A conversation with Sarah Harbaugh

When new families move to Washtenaw County, one of the first things that they pick up is Ann Arbor Family Press, a must-read resource for any household with kids.  We sat down with the mom of one of our area’s newest families–Sarah Harbaugh, the wife of Jim, the University of Michigan’s head football coach–at Paesano’s on Washtenaw. She shared with us her insights on the move here along with her hopes for the future and her excitement on being new to the community.

Although her husband has been in the area since the beginning of the year, the rest of the family, Sarah and their three children–Addison, almost 7, Katherine, 4, and Jack, almost 3, arrived at the end of the school year.   

On settling in . . .  

I am with the kids all day and the days are so much different with the time change. They are going to bed at 10:30 p.m. basically, when they are used to going to bed at 7:30 or 8. So when I finally get them down at 10:30 or 11, then I am just exhausted.  The time change is tough. I had an early preschool event today, and the kids went to bed about midnight last night because they are still on California time. The 4-year-old, who I was taking to the school,  I literally had to peel her out of bed. I was telling the teacher, “She is really good, she just needs some sleep and she will do well in class, I promise.” Kids have a tough time adjusting to the time change.  

Preparing for winter in Ann Arbor. . .

People told me, knowing we were coming from California, that the winters are bad. I said, “I have been there.”  I grew up in Kansas City. It may be worse there, just a cold wind blowing all the time, but here we do get covered with snow.  I came here to visit  before Jim took the job and then I came back again in February and it was always bitter cold. The second time I bought a face mask. We walked a block to a coffee shop and our eyes were watering.  We weren’t really bundled up.  It is going to be a change, but it is going to be great.  My kids are so excited–snow boots and snow suits!

The Harbaugh children, Addison, Jack, and Katherine.


On the wholesome environment of their neighborhood . . .

When the kids first came out in June,  it was so wholesome. At nighttime we would go for a walk and we would walk down and look at Jack’s school. The kids would ride their bikes outside and those were perfect summer nights. We saw the lightning bugs–we didn’t have them in California–I remember them from when I was a kid.

So far, I wish I had more of a chance to discover things. I know that Ann Arbor is full of amazing restaurants, but for now, I pretty much know my way around Washtenaw Avenue, period.  I got lost when I first went to the (UM football) facility, but now I drive to Jim’s office and I can make my way to Main Street. 

A 30-minute drive was what is took from where we lived in California into the city of San Francisco. We went and looked in Chelsea in June and Jim took us to some areas where the houses were so amazing–the most darling houses you have ever seen–just all of these really great homes, true Americana.   

On eating out . . . 

So far, we like the little bistro, Zola, in the Arbor Hills Shopping Center, that was really good, and the Chop House (on Main Street),  which we have actually gone to several times.  When we were here trying to find a house, that is where we went because that was what we knew.  I am not good on names yet, but there are a lot of places I want to to go.  I love to eat. We’ve got Blimpy’s, the Maize and Blue Deli and Zingerman’s on our radar to try. 

On the season . . .

I get really stressed, I mean really stressed. When Jim got the job it felt nauseous and I still feel unsettled about the pressure he is under.   He is so calm about things that it helps me, but I am still worried about him because there is a lot of expectation here. The thing about Jim is, he is confident and he is good at what he does, and I realize that, but you just don’t know. Things just don’t always go as planned. 

On being together . . .

I am really excited about raising my kids here and they are really excited about it. Especially now, because we are going to see him every day.  He will be able to drive home in a few minutes. Before he could never do that.  For a good five months–he works seven days a week during the season–they (the kids) wouldn’t really see him. It would really wear on the kids and they did not know how to express it. I think as a family unit, it is going to be so good. The kids are so much happier when he is around. And I can take the kids to the office. They love it, running around on the field . . . They are already way more involved with his life, and that is going to be really good.

Jack was so happy last night, to be able to wrestle with Jim.  They were so happy rolling around. It had been a while, since Jim was in two-a-days, so they were reuniting and just being boys because Jack’s around us girls all day.   

On being new to Ann Arbor . . . 

Everyone’s been great.  We went out to dinner a few times before he got hot and heavy into the season, but when it is just me no one knows who I am.  I have not met too many people, but for him, I think he feels really good about being here. I have gone under the radar and it has been good. I can go to the same place ten times with the kids and they treat me the same way and then he comes with me and things are different.  I try not to ever let out who I am. It will happen eventually…

Sarah with her daughters, Katherine and Addison.

On being the coach’s wife . . .

Now it’s the honeymoon because everyone is excited, and we have yet to play a game. So I really need to enjoy it more than I do.  

