Will Muschamp and Jim Harbaugh never played against each other and have not met since either has joined the head coaching ranks.
But Harbaugh has slowly become a big fan of South Carolina’s head coach.
“They always play so gosh darn hard. Every time I flick on the TV or see one of his teams play, that’s one thing that jumps out at me,” Harbaugh said of the Gamecocks. “I usually root for the teams that are playing the hardest. And I find myself rooting for the teams he coaches because of that.”
In about three weeks, the two will get to meet face-to-face for the first time in their careers before coaching against each other in this season’s Outback Bowl.
The matchup was announced Sunday afternoon and will pit the programs against each other for the second time in five years. The other came in the 2013 Outback Bowl when Steve Spurrier and Brady Hoke were the team’s respective coaches.
South Carolina won that matchup 33-28 on a last-second touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington. It also involved Jadeveon Clowney's hit on Vincent Smith, which became the signature moment of his career.
Now, though, these are two different programs with two completely different head coaches. Both respect the other, and Harbaugh’s been very impressed in the little film he’s been able to watch of the Gamecock defense.
Harbaugh has kept up with Muschamp through stops with Florida and Auburn’s defensive coordinator before coming over to South Carolina, and the Michigan coach will get to tell him just how big a fan he is before the New Year’s bowl.
“Coach Muschamp does a good job. I’m looking forward to meeting them,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be good. I’ve followed his career and have been a fan. So I’m looking forward to meeting him in person.”
Just because this is Harbaugh’s first introduction to Muschamp doesn’t mean it’s his first introduction to the South Carolina program.
He was the quarterback in 1985 when the Wolverines came to Columbia. Michigan won the game 34-3 in a year that eventually ended with a Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska.
Harbaugh threw for 164 yards and rushed for a touchdown and left Columbia with respect for the fans’ dedication to football and how impressive the campus was.
“It was an unbelievable atmosphere,” he said about Williams-Brice Stadium. “First and foremost, what jumped out was an electric atmosphere with the 'Fire Ants..’ They had a great defense at that time as well. And they do now. They had the ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ they played before the game. Everything was amazing.”
The 1985 win is something Harbaugh will now try and duplicate against a coach — and program — he has nothing but respect for.