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Harbaughs ready to make history, thanks to dad

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

EDITOR'S NOTE: Through Father's Day, CBSSports.com writers will present a series of articles portraying fatherhood and sporting figures.

History awaits the NFL this season, and I'm not talking about landmark victories, touchdowns or yardage totals. I'm talking about family. For the first time in league history one family will be represented by two head coaches, and will Jim and John Harbaugh please step forward?

Jim Harbaugh will go against brother John on Thanksgiving. (US Presswire)  
Jim Harbaugh will go against brother John on Thanksgiving. (US Presswire)  
John you know about. He has taken the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs in three seasons there, including the AFC Championship Game in his first year. Jim is the former pro quarterback who takes over San Francisco after resurrecting the Stanford football program, with the fourth-ranked Cardinal last season going 12-1, including a 40-12 defeat of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

The two not only look alike, they act alike. Both are determined, competitive and resourceful, traits that served them well in their football careers and will reward one more than the other this Thanksgiving. That's when the Harbaughs meet in a nationally televised game, and while I can't imagine it will be easy for either, I guarantee it's more difficult for the father who raised them, coached them and now sits back to watch them.

I don't know Jack Harbaugh, but I know he can't lose that evening. I also know his sons are as proud of their Dad as he should be of them, and that's not based on anything I read or heard; it's based on what they told me when I ran five Father's Day questions past them.

Q: What is the character trait you most admire in your father and how do you apply it in your life?

Jim: "He's honest. He's always got my back. He makes everything exciting. I just try to copy that in what I do every day."

John: "It's hard to pick one, but he's straightforward, honest and a straight shooter. I try to apply it by doing the same thing. You can be someone who is without guile, and that's the way I try to apply it. There's no plan, there's no agenda, there's no hidden idea, and I respect that in other people. If I feel that if I'm having an honest, straightforward conversation we can work anything out. But if I can't have an honest, straightforward conversation we can't."

Q: What was so appealing about your father's job that made you want to go into coaching?

Jim: "When I think about growing up, I just think about the kind of dad he was -- the relationship he had with my mom; the excitement I saw in his life; how hard he worked and how much he loved his job. I was able to see the good and the bad, the ups and downs. All those things, in total, made me want to do the same thing."

John: "His relationship with his players. He was unbelievable with his players. They were always at our house for dinner, and we were always around the building. We knew their first names. They knew our first names. We usually would know their girlfriends or wives or whatever -- the usual player-coach deal -- and that was fun. They all called him 'Jack,' and when we were at Michigan that's probably where we saw it the most. I think you always want to do what your Dad does. Jim will tell you he wanted to do it from the first day he started breathing; that he wanted to play as long as he could, then coach. I can't say I ever said I was going to be a coach because I never knew for sure. But, in the end, I think that's what it was. And what really got it going for me was when I went to work with him every day for three years when he was at Western [Michigan], and I was a graduate assistant. When I saw him operate every day I said, 'Oh my gosh, now I know what he does every day. I really admire this job. Now I see what it's all about and how challenging it is, and I want to do it.' That was it for me."

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Q: What was the best advice your dad gave you?

Jim: "The best advice he ever gave me was, 'Every day when you leave the house to go to work make sure you have your wedding ring, your wallet, your cell phone and your keys.'"

John: "The best advice my Dad ever gave me was regarding our kids: 'You have coaches your whole life, but you only have one Dad ... and I'll be your Dad.' He would still coach us on stuff, but he was always our Dad first, and I've been able to apply that with our daughter. I remember one time I was starting as a 15-year-old junior at Pioneer High School [in Ann Arbor, Mich.], and we were playing Detroit Catholic Central, the No. 1-rated school in the country, in an opening game. They threw an 'out' route on me, and I broke it up. Then, all of a sudden, Jim comes running down after that series and says, 'John, John, Dad said to watch the out-and-up the next play.' And I did ... and picked it off in the end zone. I'm not sure he wasn't being a Dad there, as well as a coach."

Q: What do you think you learned from your father that your brother did not?

Jim: "To drink as much milk as humanly possible."

John: (laughing) "I probably learned to attribute a quote or an idea to its author. Jim takes credit for everything. I've seen a lot of those the last six months, and I know exactly where they came from. And it's 100 percent. It's either me or my Dad."

Q: If there's one thing you want your Dad to know that he did for you what is it?

Jim: "He allowed me to be who I am. He played catch with me. He took me to ballgames. He allowed me to copy him. Most important, he believed in me."

John: "The underlying thing is that he always told us he loved us. My mom, too. That was OK; it was always cool to say. I got off the phone last night with Jay, Jim's son, and as we were hanging up he said, 'I love you, Uncle John.' And I thought, 'You know what? That's in our family.' The other thing is that he taught us how to get back up; to be persistent, to be relentless, to be pit bulls. My 9-year-old daughter was pitching the other night in softball, and she could not throw a strike. She was upset, so I asked her, ‘What's the golden rule?' And she said, ‘When you get knocked down you have to get up.' Then I asked, 'How many times?' And she told me, ‘Well, how many times do I have to get knocked down?' And I said, 'That's exactly right. Every time.' Papa Jack would tell us that: 'Every time.' And the other great line he had that everyone in the family has is ... no matter what the situation is ... but he'll always say, 'Who's got it better than us?' Everybody knows what to say, and we say it like this: 'NOOOOOOOO-body.'"


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