ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP)
Jim Harbaugh, hailed like a rock star, strolled onto a regally lit stage in a sharp suit instead of his signature khakis and tucked-in blue pullover.
Maize-and-blue clad fans rose out of rose-colored, plush seats and roared to adore the Michigan coach.
Welcome to Signing Day, the reboot.
Harbaugh attracted an array of celebrities and 3,500-plus fans to pack a 103-year-old auditorium staged for a dramatic performance Wednesday that topped just about any production schools have put on to welcome their newest class of football recruits.
Even though the show included visits from stars such as Tom Brady, Derek Jeter and even Ric Flair, Harbaugh was the real star of the Wolverines' "Signing With the Stars" spectacle.
Teams have been turning signing day into an event in recent years, engaging their fans, getting alumni involved and trying to come up with flashy ways to welcome their newest players. Social media, billboards, live streaming online and signing day parties have become fairly common.
Harbaugh took it to another level, welcoming the newest class as if celebrity status was already a given.
Lou Holtz, who was on stage behind a TV-studio like desk, predicted the extravagance would be copied by other schools in the future.
"I think people will do something similar or they'll criticize it," Harbaugh said. "What do I think of that? I probably won't think much of it.
"It worked for us. It was wonderful for us, and why not?"
The event was meticulously produced, including having James Earl Jones, a Michigan graduate, touting the institution as the "best university in the world" in a video montage that revved up the crowd.
It included in-person visits from a string of stars from stage and screen, but it didn't last long enough for Harbaugh to announce the signing of his top recruit.
Toward the end of the 2-plus-hour event, the top recruit in the country, defensive tackle Rashan Gary of New Jersey, announced he was going to Michigan. As word spread via social media, a murmur turned into a buzz and the crowd cheered when Harbaugh said they got "good news," backstage. The school officially confirmed the commitment later in the day.
Harbaugh said 28 or 29 scholarships would be given, and seven of those recipients are already on campus and will be joining the Wolverines for another one of his push-the-envelope experiments. Entering his second year at his alma mater, Harbaugh plans to take his team to Florida for four practices during the school's spring break.
Harbaugh has done a lot differently as a recruiter, including spending the night at the houses future players. It's a trick in an era where coaches know creating social media buzz around a recruit is as important as anything.
One of his sleepovers was with Quinn Nordin, the nation's top kicker, who had been committed to attending Penn State.
It worked. Nordin was shown on a videoboard with his family as it was announced he was coming to Michigan.
Jeter, whose company, The Players' Tribune, hosted the standing-room only event, was also given a standing ovation. Jeter claimed he knew Harbaugh would end up back at Michigan after seeing how things were playing out for him with the San Francisco 49ers.
"He's brought excitement back to the university and the program as you can see today," Jeter said.
Flair later fired up the crowd.
The former professional wrestler said in 1968, he signed a letter of intent to play at Michigan, and said he spent a fun week at a fraternity house.
"I made up my mind I was never leaving Ann Arbor," Flair said. "Woooooo!"
He didn't stay, and instead became a famous entertainer in the squared circle.
The Wolverines haven't won a Big Ten title since 2004, their longest drought without a conference championship in more than a half-century. They haven't won a national championship since 1997.
Brady believes that will change.
"Our biggest recruiting day was last year when we got coach Harbaugh back," he said. "I've competed against him, and lost."
"Can we get that in writing? Harbaugh cracked.
He also joked he had nothing like this when he signed his letter of intent. How different was it for him when he committed to Michigan a couple of decades ago?
"Slightly," the New England Patriots quarterback joked.