How do you not love a coach who says, “I was born into football, my goal was always to play as long as I could, now I will coach as long as I can coach, and then I will die.” That coach is Jim Harbaugh.
I have to admit that as a USC alum, my Harbaugh experience did not start out well. Despise is a word that comes to mind. I yelled quite a few unladylike unpleasantries at him as he called for his team to go for two when they were already up by an unrecoverable amount. The Cardinal beat the Trojans 55-12 that year (2009), and it is known by many as the “What’s Your Deal” game in reference to the post game exchange between Pete Carroll and Harbaugh. I still carry a little resentment over it. Ok, maybe a lot.
Then in 2011 the 49ers hired Harbaugh as a their head coach. (Mind you I was still angry with him in 2010 as USC lost to him and the Cardinal again, although this time it was a nail biter) Well, I suppose I had to try to like him at that point. Fact is, a year later, he’s one of my favorite football personalities to listen to. It’s not because he took the Niners to the NFC championship game in 2011, although that didn’t hurt.
What I have discovered about Jim Harbaugh is that he has a very snarky personality, yet he is very respectful and positive. It’s combination I find quite endearing and entertaining.
Example #1. This is a conversation (in its entirety) that Harbaugh had with Bo Schembechler when he was hired as the head football coach at the University of San Diego. He recounted this to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times.
Bo Schembechler: Are you gonna have a fullback? An ass kicking fullback lined up right behind the quarterback?
Harbaugh: Yes, Coach.
Schembechler: Are you gonna have a tight end? A tight end that puts his hand in the dirt and seals the end of the line of scrimmage?
Harbaugh: Yes, coach, we’ll have a tight end.
Schembechler: Ok, Good luck.
Example #2. When asked after OTAs a few weeks ago about the team’s progress, he talked about how several players were making strides in the off season, including Will Tukuafu on both sides of the ball, Vernon Davis’ route running, Perrish Cox being a two phase player, and the entire secondary performing at a high level. He talked about how Aldon and Justin Smith are pairing up well. He also mentioned more than once about how attendance at OTAs was pretty complete. From day one as head coach, Harbaugh’s support of Alex Smith as the starting QB has been remarkable and repeatedly noted in the media. It was just what the doctor ordered.
Example #3. When asked why he always wears the exact same outfit (khaki pants and a tucked in black SF sweatshirt) he replied that it “reduces drag.” He doesn’t have to waste any time on what to wear today, tomorrow, or the next day. He has 8 pairs of the pants, and 6 of the sweatshirts, which he made clear, he does not wear all on the same day.
Most of all, Harbaugh is a player’s coach. When I asked Patrick Willis why Harbaugh seems to had such a positive effect on the team, he talked about how Harbaugh’s 14 years in the league makes an impact. He noted, “Even if you don’t like what they have to say, you have to respect it because they have been there. They know what you’re going through.”
Keep talking coach, we’re all listening.