1 – He loves to gesticulate. As Harbaugh paces the sideline, he inspires his players as he waves his arms, clenches his fist, and occasionally lets his clipboard fly. Roosevelt also favored the closed fist. He waved it during speeches, and pounded it on tables and chair arms.
2 – He models physical confidence, even when streaking. It wasn’t exactly the “naked mile,” the yearly group streak fest in Ann Arbor, but Harbaugh wasn’t afraid of going shirtless in a practice this past summer. With the national media watching, Harbaugh became a beacon for players as they sided up with shirts and skins. As a college student, Roosevelt would dry himself in the buff after rowing on Oyster Bay. When he was in the White House, he would periodically strip down for a swim in the Potomac with colleagues, even among blocks of ice in the river.
3 – He embraces the strenuous life. One of the ways Roosevelt implemented his “strenuous life” was the “point to point” walk, where he would take participants on a hike and go straight to an endpoint, never avoiding an obstacle—be it a mucky pond or a huge boulder. As a second example, Roosevelt began his African safari by riding with his hunting companions on a bench strapped to the cowcatcher of a hurtling train. From what I can tell, Harbaugh’s practices are an adaptation of Roosevelt’s philosophy.
4 – He is dedicated to direct connection. Harbaugh’s style is to connect with his players. He often warms up his quarterback before a game, or teaches his center technique by crawling underneath him in practice. Roosevelt’s life was largely a display of this type of drive to connect with the world, and people, directly. Roosevelt never missed an opportunity to do so, whether it was by taking to the battlefield in Cuba, exploring the unknown wilderness of the Amazon in a dugout canoe, or staging wrestling matches in the White House.
5 – He espouses old-fashioned manhood. Roosevelt’s books and speeches are filled with endorsements of manly virtues. The most quoted is his “Citizenship in a Republic” speech (“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…”). For leaders to broach manhood in public is less common now, but it is surely an element of Harbaugh football. In anticipation of the recent game against Maryland where his Wolverines could need to defeat the opposing team, quiet its crowd, and fend of an impending hurricane, Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press quoted Harbaugh as saying “There’s nothing that can make you feel more like a man than that.”
But will Harbaugh begin to sport a walrus mustache?
(Photographs of Harbaugh are used with thanks to the University of Michigan Athletic Department, and Roosevelt images are from the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard University).