for over a year. Every time I consider changing the display, I reconsider, as the message has guided me well – at work, at home, on the run, with this blog, and, of course, in my finances.

If you’ve been reading FinanceSuperhero for a while, you may recall that I strive to live by the question, “What is it time for now?” Though Harbaugh didn’t inspire this question, he is certainly a master of making the most of the present at all times.

Coach Harbaugh undoubtedly has his detractors and critics. He is quite possibly equal parts genius and simpleton, open-book and enigma, competitor and friend.

Despite the apparent string of contradictions, one thing is abundantly clear:

Jim Harbaugh stops at nothing in the pursuit of success.

The Young Milk Boy

At an August 2015 media day, a young boy asked Coach Harbaugh how much milk he would need to drink in order to grow up to be a quarterback. Not surprisingly, Harbaugh offered the boy a bear hug and advised him to “drink as much as your little belly can hold.”

In January 2015 HBO feature and Detroit Free Press article, Harbaugh shared the similar plan that ultimately helped him grow to become a 6-3 quarterback.

I prayed about it a lot – ‘I want to be 6-2, I want to be 6-2. So we started delivering milk everyday [in school] and we got one free milk for delivering all the milk. But every kid that was absent, every kid that was sick, every kid that didn’t show up or didn’t want their milk, that tray would go back to the little milk room and I would just drink as much milk as my belly could hold. I drank a lot of milk. Whole milk. Not the candy-ass 2%. . . I finally got to 6-3.

Without question, Harbaugh possessed relentless intensity and desire to excel even as a grade school milk boy. He grasped at an early age what many never will understand: each moment offers a singular opportunity to grow.

What if more of us treated every dollar with the same care and intensity?

A Unique Drive

From the ages of 10 to 16, Jim Harbaugh lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, while his dad worked as an assistant football coach for the Wolverines. He reportedly still gets his hair cut today at the same barbershop, State Street Barbershop, where he received haircuts back in the 1970s. He knows the streets of Ann Arbor like the back of his hand.

Though Harbaugh is a man of precision and direction, those characteristics do not stop him from pausing to learn important lessons. A Bleacher Report article details the following illustrative story:

As [Harbaugh] explained it, he was on his way to the office when he noticed a traffic light wasn’t working; a cop was standing in the middle of a busy intersection, directing cars this way and that way. The female officer displayed such command of the intersection that Harbaugh pulled over to the side of the road, mesmerized.

For half an hour, Harbaugh sat in his car and studied the scene. He was nearly late for practice because he was so enthralled with the skill and the savvy of the traffic cop. “I like to watch people doing their job at the highest level,” he said. “I really do.”

On the surface, this behavior seems wasteful, at best, and insane at worst. Yet, to Harbaugh, a devoted maximizer, it was an opportunity to learn something new and apply it to his own craft.

What if more of us sought to learn at all times and applied newfound knowledge to become a wiser budgeter, investor, and employee?

Unparalleled Persistence

For a man who was once observed doing push-ups with a walrus at a zoo and maintains a healthy affinity for climbing trees, Jim Harbaugh defies convention at every turn.

Most notably, while others are quick to give up multiple times over, Harbaugh persists.

When the khaki-wearing coach saw the woman of his dreams at a restaurant, he promptly approached her to introduce himself. Says Harbaugh

Sarah was there getting take-out . . . I saw her leaving. I went up to her and asked if I could meet her. She said, “Sure, you can meet me.” I didn’t believe her, at first. I thought it was one of those fake numbers she was giving me.

But I called her. Multiple times. Like, nine times before she returned my call. I could tell she was a winner. All the way.

What if more of us sought to act with even a fraction of the persistence which Harbaugh exhibits on a regular basis?


Say what you will, but Jim Harbaugh has a knack for getting what he wants. He has a profound ability to visualize where he wants to get and enact a plan to get there. And he possesses an uncanny ability to learn extraordinary lessons in the midst of ordinary experiences.

Oh, and he and his wife Sarah recently announced that she is pregnant with their seventh child.

True to form, Harbaugh said he will be “attacking this pregnancy with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”


Do the above stories and themes resonate with you? Are they applicable to your pursuit of financial excellence?

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15 thoughts on “Uncommon Lessons From an Uncommon Coach – Part 1

  1. Love the tie to being a maximizer! “What if more of us sought to learn at all times and applied newfound knowledge to become a wiser budgeter, investor, and employee?” I am really focused on this now. In some professional development this summer, I could have just sat back (since I could have been teaching it) but instead chose “all in”. It’s amazing what you can learn and connect to (on topics you already know) if you make the choice to be present and maximize your efforts. I have an upcoming post on that experience as well! Great read Superhero!

    1. It sounds like you have a better attitude than I do when it comes to PD, Vicki; good for you! I’m trying very hard to be present in the midst of it all this year, but so far it has been mostly tech-driven. I feel a bit like Michael Phelps watching everyone else trying to learn to float for the first time.

      Congrats, again, on the new job. I’m happy that you’ll have an opportunity to return to a school-based setting and make a difference for your staff and students.

    1. I feel the same way, Linda. Harbaugh is one of those rare people that just make you shake your head and feel badly about yourself, haha.

  2. Great post, Hero.

    Harbaugh’s an intense dude…and it works for him. His brother’s been pretty successful too (and maybe somewhat less intense).

    But I get the feeling both practice “unparalleled persistence.” Which is something we can all strive for – and achieve. Thanks for the fun reminder.

    Big 10 title this year?

    1. Both Harbaughs are undoubtedly intense people, that’s certain. I’ll have some more commentary on what I think separates them in Part 2 of this series.

      I think Michigan could conceivably make a run at the national title this year if their QB situation is solidified, FL. They overachieved last year, IMO, and this year has the potential to shock the college football world. I’m not sure how many games I’m going to be able to watch, unfortunately, but I’m going to strive to watch them all!

  3. Great post FS! Coach Harbaugh is absolutely a relentless competitor. I know first hand as his Wolverines just smashed my Florida Gators in the bowl game last season. Hopefully the Gators can get em back in 2017.

    1. That’s my guy, DE. You probably guessed it, but I’m a big Wolverines fan. I still have some small regrets that I didn’t attend Michigan for my undergrad years.

      1. I don’t blame you. I’ve heard great things about the school itself too. As for college football good luck to them this season, except in 2017 for the season opener haha.

  4. I’m not familiar with Coach Harbaugh down here in Australia but I do recognise the story of an inspirational guy when I hear it. Nice post FSH. It’s great to hear how people like the coach give inspiration to others, like yourself, to strive and reach their goals. I’ll be tuning in for part 2 next week.

  5. I love any person who is great in their own field appreciating greatness in other fields. It’s partially why I love the Olympics. The height of human physical achievement as she throws that shotput. I don’t ask why she throws that heavy weight. I just sit in wonder and awe of what she can do.

    1. He’s a fiery guy who has a tendency to wear out his welcome, but I, too, was shocked to see the Niners let him go. I guess your loss is our gain. 🙂

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