Wherever Jim Harbaugh goes, winning follows. It may have taken a few years, but the King of Khaki turned the Michigan Wolverines into an elite program, winning back-to-back Big Ten titles and College Football Playoff berths.
He also previously saw success at Stanford, where he turned a fledgling program into a national championship contender with Andrew Luck. And sandwiched in between was a terrific stint in the NFL, where he completely turned around the San Francisco 49ers franchise. From 2011-14 under Harbaugh, the 49ers won 44 games and played in a Super Bowl.
It's what one former player calls "burning the grass."
Jim Harbaugh's "Burn the Grass" Strategy, Explained
Harbaugh is a man of integrity. If you're not a man of integrity, either, he clearly doesn't want you on his team. He wants hard workers, the types who give 150% at practice and in the gym. And you know what? He'll get rid of anyone — no matter how talented — who doesn't fit that description.
According to one former 49er, that's exactly what he did. Delanie Walker, who played tight end in San Francisco from 2006-12, said in a recent podcast interview that Harbaugh called this strategy "burning the grass." Why? Because he wanted to "find all the snakes."
Jim Harbaugh showed up in San Francisco and the culture changed over night?
?I?m about to burn the grass because I want to find all the snakes?
— Bussin' With The Boys ? (@BussinWTB) December 14, 2022
"We were in San Francisco partying every night when we were losing. After the game, we'd have a bus waiting for all of us to take us to party. We were terrible because we just partied every night and did what we wanted. It was San Francisco, it was lit, you know what I mean? Then as Jim Harbaugh came in, the first thing he did ... he came, he was like, 'I'm about to burn the grass.' We were all like, 'Damn, what the hell is he talking about?' That was the first meeting, he was like, 'I'm gonna burn the grass.' We're like, 'Burn the grass'? He's like, 'Yeah because I wanna find all the snakes.' And then every day, he was releasing cats. So it was just like, everybody started to change around with Jim," Walker said on the Bussin' With The Boys podcast.
"He was bringing in cats he played (coached) with at Stanford. No names, he just knew that they worked hard, and he was like, 'This is what I want out of everybody.' And them cats that came from Stanford were running hard at practice, going hard. Guys were like, 'OK, hold on — he's letting us know he doesn't care about big names right now. I'll let you go if you don't do your job.'"
The "cats" Walker is referring to were players who had been on the team — if you were initially confused about whether Harbaugh released actual cats into the locker room (as I had thought, because that's totally a Jim Harbaugh thing to do).
It's safe to say Harbaugh's grass-burning technique has worked. From Stanford to San Francisco to Michigan, Harbaugh has proved his worth as a head coach and cemented his legacy. All that's left is to win a national championship.
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