Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh has generated a tsunami of online attention for saying that his vitamin of choice is USDA Choice. But is that really a good thing for the industry?
Be careful what you wish for.
That’s all I’ve got to say about the buzz that has developed over Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh’s memorable quote on his weekly radio show: “I take a vitamin every day. It’s called a steak.”
No doubt some industry group will be chomping to sign up the volatile ex-quarterback to be the pitchman for a new ad campaign: “Steak. It’s what’s for winners.”
And indeed, in his relatively brief NFL career, Harbaugh racked up an impressive run as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers — his .698 winning percentage puts him right up there with legends such as John Madden, George Allen and St. Vincent Lombardi.
Given the storied legacy of that franchise, people forget that before Harbaugh moved up the peninsula from nearby Stanford University, the Niners had endured eight straight seasons in which the team never logged a winning record. Under Harbaugh, the team made it all the way to the Super Bowl, losing a memorable 34-31 contest to a Baltimore Ravens team coached by his older brother John.
That 2013 season was Jimbo’s high point, however, and his tenure deteriorated rapidly after that, with off-field personnel problems compounded by on-field meltdowns by the head coach that went viral time and again.
His supporters call his sideline antics a “passion for the game.”
Fans of rival teams call it “uncontrolled rage.”
Psychologists would label it as “anger management” issues.
In any case, a head coach who goes ballistic when an official throws a flag for an offside penalty in the second quarter of a home game in the middle of September isn’t exactly building team chemistry.
Of course, the 49ers organization shares part of the blame for Harbaugh’s inglorious exit last year. After all, this is the same franchise that ushered out two-time Super Bowl-winning coach George Seifert for his utter failure to impersonate Bill Walsh. And that was after Seifert posted a 12-4 season!
Do you know what the Buffalo Bills would give for a 12-4 season?
Trust me: I grew up nearby. The city of Buffalo can’t offer anything that would ever tempt the football gods to bargain away a winning season.
A meltdown waiting to happen
But the coach’s San Francisco retreat illustrates the danger of jumping on the Jim “Steak-A-Day” Harbaugh bandwagon. Sooner or later, he’s going to explode on the sidelines, or rip into reporters at a post-game presser in such an over-the-top manner that observers end up being embarrassed for him.
Granted, in just his first season, Harbaugh has managed to turn around a Wolverines football program that had sunk Big Blue fans into the depths of despair from a decade-and-a-half of getting manhandled by the Ohio State and their equally sketchy coach Jim Tressel, who ran up a personal 8-1 record against the Buckeyes’ arch enemy, including a 2002 smackdown on the way to a national championship.
Right now, Harbaugh’s red hot. His team is ranked in the top 20, although critics would point out that Michigan is only fourth in its own conference, and the excitement has definitely returned to the Big House in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoons.
However, the qualifications for successful endorser go beyond merely tossing out a catchy quote. It also requires character.
Now, I’m not suggesting Jim Harbaugh’s a bad guy. By all accounts, he’s always been a straight arrow, both in his personal life and in his choice of a wardrobe that runs the gamut from khakis with pleats to khakis without.
But for those who want to crown Harbaugh as the best thing for the business since boxed beef, one word: beware.
Yes, he loves beef. Yes, he famously told a kid last year that drinking milk could improve his chances of becoming a college quarterback. And yes, he actually said he considers steak to be “a natural steroid.”
Which is exactly my point.
Anyone who links “beef” with “steroids” just ran themselves right out of the audition for “Guy Who Can Be the Face of the Industry.”
Thanks for playing, Jim.
Don’t call us. We’ll call you.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator.