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Former Gilman coach Biff Poggi headed to Michigan football as associate head coach

Gilman football coach Biff Poggi, center, is pictured during Gilman's defeat of Mount Saint Joseph on Oct. 25, 2014. Poggi ended his tenure at Gilman after 19 years at the school in January 2016.
Gilman football coach Biff Poggi, center, is pictured during Gilman's defeat of Mount Saint Joseph on Oct. 25, 2014. Poggi ended his tenure at Gilman after 19 years at the school in January 2016. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Former Gilman football coach Biff Poggi is headed to Michigan to become the associate head coach/special adviser to head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Poggi said Monday that he plans to fly to Ann Arbor on Wednesday to sign his contract. He had been rumored to be accepting the position in the spring, but told The Sun he had not made up his mind at that point.

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Poggi, who left Gilman in January after 19 years as head coach, said that in the end he couldn't resist the opportunity to learn more about the game and the culture of the game in Ann Arbor and to work with Harbaugh, whom he called "a wizard" at coaching football.

"When you've been doing something for 30 years, I just went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and I learned that habits are a hard thing to break," Poggi said. "I love coaching high school kids, but this was such an opportunity."

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Poggi's youngest son Henry is a Wolverines fullback with two years of eligibility remaining and his daughter Mellie is also at Michigan.

"I felt like if I was ever going to do it, this is like the sun, the moon and the stars have lined up and I really am very comfortable with Jim and the coaching staff," Poggi said.

Poggi's job will be to advise Harbaugh on strategy and organizational structure. His position does not count as a coaching position and he won't be coaching the players, coaching the team or recruiting, according to the Michigan job description.

Giving up contact with young players who are potential recruits was a big consideration for Poggi, who can no longer call high school players including the Gilman players he coached for several years.

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Poggi, 56, said he's not sure how long he will stay with the Wolverines, although at first he said he would stay for a year and reassess. He does hope to return to Baltimore at some point and coach at St. Frances, where almost all of his Gilman staff has moved.

Another issue for Poggi was that he played a large part in funding the St. Frances program from the beginning and that he also paid tuition for a number of young men at Gilman and at other schools. As a coach in the NCAA, he could no longer pay for those things.

"I had to hire a lot of lawyers and go through the complete compliance check to where I have to follow and obey exactly the rules," he said. "For example, I just can't go watch a high school football game which I've done for 30 years. I can't call a kid on the phone. I know all these kids, the Gilman kids and other kids, too. I just can't go, 'Hey, how you doing?' I can't text them. I have to be careful how I reply to a text from them. My life is completely different than how I lived it over the last 30 years."

In his desire to return eventually to the high school coaching ranks, Poggi said he wants to see how another program is run and how Michigan football maintains its importance at a university that boasts some of the top academic programs in the world.

He wants to learn how to keep players focused on the opportunities they have to use their football skills to get a good education and, for many players, change the trajectory of their lives.

"If I can learn different or additional skills about how you keep those kids at an older level from diverse backgrounds, keeping their eye on what this is all about, it will help definitely with the younger kids who are not as set in their ways," he said.

He has been disappointed that some schools, including Gilman he said, have been looking at their football programs "as a burden."

"Football is a very important avenue for a lot of kids to improve the trajectory of their lives," Poggi said, "and it's not something bad to take a kid who's from a different part of town ... and give him an opportunity, because he's a great football player, to experience something that others can experience just because they are born in a different zip code."

That's something Poggi did at Gilman and he hopes his experience at Michigan will give him insight into why a top academic school like Michigan embraces its football program so tightly and how he can foster that type of relationship between athletics and academics on the high school level.

"I'm sure it has a lot to do with money, but I also think it has a lot to do with culture," Poggi said. "I think they understand the value of football not only for the kids that are playing and the opportunity it gives kids from all over the country to change the trajectory of their lives, but I know Michigan understands this: If you take the football program out of that university, it's a fundamentally different experience for every student who's ever gone there and I want to find out what that DNA is and that culture because I'm afraid that around here, we're losing it."

The Michigan job description lists Poggi's responsibilities as assisting with analysis and helping the staff prepare game plans, assisting with "on-campus recruiting activities," providing Harbaugh with "suggestions for operational strategies," providing "organizational management to the head coach, associate athletic director for football, director of football operations," and coordinate special projects for the program.

A former Gilman football player, Poggi led the Greyhounds to 13 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championships. Last fall, the Greyhounds were No. 1 in The Baltimore Sun rankings and ranked as high as No. 13 nationally.

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