I cannot go online. I just can’t because, if I see something negative (about Jim), I just know him as who he is, as a great person and a great dad, and then you see someone say whatever they might say and I just want to punch that person. I just can’t do that anymore. I will lose sleep. The funny part is, when they see him, they will be nice to him. They would probably enjoy him if they sat down to talk to him. People are surprised–he is a passionate person. Not everyone is going to like him, or you, or anyone.  So unfortunately, it is out there and so I just try to avoid that as much as possible, but I also do want to be involved.  I shut myself out a little bit too much lately.  I want him to know that I am supportive. 

Most people say that he got fired from the Niners, but in our mind, it was the Michigan job that he left for. It wasn’t like it was horrible when he left the Niners, but some of the (other coaches) wives have not had it so good. Their families are  playing in their yard and people are putting things in their mailbox, One (note)  said that the coach  should go and die, and their kids are there. It’s scary. 

People are so passionate about their sports that they forget that you are human and that you have families and people that the coach is their number-one person. So if  I  hear anything like that (extremely negative comments),  that’s what concerns me. But in the same sense I’ve got to be thankful for the blessings we have. It has worked out well for us in coaching so far and hopefully it always will. But it has happened to people. It makes me apprehensive. 

When we were in the NFL, some of the players didn’t do well (with negative comments). The coaches are more resilient. It might hurt, but they know the type of people they are dealing with. But when you are a wife, you take it so much more seriously and, of course, you really want to protect your kids from hearing that.

 My 6year-old, she just asked, “Why does anyone not like Daddy?” She doesn’t understand.  Why did that person say that on a review show or on the radio?  And you just have to explain it away,  but it is just so publicly out there. The kids hear at school, “Oh, his daddy got fired,” and they don’t know what that means. But then it is on social media and they hear their parents talking. My husband is better at explaining it. Jim had a real good explanation. He said, “People move on from their jobs and they go do other things and everyone ends up happier.”  

I feel very comfortable here and I want to be involved in many aspects, the community and the schools and the University. So instead of being scared of what people are going to say, just be open and realize that so far, everyone has been amazing and everyone seems to love us.  Things will change when games start being played. People have their minds made up, so I just have to stop taking it so personally in the sense that anyone can write anything on social media.

Jim Harbaugh with daughter, Addison.

About the coach. . . 

He is really a great coach and he may come off a little aggressive. He gets fired up–with calls or with the refs, I mean really fired up. A lot of times people who have never met him, who knew me, when they got comfortable enough with me, would ask me, “Does he go off like that at home?” (Laughs)  I am more like he is on the sidelines at home. He is so nice and he is super complimentary with the kids–he has never been phony either.   That is what I always really respected about him–he always is exactly who he is.  And there is no reason to try to change, say his pants (referring to her famous Dockers “dad pants”s commercial). That is just funny because it became a big story. He has a nice figure and so he could lose the pleats and look great.   He went to the flat fronts, but now he is back to the pleats sometimes. . .

Technology and the kids. . .

I am behind the times. It makes me nervous. I am always worried about it. I don’t know what is going on. My phone is never updated and it is always screwing up. I wish I was more savvy with it. Addison is good at it.  She likes to watch Netflix and I probably need to cut that down. But as far as apps, Jack is obsessed with watching YouTube videos of trucks moving, just trucks moving, that will keep him busy, but other than that, not too much technology.   I just found an Xbox while unpacking (I think EA Sports gave it to Jim)  and it made me consider, do I want them to start playing with those games? I went to college with guys who were obsessed with video games. 

I try to keep up with email and texts on my phone, but I try not to do it in front of my kids so they don’t think that it’s normal. (Technology) is great in so many ways because we just have so much access, but then, on the flip side, it scares me. 

We talked over dinner which lasted several hours. At about 10 o’clock, just as the kitchen was closing, Sarah’s phone rang. It was Jim, just finishing up with work for the day.  He asked her to place an order “to go” for him, and Mike Roddy, the owner of Paesano’s, was gracious in reopening the kitchen to accommodate the request.  While we waited for the to-go” boxes to be packed up, Coach Harbaugh walked in and joined us.  They served him his meal at the table, and we kept him company.  

The waitress came to get his drink order and he responded, “Do you have milk?”  

She told him that she thought they had skim milk, which was met with a grimace. 

Maybe they would have 2 percent milk, she offered. 

Jim’s response, “the more percent the better.”  

She brought him a full tumbler. “We have whole milk,” she announced.  And with his dinner, he drank every drop.

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