| Detroit Free Press
Jim Harbaugh’s story: From U-M ball boy to Michigan football coach
Jim Harbaugh’s connection to the Michigan football program dates back to the 1970s. Here’s a quick look at an impressive football career.
Tyler J. Davis, Des Moines Register
When Ron Bellamy first walked into Schembechler Hall as a wide-eyed freshman from Louisiana, he didn’t know what to expect. He was worried and uncertain of what the future held.
Over two decades have passed since that moment. Now, Bellamy enters the building on a daily basis as Michigan football‘s new receivers coach.
“Now, I walk into that building with my George Jefferson strut,” he said. “I was like, ‘Man, let’s go, let’s get it.’ I was excited.”
During an appearance Thursday on the ‘Inside the Trenches’ podcast with Jon Jansen, Bellamy — who played at Michigan between 1999-2002 — detailed his decision to join the Wolverines’ coaching staff in January after spending 11 seasons as head coach at West Bloomfield.
The shine of returning to his alma mater has yet to wear off.
“It was surreal,” Bellamy said. “(Mike Hart and I) looked at each other when one of our meetings ended and the first thing we said was, ‘Wow. We’re coaches here at the University of Michigan. This is home for us. This is where we became men. This is where Lloyd Carr helped build a foundation for us to be husbands, fathers and just great people.’ Michigan is a special place.
“For Mike, he hadn’t been back in 10 years. Me being local, I’ve been back. But just to sit in the coaches’ office and to sit in the chairs and realize — it came full circle.”
As it turns out, the path back to Ann Arbor was heavily influenced by one of Bellamy’s former coaches. After his NFL career ended in 2008, Bellamy says he drove back to Ann Arbor (he had been with the Detroit Lions) and met with former head coach Lloyd Carr.
“I sat at his office in Weidenbach (Hall) and I said, ‘What’s next, coach? What is the suggested transition for me?’ ” Bellamy recalled. “And coach Carr said, ‘You’re a football coach.’ ‘Football coach?’ That wasn’t in the plan. I had some very good opportunities to get into medical device sales and things of that nature. And coach Carr kind of drew a plan out for me.
“He said, ‘Follow this path and if you do, I think you’re going to enjoy this career, because it’s a career you can impact so many lives and help give kids opportunities that were presented to myself.’ ”
Bellamy earned a master’s degree in education at Wayne State, and a couple years later, accepted a job as a teacher and the head football coach at West Bloomfield.
At the time, the program was moribund, with zero state championship appearances. The Lakers were surrounded by talent-rich programs on all sides like Birmingham Brother Rice, Detroit Catholic Central and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s — all of which won more games and titles than West Bloomfield. Many players chose to attend those other schools instead.
“For me, you had to figure out a strategic way of keeping our kids, building a fence around our school district,” Bellamy said. “West Bloomfield is such a great school district, West Bloomfield is an amazing high school, so I had to give parents and kids a reason why they should say in West Bloomfield.
“We started youth organizations. The West Bloomfield Lions. We got our kids to play for our organization. First couple years were rough, just because we’re trying to build a program the right way to sustain success, and then once you’re able to keep the kids from going to other schools, then we started seeing a big change in our football program.”
In 2017, Bellamy led West Bloomfield to the Division I state championship game, where it fell, 3-2, to Clarkston. By that time, the Lakers were sending prospects to Power 5 schools on a yearly basis.
This season, Bellamy finally broke through in the state championship game with a 41-0 blowout win over Davison.
Bellamy had already entertained interest from college teams before his final run through the state playoffs. He always turned down those opportunities because “I wasn’t quite ready for that. I felt like I still had some unfinished business.”
But he fielded a call from coach Jim Harbaugh this winter, as Michigan was in the process of re-shuffling its coaching staff and making new hires, and Harbaugh’s offer warranted strong consideration. Bellamy called former Michigan players who had transitioned to coaching in college or the NFL after their playing days like Hart, Cato June, Roy Manning and Larry Foote, among others. Bellamy knew the daily grind that came with coaching in college, and wanted to see “if this was a great fit.”
In the end, the job checked off all the boxes. Bellamy says there were too many ties to the school: His wife attended Michigan and works for the university, his sister-in-law ran track and his brother-in-law, Tim Biakabutuka, was a decorated running back for the Wolverines who told Bellamy, “You got to do it, man. Opportunities like this don’t come often. If you pass up this opportunity, you may never get it again.”
“It was a no brainer when coach Harbaugh called and he said, ‘Are you ready?’ ” Bellamy said. “I said, ‘I’m ready to come home.’ The rest is kind of history.”
Now, Bellamy is in the midst of his first offseason as a college coach. He has already made an effort to get to know his new players as Michigan prepares for spring practices later this offseason. And while he no longer is coaching at West Bloomfield, he is applying lessons he learned to his new job when it comes to recruiting.
“College football and high school football, there are a ton of similarities that I’m learning so far,” Bellamy said. “One of the similarities: You’ve got to take care of home. This state is rich in football tradition, this state is rich in football history. Whoever they ask me to go out and recruit, I’m going to put all my effort behind it.
“One of my strengths is I’m bringing energy. Every day I have this energy inside of me. That’s my personality. I’m real. I’m genuine. I love building relationships. I think that’s the foundation of success for anything you do. What better place to do it than the state of Michigan?”