Jim Harbaugh's Blueprint

PALO ALTO CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Stanford Cardinal shouts instructions to his team during their game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Stanford Stadium on September 18 2010 in Palo Alto California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Tavita Pritchard ran off the sideline and hopped and almost skipped his way across the field, a huge smile on his face and his eyes wide.

Six years after he beat USC for the first time, he had beaten them again.

Back then, he was a junior who authored the most absurd upset in college football history. This time, he wore a black, short-sleeved, dri-fit pullover and a hat - the official uniform for a coach.

In just six years, Pritchard's team has gone from a downtrodden, absurdly awful football team to one with a BCS bowl trophy and a four-game win streak over USC - an unprecedented rise that has made schools and coaches all over college football scratch their heads.

"How did they do that?"

Now, those coaches are starting to catch on.

How should a team try and duplicate Stanford's rise to success and continued excellence? By imitating the man who directed Pritchard's first win over USC six years ago: Jim Harbaugh.

It's amusing to ask any Stanford football player about Harbaugh. All of the descriptions follow one, and only one, formula.

The "X" part of the formula is this: "He's a great football coach." The "Y" part of the formula is this: "He's the biggest asshole I've ever met." Sometimes the sentence goes X+Y, sometimes the sentence goes Y+X, but it always looks fundamentally the same.

Fair and foul descriptions aside, Harbaugh left a blueprint for down-on-their-luck football programs to follow, and coaches across the country are now trying to replicate Harbaugh's blend of bravado, football knowledge and pure animal magnetism.

Call it "Harbaughization" - the everyman's approach to "Sabanization."

Take James Franklin. Franklin, the head coach at Vanderbilt, took over a program in 2010 that was quite similar to the one Harbaugh inherited on the Farm six years ago. Vandy, a small private school with high academic standards, was mired deep at the bottom of their conference after a 2-10 record.

But Franklin stepped in and quickly made the Commodores relevant for the first time in a long time, taking them to the Liberty Bowl last season.

Take Willie Taggart. The Western Kentucky head coach has made headlines lately for calling out students on his own campus, but he's done an excellent job with the Hilltoppers in his three years there. In 2011, the Toppers went 7-1 to finish out the season, losing only to LSU. In 2012, they're expected to contend for the Sun Belt title. They even defeated an SEC team last week (okay, it was Kentucky, but still).

Taggart's last job was on the Farm, where he saw Stanford's transformation firsthand - he was Harbaugh's running backs coach.

Both Franklin and Taggart have tried to bring their programs to relevance by imitating the man who did it at both the NFL and college levels in the six years.

For Taggart, that starts with borrowing Harbaugh's offensive philosophy. At Western Kentucky, the offense relies heavily on fullbacks and tight ends to boost a power run game and led the nation in time of possession in 2011. Sound familiar? It should. Stanford led the nation in time of possession in 2010.

But the more important element that Harbaugh's imitators are trying to borrow is his attitude.

Perhaps the best way to describe it is to use a phrase from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross - "Always be closing."

That's the way it is in today's college football world. First prize is a Cadillac, bowl wins and big contracts. Second prize is the Little Caesar's bowl. Third prize is, well, you're fired.

That means coaches have to do everything they can to sell recruits on their program and get them in the door.

Just look at Harbaugh's now-dormant Twitter account and compare it to Franklin's. Franklin's pitch to recruits today is the exact same as Harbaugh's pitch to recruits in 2007 and 2008.

Come build a tradition, don't rent one somewhere else. The decision you're making is for 40 years, not four. This school has the same commitment to excellence in academics and athletics. Franklin even occasionally uses the #RevengeOfTheNerds phrase that is so often affixed to Stanford athletes' tweets.

Just like in sales, the coaches initially have to be patient. It doesn't matter if you don't manage to get all the recruits that you want right away. Players will turn you down, but when their names crawl across the ESPN bottom line, your school will be close to their name. Eventually, enough recruits see "Stanford" on other kids' lists and they wonder what exactly they're selling out in California. Then your job becomes easier. Then your school will be right next to players' names on the ESPN crawl.

That's how David Shaw brought in the best recruiting class in Stanford history last year. That's how Franklin signed the best recruiting class in Vanderbilt history this spring. That's how Taggart has signed the best recruiting class in the Sun Belt two years in a row.

But that's not where it ends. Once the coaches get the players in the door, there's one more trick in the Harbaugh book: Convince the players they're blue-collar badasses. Mold them into mean sons of bitches. Of course, that means you can't be afraid of anybody - not even the number one team in the nation.

Before taking on Alabama two weeks ago, Taggart told a radio host he wasn't about to just lay down and let the Tide roll over his team.

All the way back on Monday, when Taggart was just starting his PR efforts, he cut off a sports talk radio host from Nashville as his interview segment was ending. The final statement sounded a little too much like condolences for Taggart's liking.

"Y'all sound down on the Hilltoppers! We're gonna be just fine. The Toppers bow to no man and no program!" he concluded.

Sound familiar?

He's just following the blueprint - the blueprint that Pritchard might follow when he's a head coach somewhere someday. The blueprint that comes with a black sweatshirt, khaki pants, and an ABC attitude.

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