Michigan's coaching staff was just returning from an Italian dinner -- their final meal as a team in Rome -- in a 17th century Baroque mansion with marble door frames and elaborate chandeliers when their phones started to buzz again. A few thousand miles away, on the other side of the Atlantic, the New York Jets had just selected Jeremy Clark with the 197th pick of the NFL draft. He was the 11th Wolverine to have his name called in Philadelphia, a new school record.
It was likely just a coincidence that the program's most successful NFL draft occurred as those returning to Ann Arbor next fall wrapped up an unprecedented week-long trip to one of Western civilization's oldest cities. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has had crazier recruiting schemes in his two-plus years on the job, though, so who knows.
Intentional or not, Michigan managed to once again head into summer in control of college football headlines and distill a powerful recruiting pitch into a single weekend. Hey, kid, want to play in the NFL? And how about a couple international vacations on us in the meantime? It should be a good month for Harbaugh's staff as they turn back to the recruiting trail.
"I think it's a huge plus. It's an opportunity to experience a different life," said Thomas Wilcher, head coach of Detroit-area high school powerhouse Cass Tech, which produced a couple of this year's draft picks from Michigan. "That just shows the coach is really trying to develop young men. He's trying to let football open a lot of avenues for them in life."
Harbaugh said before leaving Italy that he wanted to take the team to South Africa next spring, or perhaps Brazil. The anonymous donor who helped fund the trip is on board, for now, to help make it an annual spring finale for the football team.
International travel is a new addition to the recruiting pitch. The NFL angle has been around since Harbaugh arrived and brought with him a staff that has plenty of pro level experience. Talking about pro aspirations used to be nearly taboo in the team's practice facility. Now, Michigan's coaches talk in the middle of a season about limiting workloads to avoid long-term wear and tear and have regular conversations with players about getting to the next level.
To be fair, all 11 of the draftees this weekend were sold on Michigan by Brady Hoke's staff in 2013. Hoke stuck to a more traditional recruiting script and still managed to bring in a class of prospects as heralded -- or more heralded -- than any group Harbaugh has compiled since his arrival. It's not unreasonable to assume, though, that playing under the new coaching staff the last two years helped get a few extra players drafted or bumped a couple players into earlier rounds.
There is a counterargument to Michigan's well-timed sales pitch of a week and another way to view the team that produced more NFL talent than any other last year. Just ask Florida State assistant Tim Brewster, who (in Harbaugh parlance) sent a shot across the bow on Twitter this weekend.
Most draft picks doesn't correlate to winning....Just ask Michigan! #OrangeBowlChampions!
— Tim Brewster (@TimBrewster) April 29, 2017
Michigan missed a golden opportunity to win a Big Ten title, if not more, in 2016. Losing three of its last four games in skin-of-your-teeth fashion didn't make that reality any easier to swallow for the Wolverines -- nor does watching so many of the key players from that team get selected in the draft this weekend. There's no way to sugar coat that, and no one on Michigan attempted to do so.
"Winning the offseason" started out as a sign of a bright future for Harbaugh and company in Ann Arbor. Their detractors didn't take long to start pointing out that the in-season results haven't yet matched. If more time passes without at least a divisional title, it won't be long before Harbaugh's unique adventures and NFL success are used as a punch line as often as a sales pitch.
Trying to introduce players to new cultures and innovate within the sport are admirable ventures in their own right, but winning championships remains the ultimate goal. Can enticing experiences and NFL futures help Michigan to get there? So far the results on National Signing Day in February have been good, but they might start to lose some shine on the recruiting trail if the results in November and December don't follow.