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HOUSTON -- Early last week, a roomful of Michigan players leaned forward waiting to hear the latest profound message from their coach. It was one of the first team meetings following Monday's Rose Bowl semifinal win over No. 4 Alabama.

Where, they wondered, would Jim Harbaugh go with this moment?

"He said we were like a pack of wolves who were super hungry," running back Blake Corum recalled. "That's how we've been treating it. We're hungry. We're not full at all. We're starving. We want a meal, and we're a pack of wolves. We're dangerous."

That's one way of putting it. Here's another: A program on the cusp of becoming the greatest in Michigan history is coached by an enigma.

We don't really know Jim Harbaugh, not the way we really want to know him -- as a coach. His time at Michigan has largely been a deflection of what he has actually done to have become the school's winningest coach since Fritz Crisler (1938-47).

We know about his chickens (many). We know about his pants (khaki). We know his style off the field has rankled some in the profession -- satellite camps, the sign-stealing scandal -- with a toe that may have sometimes crossed over the ethical line.

Still, heading into the College Football Playoff National Championship, we don't know him as a coach. Harbaugh remains a coaching mystery clothed in those khakis and topped by a block "M" baseball cap. At this point, he's become almost a caricature of himself.

"The thing people don't realize, he's not one who loves the attention or does stuff to seek attention by any means," tight ends coach Grant Newsome said Saturday. "I think that gets misconstrued because he does get so much attention. He would like nothing more than to coach our team and be a ball coach in the pure sense of the word. But he is a celebrity."

A celebu-coach who would be equally at ease appearing on "Family Feud" or on the headphones during a nail-biter of a Rose Bowl. CBS Sports spoke with the participants in the key fourth-and-2 call that resulted in a 35-yard completion to Corum to keep the game-tying drive alive.

Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore: "He just said, 'We're going for it, Call whatever you want.'"

Corum: "A lot of times, he says, 'I'm on fire.' If he's on fire that week, he's always going to give us his thoughts in team meetings and on the field."

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy had seen a similar play run four years ago by Michigan in a Citrus Bowl loss to Alabama. Never mind that offensive players are usually breaking down defensive tendencies of the other team.

"I wouldn't say he's super hands on, but he sprinkles his wisdom on a day to day basis," McCarthy said. "He likes to come in there and talk about life stuff, talk about marriage stuff. All this wisdom comes spewing out his pores."

That's the picture assembled through a handful of conversations in the run-up to No. 1 Michigan's clash with No. 2 Washington on Monday night.

Harbaugh is a guy of wit, wisdom and pop-in visits to position meetings. Being a former quarterback and an offensive guy, most of Harbaugh's time -- if that's the right word -- is spent in the quarterback room.

"It's more fundamental with the quarterbacks," Moore said. "He doesn't step in with the play calls, doesn't step in with what we're doing with the game plan."

There are categories for coaches -- none necessarily better than the other.

There's the CEO/figurehead type. Bobby Bowden, especially as he got older, was the face of his Florida State program. His staff was top notch, and he could seal the deal in the living room, but Papa Bowden wasn't writing any books on the zone read.

There's the strategist. Michigan fans won't want to hear this, but think Ryan Day. Ohio State's coach calls the offensive plays and has developed a string of high-scoring offenses led by -- until lately -- elite quarterbacks.

There's the Hard Ass. Where do you want to start? Frank Kush? Woody Hayes? Nick Saban (in a different way). Saban can be tough on his staff but has an uncanny ability to adapt to the times. (See: His switch to the spread offense in 2014 and embrace of the NIL era.) All of it makes him the sport's greatest coach.

Harbaugh is seven national championships short of Saban but just beat him head-to-head and will become eligible for a statue outside Schembechler Hall if he wins Monday night. The former Wolverines qb has steadily built the program after steadily building the San Diego, Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers.

It's fair to say Harbaugh has been considered hard to work with, at times, no matter his location. If the worst thing that can be said of Harbaugh is that he's quirky, well, that's not the worst thing you can say about a coach. Come Tuesday, Harbaugh could be receiving a new nine-figure contract from Michigan ... or he could be headed to the NFL.

"A future?" said Harbaugh after being asked directly what's next for him. "I hope to have one. How's that?"

Michigan has been willing to live with Harbaugh and his NCAA troubles for the only reason that matters: He wins -- a lot. Newsome was asked what Harbaugh is like a week after a loss. He hesitated.

