The analogy was clear as he inserted much-ballyhooed redshirt freshman Brandon Peters in the second quarter and watched as he sparked a struggling offense. Peters helped lead the Wolverines to a 35-14 victory over Rutgers on Saturday in his first extensive play on the college level.
Peters replaced John O'Korn with seven minutes left in the second quarter and led the Wolverines on four touchdown-scoring drives.
"I always look at it as a process," Harbaugh said. "For a couple weeks now we felt he was ready and time to (play), like a bird leaving a nest. Kids leaving the house and going off on their own. It's time. It's time. It was just time."
Michigan plays Minnesota under the lights at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, the first of four remaining regular-season games. As it stands now, Peters is set to make his first college start against the Golden Gophers.
"We'll see. Right now, I feel really good about the way he played," Harbaugh said. "Feel good about him taking the next step and being the starting quarterback and getting a great week now knowing he's the starting quarterback in practice. As I sit here now that's the way I feel about it."
Peters looked poised and unflappable. He was 10-of-14 for 124 yards and a touchdown, the Wolverines' first passing touchdown in 15 quarters since the second quarter of the Purdue game.
"I showed what I had today," Peters said when asked if he had made a case to be the starter. "It's in the hands of the coaches. I'd love to be the starting QB. That's always been my goal since I got here. It's in the hands of the coaches. I know they'll do whatever they feel is right for the team."
O'Korn took over as the starter in the first quarter at Purdue on Sept. 23 after Wilton Speight was knocked out of the game. This was his fourth start and struggled early with two fumbled snaps that he recovered and an interception. He did direct the team's first scoring drive.
He took to Twitter after the game and sounded upbeat and happy about the victory: "Big TEAM win...love this squad."
Harbaugh said he told the team last Monday in a team meeting that Peters would play against Rutgers and get in the game early.
"We had made that decision well before the game that he was going to play in the game," Harbaugh said. "It was time. It was time for him to play."
Peters said he was completely comfortable when he took over the offense that finished with 471 yards — the most since the Wolverines had 660 at Rutgers last season — including 352 rushing.
"I wasn't that nervous honestly," Peters said. "It was a great opportunity to get out there. I was more excited and confident than nervous."
Since Speight's injury, Peters stepped into the backup role and started to take more snaps in practice.
"Ever since then I've been preparing like I'm the starting QB," he said. "You always have to be ready. One play away. Preparation made me feel confident. Honestly, I've gotten better every single day since camp. I've come far away since camp. As far as communication goes to the O-line to all the players on the team. The biggest step I made was my communication so far."
Before the season, way back in July at the Big Ten media days in Chicago, Harbaugh said the main area of improvement Peters had to make was being louder on the field and louder as he communicated to his teammates.
Peters said that has been where he has improved most.
"I've definitely gotten a lot better at it," he said. "That's something I've really focused on. It's been my weakness ever since I've gotten to Michigan. I've really focused on it. And it makes a big difference for sure."
When it was announced Peters would be coming in, the Michigan Stadium crowd came to life and began cheering.
"It seemed the crowd was more into it once he went in," defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said. "That's probably the big thing. I heard the crowd get up and I was like, 'Whoa, what happened?' And I looked up and it was BP and he completed a pass. I think anytime the offense moves the ball we get excited."
Harbaugh said the thing about young players is sometimes they're good in practice and it just doesn't automatically translate to the game.
"Young players, when they're good in the games, that helps their confidence," Harbaugh said. "That builds the confidence. We all felt good. No one was nervous about what was going to happen. We thought he'd do good. He did better than everyone thought."
His teammates all described Peters as being even-keel, never too emotional, just what most coaches want from a quarterback.
"He's a quiet guy, but as you see it today, once he gets going, he starts talking a little bit," defensive end Rashan Gary. "He's like, 'Can you get me back the ball?' when we was all about to go out on defense, 'Can I get the ball back?' Once he gets in his groove, everybody else is like, 'All right, BP, let's go.'"
Gary said he has seen Peters grow as a quarterback.
"From spring ball to now, two completely different quarterbacks," Gary said. "You see it in practice, he's talking more, checking down more. It's crazy to see, not seeing that too much in spring ball then to now. He's checking things down, making good passes. It's unbelievable."
And with that, the bird has left the nest and is ready to take over Michigan's offense.
"Coach always says, be ready, be prepared. You're one play away," Peters said. "That's what I've been doing is preparing like I'm starting."