It's been nearly a week since Jim Harbaugh eviscerated Pete Finebaum (sorry, I'm never calling him Paul again) on Twitter, and it hasn't gotten any less funny.
For those who don't recall, Finebaum ripped Harbaugh for the reported hiring of California high school coach Michael Johnson in a way that earned Finebaum the nickname "The Mouth of the South."
“This is wrong,” Finebaum said on ESPN's Outside the Lines. “It may not be illegal by NCAA standards and bylaws as of this moment, but to me it’s cheating. It’s blatantly disregarding the spirit of the NCAA rule. We all know why he’s doing it. And this is the same person who last year accused Nick Saban of cheating, he accused Hugh Freeze of cheating, and in my mind, and I know you can’t prove it and he won’t be penalized for it, but he’s cheating and why don’t we just face up to it? There’s no other reason why he would hire this man. It’s been done in the past… but it’s still wrong. I don’t know why the media celebrates Jim Harbaugh for disregarding the NCAA rule book and doing things that are in my mind unethical.”
It's an especially bad take that has aged even worse since it was reported that very day Johnson would not join Harbaugh's staff -- where he would've worked in an off-the-field capacity -- for an on-field job at Oregon.
In a very Donald Trump-ian way, Harbaugh could not let that criticism go unchallenged, and explained his ire on San Jose Mercury-News columnistTim Kawakami's podcast.
"You try to take it with a grain of salt, as they say, and put some humor into it," Harbaugh said.
"The annoying part is people that show their true colors and try to impugn your integrity when you've done nothing wrong. They want to impugn your integrity. They want to see you fail, and they want to take shots at you. But as they say, no good deed goes unpunished, and you're doing a good deed. You're hiring somebody and then where do they go from there? Right to impugning your integrity by calling you a cheater.
"The response is: take it with a grain of salt and have some humor about it. But come on, man. I'm not just going to let that go, either."
Harbaugh was also asked about his ongoing bear-poking relationship with the SEC, which the coach explained away by employing a strategy any parent can immediately recognized: nu uh, he hit me first.
"It hasn't been a conscious act or target," Harbaugh said. "It's been responses. It's been like the great Sugar Ray Robinson, he was a great counter-puncher. That's been my philosophy with them. They've attacked us numerous times and we've just counter-punched them. We've not been the aggressor toward anyone when it comes to shooting one over another person's bow. They've shot some over our bow and we've shot back in Sugar Ray Robinson fashion."
This answer differs from reality a bit, considering Harbaugh sent his team to SEC country for spring break last year, will speak at an Alabama coaches clinic next month, and canvassed through the South as part of last year's satellite camp tour. (And there are surely a dozen other episodes throughout the past 26 months since his Ann Arbor arrival that I'm forgetting.) That's not to say there's anything wrong with Harbaugh's strategy. It's poking the bear in order to get a response which, of course, Harbaugh then returns in kind.
Like this one to Nick Saban, who criticized last year's satellite camp tour by saying it was, "amazing to [him] somebody didn't stand up and say here are going to be the unintended consequences of what you all are doing."
Or this war of words with Hugh Freeze, which seems like an unprovoked attack after Freeze said he would've taken his staff on its own satellite camp tour but was instead happy to stay home after the SEC restricted the practice. Still, Harbaugh said this:
"You’ve got a guy sitting in a big house, making $5 million a year, saying he does not want to sacrifice his time," he told SI. "That’s not a kindred spirit to me. What most of these coaches are saying is they don’t want to work harder."
Is Harbaugh responding to, as he says, shots across the bow? Yes. Is he shooting some of his own? Yes. Are the shots directed at him provoked because of actions he made... that were seemingly designed to create the exact responses they inspired? Also yes.
In the end, Harbaugh comes across as a figure with a few unwarranted bruises... and a few he was probably asking for, payment for the ones he dished out. And then there's Pete Finebaum, sitting on the sidelines, still winning for losing.