"It's been a minute," he said.

Michigan hasn't lost in the regular season since Oct. 30, 2021, at Michigan State.

Harbaugh could be a combination of any of those coaching archetypes listed above. We just don't know. His coaching tactics are a firewall that requires a password. Harbaugh's brother, John, spent 10 seasons as an assistant for the Philadelphia Eagles -- nine as special teams coordinator -- before taking over the Baltimore Ravens in 2008. The patriarch of the family, Jack Harbaugh, still gives pregame talks to the Wolverines.

Jim Harbaugh's teams play well, play hard and play with precision. Michigan continues to lead the country averaging only 2.9 penalties per game. It's obvious he channels his former coach, Bo Schembechler. But what's he like in the locker room, in the team meeting room? In the coaches' room?

We know Harbaugh can be off kilter -- even odd -- but what kind of coach is he? The man missed half a season due to a pair of suspensions, but to the naked eye, it didn't make a damn bit of difference to the way his team performed on the field.

What does Harbaugh actually do as a coach? Whether by design or as a function of his goofy nature, he has hidden himself from the public -- as a coach.

When asked direct questions about the sign-stealing scandal, he veered into football parables about Moses and Jesus. Wide receiver Roman Wilson provided a different type of insight during a Christmas day visit to his coach's home.

"I thought he would just be inside chilling on the couch," Wilson began.

Then in a procession that will be repeated exactly nowhere else in the coaching profession, both Harbaugh's children and his beloved chickens began following the coach in a sort-of conga line.

"I was, like, 'Man, this is the most Coach Harbaugh thing I've ever seen,'"  Wilson said.

Books can, and surely will, one day be written about Harbaugh and his quirks. But try to find out about his coaching ability, and you're inevitably met with more anecdotes.

Like the time Harbaugh famously climbed a tree to impress a recruit. The problem? Harbaugh had kept the remote key fob to the car driven off by two companions. When the pair got out and shut off the car, they realized what happened and had to walk back 45 minutes to get the keys from Harbaugh.  

Like the time Harbaugh took a side trip to photograph the house of famous Kansas City barbecue king Hayward Spears during a recruiting trip. Former Big Ten commissioner and current Chicago Bears president Kevin Warren is married to Spears' daughter. Harbaugh texted the picture of the house to Warren and received a cheery reply within seconds.

Like the time Harbaugh gave the Pope a helmet and pair of Michigan shoes.

Like the time Harbaugh slept over at a recruit's house then joined the prospect in his English class.

Remember, this is a significant voice in college athletics who has advocated for players being paid. But when asked last week to envision the future of college football during a Rose Bowl pregame press conference, he deferred. Actually, that was exactly the appropriate setting for such a question.

We do know that Harbaugh's coordinators are excellent. Moore was on the sidelines for four wins as an active coach when Harbaugh was suspended. Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter got a game ball after his unit dominated the Rose Bowl.

"A guardian of victory," Harbaugh called him.

Michigan's defense continues to lead the country in total yards and points allowed.

Whatever the case, Michigan's players have needed to answer for whatever sins have been committed this season. Harbaugh remains under investigation for potential major violations in two cases -- allegedly misleading the NCAA during an investigation regarding improper recruiting during COVID-19 and that infamous sign-stealing scandal.

God bless the kids. At times, they have been revealing. McCarthy was asked about players' game preparations being anything other than film study. He revealed that Michigan had to react to what he said was "legal" sign stealing by Ohio State in 2019 and 2020.

"We had to get up to the level that they were at, and we had to make it an even playing field," he said.

McCarthy later clarified that he didn't mean Michigan had adopted improper scouting methods.

The adversity has been self-inflicted. Harbaugh was suspended twice this season -- once by his school and once by the Big Ten.

If a team reflects its coach, Michigan players are refreshingly contemplative -- just in a different way. Veteran offensive lineman Trevor Keegan told the story of receiving an inspirational team-wide email from Harbaugh after the Wolverines went 2-4 in the shortened 2020 season.

"It brought fire within me," Keegan said.

That Harbaugh inspiration was achieved without popping up in a single meeting or feeding a pack of hungry wolves. Whatever the case, the Michigan Man behind the curtain isn't about to reveal himself anytime soon.

"He once told me, 'I want to win so bad people start to unlike me,'" Keegan said.