It’s not something the Harbaugh family experiences often — if either Ravens coach John Harbaugh or Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh attends the other’s game, whoever is working that day is usually inaccessible, down on the sidelines running things. But Saturday, they got to sit side-by-side as they snacked and watched the Wolverines take on the Maryland Terrapins.
Some of the reasons their schedules could align: Michigan’s game against Maryland fell on a week the Ravens had a home game. John Harbaugh’s Ravens, meanwhile, played their game on Thursday instead of the usual Sunday, giving John more free time through the weekend. And Jim Harbaugh is currently serving a three-game suspension from the Big Ten Conference over an alleged sign-stealing scheme, meaning that instead of roaming the sidelines, he could go to John’s house.
“It was fun,” John said with a laugh during his Monday press conference. “I mean, I enjoyed it — it’s my brother. [But] I think he would have rather been on the sideline, I have a pretty good feeling.”
The investigation was opened when a low-level Michigan staffer, Connor Stalions, was caught purchasing tickets to games played by future opponents so that people could attend and record the other teams’ signals. According to the Big Ten, this violates the conference’s sportsmanship policy because it was “an impermissible, in-person scouting operation over multiple years” that resulted in “an unfair competitive advantage that compromised the integrity of competition.” The NCAA does not have a ban against sign-stealing, but it does have rules against in-person scouting and the use of technology to scout.
The program’s alleged transgressions go back as far as three seasons, though Jim hasn’t yet been implicated as part of the sign-stealing process or the in-person scouting. Under the terms of the suspension, Jim is able to lead practices leading up to games.
The NCAA investigation is ongoing.
While John enjoyed the rare experience of watching a game with his brother, he does not agree with the circumstances. He previously expressed how proud he is of Jim for his handling of the investigation. Although he joked around on Monday, John made sure to reiterate his stance.
“I think it’s incredibly unfair, what’s going on,” John said. “That’s how I feel about it. I think he’s handled it at the highest level. In that situation, you have no power, you have no say in any of it. You just do what they tell you to do. That’s what you have to do. And the facts aren’t all understood or out. Certainly, the quote-unquote investigation is not complete, not even close.”
John also credited the Michigan players and coaching staff for overcoming the adversity of playing without their head coach on the sidelines. As a former quarterback and quarterbacks coach, Jim is very involved with the offensive play calling and has a voice in most parts of the game, so John said it was “a big, tough, challenging thing” for them to play without Jim.
Michigan came through the first game of the ban with flying colors, handily beating then-No. 10 Penn State 24-15. On Saturday, with Jim watching from John’s couch, Michigan took an early lead against Maryland but almost gave it back.
Although the Wolverines went up 23-3, Maryland’s defense clamped down and the Terps stormed back to give themselves three chances in the fourth quarter to take the lead, but they failed to execute. Then-No. 2. Michigan was able to sneak out of College Park with a seven-point victory over still-unranked Maryland. The Wolverines fell one spot in the AP Top-25 rankings after the win.
“Tough game, great win for Michigan,” John said before shouting out the local university. “Kudos to Maryland. They played a great ball game.”
In the midst of the suspension, Jim made the best of the circumstances. He and his wife, Sarah, went over to John and Ingrid’s house. They ate snacks and sandwiches ― not carryout, John was sure to note. “We make our own sandwiches. Most of the time.”
Jim had his play sheet and his call sheet in front of him, giving John some insight into how his brother thinks through the game in real time. The two of them talked ball. And they got to spend time with family leading up to the week of Thanksgiving, a holiday week in which John will be busy in Maryland preparing to take his team to Los Angeles to face the Chargers and Jim will be back in Michigan preparing his team to face their rivals, the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes, without him.