It was hard knocks meets Hollywood.
It was football grit bathed in California dreaming.
It was perfect, is what it was, a Chargers victory march streaking across a cold February drizzle like a startling fresh rainbow.
Jim Harbaugh showed up Thursday at Inglewood’s YouTube Theatre for his official introduction as the new Chargers head coach, and the dynamics of professional football in Southern California might never be the same.
Make room, Rams. Company’s coming, and he’s bringing the bolt.
“We’re going to earn our winning,” said Harbaugh, staring intently through his wire-rimmed glasses while standing firmly on stage during a 45-minute press conference amid several hundred media and team officials. “Tough team, resilient team, relentless team, physical team…don’t let the powder blues fool you.”
Don’t let the name fool you, either.
These are not your father’s Chargers. This is no longer an organization that lives on the cheap and operates on the fly. The Chargers are now a serious business, the Spanos family having just spent a ton of money to hire one of the sport’s most seriously gifted coaches; a quirky but unquestionable leader who spent Thursday in an oversize suit and fitted humility delivering what was essentially an $80-million pep talk.
“We want to win, we want to win the right way, we want to treat people in a first-class way,” Harbaugh said. “And attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
When owner Dean Spanos was talking to Harbaugh before his flight from Michigan for the presser, Spanos warned him, “You’re bringing a storm with you. It’s supposed to rain all Thursday.”
According to Spanos, Harbaugh replied, “Dean, we are the storm.”
Harbaugh indeed arrived as a mixture of thunder and lightning, both charming and disarming Thursday’s crowd with a mesh of motivation and eccentricity all soaked in old-school pigskin talk.
One moment he was barking like Vince Lombardi and promising the moon.
“One thing I know is Los Angeles, Southern California, they respect talent, effort and winning,” he said. “It needs to be multiple. Multiple championships. We’re going to be humble and hungry, but that’s our goal. That’s our goal, is to treat people in a first-class manner to win multiple championships.”
Multiple championships? Multiple?
But then, the next moment, he climbed down from the soap box and said he was actually inspired by a mantra coined by his young daughter, one of his seven children.
“Have to quote Katie, my daughter, Katie Harbaugh, because she came up with one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard — ‘Work together. Win together.’” he said. “The operating word there is together. Everything that we’re going to do is going to be done as a team. Collaborative. Anything and everything that I can do as a coach for our players — it’s about them. Those helpful warriors. Those mighty men. So that they can be successful.”
Those helpful warriors. Those mighty men. Have the Chargers ever been described like that? Has any football team ever been described like that?
When I asked Hargbaugh how he could change the Chargers’ frustrating culture, he said, “The team, the team, the team. It’s got to be a team effort, there won’t be any magic formulas, the only ones I know are hard work and teamwork.”
Yet, he said when it came to making initial changes , he was going solo … as in, he was going shopping for a wet/dry vacuum cleaner.
“The weight room, we’re getting it cleaned up right now, getting it all set, we had a great day just yesterday. I mean, talk about fulfillment, going in there to Home Depot and getting the Shop Vac,” he said. “Let’s get this thing good.”
In his illustrious coaching career, Harbaugh, 60, has specialized in quickly turning ugly messes into wondrous memories. His 44-19-1 NFL record and 147-52 college record are both rooted in fast turnarounds of struggling programs.
He quickly built struggling Stanford into a football powerhouse, he hurriedly coached the San Francisco 49ers from losers into the Super Bowl, and he just led Michigan to its first undisputed national championship in 75 years.
This can happen here. This should happen here. Harbaugh talked as if it’s already happening here, beginning with that Shop-Vac.
“When players come in here, then everything is organized and they’re going to see that things are changing, things are different,” he said. “We want to get to that center of player development, that weight room, and let’s have at it. ‘You hungry? You want to eat? This is an all-you-can-eat buffet right here. Let’s get that work in.’ ”
In one moment, he was praising his new quarterback Justin Herbert, who is likely the main reason he took his job, the coach realizing he can’t win a championship without a championship-level quarterback.
“He’s a crown jewel in the National Football League,” Harbaugh said.
In the next moment, he was praising another type of quarterback, redeemed convict Red from “Shawshank Redemption.:
“I’m just so excited. I think about, if I could describe it to you, it would be like Morgan Freeman in ‘Shawshank Redemption.’ Red — ‘I’m so excited that I can’t sit still or hold a thought in my head, you know. What a free man would feel before a long journey. I just want to make it across the border. I want to shake my friend’s hand’ — that’s how I feel.”
Awkwardly but endearingly, Harbaugh sprinkled his answers by citing other, um, connections to Hollywood.
“Am I an L.A. guy? Yeah, I think so. And I aspire to be,” he said. “The Midwest is where I grew up. … I told a lot of the folks when I was at the Rose Bowl, I grew up watching the Rose Bowl on New Years’ Day. Laying on your stomach, hands under your chin, elbows on the floor, looking at palm trees and mountains and sun, ocean … ‘Wow, I want to be there some day.’ ”
While paying trendy homage to “Ted Lasso,” he made a striking admission about a different show.
“My favorite show growing up is the ‘Rockford Files.’ … It’s still my favorite show,” he said. “That was me as a kid. Driving that Camaro around L.A. and the car chases. Down there by the beach, have the trailer down there at the beach.”
Who knew? Turns out, Jim Harbaugh still wants to be Jim Rockford.
“I told my wife this … I want to drive my RV out here and go to a trailer park, like down by the water or by Disneyland,” he said. “There are two that I’ve researched that are close to the [Chargers new] facility. I want to Jim Rockford it for the next couple of months until we move into the new facility. I have that thought going through my head.”
Wait. Hollywood’s new coach drives an RV?
No matter where he settles, Harbaugh said he has one consistent goal.
“Just dominate the day,” he said.
In that regard, after one public day as the Chargers’ new coach, Jim Harbaugh is undefeated.