Jim Harbaugh: Captain Comeback
The rookie coach is restoring order to the 49ers — but not with his postgame handshakes.
By: Athlon Sports | 10/19/11, 5:43 AM EDT
Jim Harbaugh was born to coach. His father, Jack, coached football for 40 years, winning an FCS national championship at Western Kentucky in 2002. His brother, John, has made the playoffs every season since taking over the Baltimore Ravens in 2008. Even his brother-in-law, Tom Crean, is in the business — coaching basketball at Indiana University.
With all due respect to the rest of the Harbaugh coaching clan, Jim is the star — and always has been.
Raised in Palo Alto, Calif., Harbaugh played under Bo Schembechler at Michigan, where he was named the 1986 Big Ten Player of the Year, finished third in the Heisman Trophy race and took the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl as a senior.
The 6'3", 215-pound Harbaugh was a first-round pick (No. 26 overall) of the Chicago Bears. After 15 seasons — highlighted by a Pro Bowl nod and Comeback Player of the Year honors in 1995 — Harbaugh retired from the NFL and started coaching full-time.
Working his way up the ranks, Harbaugh was the quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders from 2002-03 — mentoring MVP Rich Gannon for the Super Bowl XXXVII runners-up.
Harbaugh’s first head coaching job came at San Diego University. In three seasons, he led the Toreros to a 29–6 record, with back-to-back 11–1 seasons and Pioneer League titles.
From there, Harbaugh moved up from the FCS to the FBS, taking over a Stanford University squad that finished 1–11 the year before he arrived. After four seasons, Harbaugh had turned the Cardinal into a 12–1 team and Orange Bowl winner.
Nine years after walking away from the NFL, the man known as “Captain Comeback” during his playing days was presented with a “perfect competitive opportunity” to coach his hometown team. Harbaugh jumped at the chance to return to the NFL as coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
“This is the shot, and the organization I wanted to do it with,” Harbaugh said, after signing a five-year, $25 million contract. “I can feel the enthusiasm coursing through my veins.”
Harbaugh’s energy and intensity have been evident — for both better and worse. The 49ers are alone in first place of the NFC West with a 5–1 record, the proud franchise’s best start since 1998.
But the biggest win of the season — a 25–19 upset on the road against the previously unbeaten Detroit Lions — ended in controversy. When the clock hit zero, Harbaugh celebrated by untucking his shirt, jumping around, hooting, hollering and running onto the field — where he gave Lions coach Jim Schwartz a quick, slap handshake and strong pat on the back before bolting for the locker room. Schwartz took offense, chasing after Harbaugh in a surreal scene.
Cooler heads eventually prevailed and Harbaugh learned his lesson.
“I was just really revved up,” explained Harbaugh. “I shook his hand too hard. … We’ll just try to do better — work on the postgame handshake.”
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