Same Person: Kanye West and Jim Harbaugh

This is going to sound silly, but hear me out.

Jim Harbaugh is Kanye West. Kanye West is Jim Harbaugh. They are, respectively, each other's spirit animal.

In order for us to make this to work and to properly articulate it, we have to split up and dissect the enigma that is Kanye West. To do that, we’ll separate his albums (or group of albums) into six categories based solely on how I received Kanye’s work.

  • The first category is Kanye in his first three albums, College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation.
  • The second is his fourth record, 808’s & Heartbreak.
  • Our third category, is the critically acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
  • Category four is Kanye’s project with Jay-Z, Watch the Throne.
  • The fifth is Yeezus, Kanye’s poorly received 2013 album.
  • The sixth and last category is the artist’s most recent release, The Life of Pablo.

Before we delve into the intricacies Harbaugh’s tie-in with the Kanye albums, we have to discuss how they both relate to each other on the surface.

For starters, they’re both considered to be somewhat insane. Their maniacal dedication to their craft and the inner fire that smolders inside them often erupts into outward displays of madness. Harbaugh’s eruptions tend to come on sidelines during games. Kanye’s come in the form of his totally insane concerts and public outbursts.

Additionally, they both have a signature style.

Kanye has the Yeezy clothing line with uniquely tattered shirts, pant, shoes and more.

(Photo: Splash)
(Photo: Splash)

Jim Harbaugh has Walmart-bought khakis, a team crew neck sweater, team hat, whistle (complete with Sharpie) and cleats. While khakis from Walmart are a far cry from $325 sweaters, the nature of a recognizable look remains the same.

(AP Photo/Tony Ding)

On a related note, Kanye West left Nike for Adidas in 2013. Jim Harbaugh left the NFL (Nike) for Michigan, who was with Adidas at the time of Harbaugh’s arrival. (Michigan is now with Jordan).

Also worth noting, both are good tweeters that take shots at their peers via that medium.

It goes even deeper than this though, which brings us back to the albums and how those align with Harbaugh.

Category One: The Establishment

Kanye’s first three albums were his coming out party. They had hit singles, they sold like crazy and Kanye established himself as a force in the music industry.

This is Jim Harbaugh, the quarterback.

Harbaugh got his first significant playing time during his junior year in Ann Arbor. Over his final two seasons, he completed 64 percent of his passes for 4,705 yards with 28 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. The quarterback finished third in the Heisman voting his senior year in 1986 and led Michigan to a Fiesta Bowl victory. Eventually, he was taken 26th overall by the Bears in the 1987 NFL draft.

In the NFL, Harbaugh played for 14 years for four teams. He finished his career with a 58.8 percent completion rate with 129 touchdowns and 117 interceptions. He went to the Pro Bowl in 1995 when he led the league in quarterback rating, interception rate, and yards-per-attempt.

He quarterbacked three playoff teams, and notched a pair of playoff wins in his career.

Arguably the most important aspect of this time period was Harbaugh appearing on Saved by the Bell in 1994. That was before he made a Pro Bowl. Obviously, everyone wanted to early boarding on the Harbaugh Train.

While Harbaugh’s success doesn’t match up with Kanye’s, the establishment of themselves in their respective industries is what’s important here.

West was a successful producer prior to his first three studio albums, but those albums put him in a position to succeed forever in music the same way Harbaugh’s college and NFL careers set him up for a life in football.

Category Two: The Ascent

Kanye’s next album is when he began to really experiment and change music. 808’s and Heartbreak was so artistically different from anything else and changed the landscape of rap music.

This is the college coaching part of Harbaugh’s career.

At the University of San Diego, Harbaugh’s high football IQ and intensely competitive style took the team to a 7-4 record his first year, and then consecutive 11-1 records complete with league championships in each season.

That led Harbaugh to Stanford where his intense demeanor and tactics completely altered the course of the Cardinal football program. Among his feats at Stanford was a 24-23 win over then-No. 1 USC (a 41-point favorite). His Cardinal earned a Sun Bowl berth in 2009, their first postseason appearance since 2001.

In 2010, Stanford went 11-1, finished fourth in the BCS rankings and thumped Virginia Tech 40-12 in the Orange Bowl for their first bowl win in over a decade.

Harbaugh’s impact at the college level, especially Stanford, is akin to West’s success with 808’s.They were both different and often castigated for their style, but ultimately fruitful in their endeavors.

