Garrett Kauppila took a woodworking class as a kid and created a Stanford clock. It had a logo in the middle, with each number around the face placed on a John Elway jersey.
But the Sacramento native – now Air Force’s free safety – had to wait years to see his favorite team succeed. His first in-person experience was watching USC, behind quarterback John David Booty, trounce the Cardinal 42-0.
But along came Jim Harbaugh.
“He turns programs around quickly, so upmost respect,” Kauppila said. “Definitely a coaching style I appreciate. He likes the old-school, the ground and pound. He likes to beat people physically. Mentally, too, but it’s not all fancy.”
By 2010, Harbaugh had Stanford at 12-1 and at No. 4 in the final AP poll. This from a program that had won just 10 of 41 Pac-12 games in the five years before his arrival.
Harbaugh then went to the San Francisco 49ers, who had failed to finish above .500 for eight consecutive seasons. He had them at 13-3 in this first season. In the Super Bowl in his second.
Now he’s at Michigan, which was middling. The Wolverines had gone 12-13 over Brady Hoke’s final two years.
The program has gone 22-6 under Harbaugh entering Saturday’s game against the Falcons.
But for all his success, and in large part because of it, Harbaugh has become among the polarizing figures in the sport.
He does the minimum in terms of releasing rosters and depth charts. He forced the NCAA to make a rule regarding off-campus practices. He’ll be the one wearing a pullover when all other Big Ten coaches show up for media day in suits.
The crowd goes left, Harbaugh goes right.
Nobody at Air Force seems to see anything wrong with it.
“I think he’s always been the same person,” Kauppila said. “I think that’s what either people love or hate about him, truthfully. He is who he is and I don’t think he’s very worried about what other people think. I think he’s confident in that. I’ve never met the guy, but from my perspective he’s a tough, hard-nosed coach and he’s not worried about outside influences like what the media thinks about him or what other people outside of his sphere of influence think. I think he knows what he’s doing is right, and he’s tough on his players, for his players, in order to help his team.
“I see a coach who cares. I have no problem with that.”
Added quarterback Arion Worthman, “Jim Harbaugh’s a great football coach, a great leader of men and it will be exciting to play his team.”
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun didn’t want to say much about the coach he’ll oppose on Saturday as Air Force attempts its first victory over a top-10 opponent in 22 years.
“Quality football,” Calhoun said when asked what Harbaugh has brought to the sport. “Just the level of play.”
As a 14-year NFL veteran at quarterback and now as one of the sport's most successful coaches, Harbaugh has become something of a celebrity. A variable like that adds a bit of intrigue to this week’s game.
“I was a huge Jim Harbaugh fan at Stanford because he turned the program around from what it used to be,” Kauppila said. “So, it’s unique. Now we’re playing against him and it’s kind of a dream come true.”