Ted Lasso, Jim Harbaugh share khakis and optimism

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jim Harbaugh brought it up. Said he felt like Ted Lasso during his news conference Thursday because reporters prefaced their questions with their name and news organization. 

Which is funny, because Ted Lasso probably feels like Jim Harbaugh: Television’s most endearing coach modeled his outfits after the Michigan football coach.  

Or maybe Jason Sudeikis does, who plays the coach in Apple TV’s “Ted Lasso,” and who consulted with Harbaugh when he was creating the character. 

That’s a bummer for fans of the show who are also fans of Ohio State. That may be a bummer for Michigan State fans who love Ted Lasso, too. 

The Apple TV hit is centered on an American football coach who takes a job coaching soccer in England. It didn’t take long for Lassoisms to take hold in pop culture. 

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Like, “I do love a locker room. It smells like potential.” 

And like, “Look at it out there. It looks like a Rennaissance painting portraying masculine melancholy.” 

Also, “You know what the happiest animal on Earth is? A goldfish. You know why? It’s got a 10-second memory.” 

Then there is this one: “I believe in communism. Rom-communism, that is.” 

That if Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan can go through some heartfelt struggles and still end up happy, then so can we. 

The joke, of course, is that Lasso’s eternal optimism collides with England’s eternal stoicism — and skepticism. The payoff is that the sunny American eventually wins his side-eyed players over. 

No wonder Harbaugh loves the show.  

“Everything is perfect (about it),” he said Thursday. “(It’s) my favorite tv show, right up there with ‘The Rockford Files.’ There’s a lesson in every show, whether it’s a life lesson or a coaching lesson.” 

Harbaugh loves lessons, too. He also loves optimism.  

“Who’s got it better than us?” he likes to say.  

“Attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” he also likes to say. 

Now, close your eyes and imagine Lasso saying these things. Uncanny, right?  

It is also, uncanny that Harbaugh and Lasso can say something that could easily be misconstrued as arrogant yet somehow make it sound endearing, even if it’s a little corny. Sincerity is the key. Whatever else you think of Harbaugh, it’s easy to see he fundamentally believes in what he is saying.   

As for ‘The Rockford Files’? 

Well, it’s a long way from Ted Lasso, but it helps frame Harbaughs’ aw-shucks taste in stories. For those unfamiliar with the show, Jim Rockford was a private investigator who lived in a shabby trailer and who used a rambling, down-home cunning and easy charm to catch the bad guys. 

Like Lasso and, like Harbaugh a couple of seasons ago, Rockford was sometimes underestimated, too. And so, it’s not a shock that of all the viral clips Lasso has inspired, of all the quips and quotes and tics, of all the scenes and clever, charming exchanges, none reverberated to U-M’s head coach like the dart scene. 

Harbaugh grinned from Scottsdale to Tucson when asked about the scene Thursday. If you haven’t seen it, Lasso hustles the soccer club’s former owner in a game of darts. Though that hardly does it justice. 

As Lasso hits the bullseye three times to win the game and stun the haughty former owner, he delivers the lines during the sequence that gave the show its soul: 

“You know, Rupert (former owner), guys have underestimated me my entire life. And for years, I never understood why. It used to really bother me. But then one day, I was driving my little boy to school, and I saw this quote by Walt Whitman, and it was painted on the wall there. It said, ‘Be curious, not judgmental.’ I like that.” 

(Lasso hits the first bullseye.) 

“So, I get back in my car and I’m driving to work, and all of a sudden it hits me. All them fellas that used to belittle me, not a single one of them were curious. You know, they thought they had everything all figured out. So, they judged everything, and they judged everyone. And I realized that their underestimating me … who I was had nothing to do with it. ‘Cause if they were curious, they would’ve asked questions. You know? Like, ‘Have you played a lot of darts, Ted?”  

(Lasso hits the second bullseye.) 

“To which I would’ve answered, ‘Yes, sir. Every Sunday afternoon at a sports bar with my father, from age 10 until I was 16 when he passed away.’”

(Lasso hits the third bullseye, and beats Rupert.) 

It’s a feel-good moment in a feel-good show as Lasso reveals that it’s a gamble to underestimate him, and that it’s a gamble to underestimate anyone.  

Harbaugh isn’t the only one to relate to the scene, obviously. But from where he sat Thursday inside a clubby ballroom at a tricked out resort a couple of days from the College Football Playoff, he wouldn’t have been wrong to remind folks what they thought of him two winters ago.  

Instead, he said what Ted Lasso would’ve said: nothing.  

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