Category Three: The Pinnacle

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was a critical hit. It was West at the height of his powers, harnessing the sad insanity of 808’s and morphing into arguably the best version of Kanye. The album was brilliant and the strongest argument yet for Kanye as a musical genius.

This is Harbaugh transitioning to the NFL in 2011. Everyone knew he could be successful in college, but how would his demeanor transition to football’s highest league?

It turns out it transitioned effortlessly. Harbaugh took a beleaguered San Francisco 49ers team that hadn’t had a winning season since 2002 and instantly turned them into a 13-3 powerhouse that made a trip to the NFC Championship Game.

This wasn’t a fluke where a guy took over a team that was already winning. The 49ers had won 14 games in the previous two seasons combined. They nearly matched that in Harbaugh’s first year at the helm.

Just like MBDTF turned Kanye from musical mad scientist to genius, Harbaugh’s 2011 solidified him as a genius and not just a lunatic in khakis that knew how to make college kids play hard.

Category Four: Stunt

Watch the Throne is sort of insane, but it is undeniably fun as West collaborates with rapper and “business, man” Jay Z.

This is Harbaugh’s run with Colin Kaepernick. Harbaugh was on fire and got someone else to help fan the flames. He had hand-picked Kaepernick to be Alex Smith’s successor in the 2011 NFL Draft, and when Smith went out with a concussion in Week 10 of 2012, Kaepernick very quickly took over the NFL. The 49ers went 5-2 in Kaepernick’s first seven starts and eventually went to a Super Bowl.

The following season was more of the same. The team went 12-4 with Kaepernick at the helm, won a pair of road playoff games in Green Bay and Carolina before coming up just short of another Super Bowl appearance, losing to Seattle in the 2013 NFC Championship Game.

Watch the Throne was a project where two guys coming together solely for the purpose of stunting on everybody. That was Harbaugh with Kaepernick. A great football coach doing things the NFL had never seen before with a style of quarterback the NFL had never seen before.

Watch the Throne was a very fun album, and Harbaugh’s 2012-13 was a very fun run of football.

Category Five: The Descent

Yeezus is the album where things started to spiral for Kanye. What had been great, ground-breaking music began to wear on people. It sounded like Kanye was out of good ideas and throwing things at the wall to see what might stick. Some of it did. A lot of it didn’t.

This was Jim Harbaugh in 2014. The 49ers were aging, teams were starting to figure out Kaepernick, plus injuries, suspensions and organizational tumult left Harbaugh without a lot of ideas for success.

The 49ers opened 2014 with a win in Dallas. Then they lost a pair, won three straight, lost two more, won three more, then lost four straight before tallying a win in the final week.

In between all that the writing began to show itself on the wall that Harbaugh was out of San Francisco after that season.

Yeezus was scattered with pieces of good peppered among a lot of bad. It left people wondering if Kanye might be gone off the deep end. This is not unlike the Niners' 2014 campaign, which was messy and confusing, and left people wondering if Harbaugh’s style might have finally run its course.

Category Six: More to Come

The first similarity between the final chapter in this Harbaugh/Kanye saga is the disastrous lead-up to each.

For Kanye it’s The Life of Pablo, his latest album. The release of the album was a train wreck involving Jay Z’s music streaming service, “Tidal.”

For Harbaugh, his return to Michigan began with a ton of friction between him and the 49ers front office. The mutual parting was messy and took forever to finally materialize.

Ultimately, TLOP felt incomplete. There was so much speculation about features and what the album might include, and then it came out and was just kind of…there. It wasn’t the worst thing ever released, but it definitely wasn’t Kanye’s best. There were flashes of brilliance in it though, and those moments reminded us what made Kanye great to begin with. Those flashes make us think there’s more greatness coming.

That’s where we’re at with Harbaugh. Even though Michigan struggled at times last year, they ultimately went on to a 41-7 thumping of Florida in the Citrus Bowl.

This year, they came out guns blazing and reached No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, but then fell flat in a loss to Iowa.

Harbaugh's tenure at Michigan feels incomplete. The speculation of immediately playing for a national championship ran rampant upon Harbaugh’s return to the college ranks. They’ve come up short of that, but every time Harbaugh lets the psychotic genius explode on the sideline (or in the opposing locker room), it makes us think more greatness is coming.

This concludes our lecture. Jim Harbaugh is Kanye West. Kanye West is Jim Harbaugh. They are one and the same. So the next time one of them feels the pressure from being under more scrutiny, you can be certain the other will act more stupidly.


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