Proud parents prep for John vs. Jim Super Bowl

The SportsXchange

NEW ORLEANS -- As sons of a father who coached a dozen teams, Jim and John Harbaugh grew up learning to embrace change as a basic rule of leadership.

So Jack Harbaugh, the father of San Francisco 49ers coach Jim and Baltimore Ravens coach John, was one of the few people who was not surprised when the brothers made dramatic changes during a tumultuous 2012 season.

In November, Jim decided to keep second-year player Colin Kaepernick as the starting quarterback even after veteran Alex Smith, who was having an outstanding season, returned from a concussion.

With only three games left in the regular season playoff drive, John fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

Although questioned at the time, those two moves are now hailed as key reasons the brothers Harbaugh will face each other in Super Bowl XLVII.

Kaepernick's quick feet, strong arm and slick run-option skills have taken the 49ers offense to heights Smith was unable to reach. Jim Caldwell, Cameron's replacement, is credited for improved play by quarterback Joe Flacco and an offense that is averaging 27.7 points in the playoffs.

"When those decisions were made, I kind of reflected on my own career, and I think that is what coaching is all about," Jack Harbaugh said. "I think that is what leadership is all about, that is what the business is all about. Every single day in coaching -- and the 43 years that I was in it -- there was a decision that needed to be made. ... They made tough decisions. We are very proud."

In a press conference with the Super Bowl media Wednesday, Jack and wife Jackie discussed the family and the family business of coaching as they prepare for the unique experience of watching their two sons compete against each other in the Super Bowl.

They were asked to recall when Jim and John understood that their dad was a football coach.

"I have to point to Jackie," Jack Harbaugh said. "In coaching, a lot of times I left before the sun came up and came home after the sun went down. Jackie has a great philosophy and that is that she wanted her children to know what their father did. She wanted them to understand who he was and what he did. I can remember when they could just barely walk, John and Jim, that she'd bring them out to the practice field.

"We'd be practicing and they'd be around jumping on the dummies and then they learned they could throw the ball around. Then they learned they could get into the locker room and meet the players and those kinds of things. We would invite our players at Iowa and Michigan when they were growing up to come to the house on Thursday. That was the day we had off. Jackie would cook a great meal for them and then pretty soon they were wrestling on the floor. Jackie always involved our children in the job that we were involved with."

When asked directly if he saw any of his own coaching style in his sons, Jack responded in an elusive manner that was eerily reminiscent of responses given by Jim in recent weeks.

Said Jack, "I really believe they're both who they are. I don't think you have to watch very long or be a psychologist just to watch and see who they are. The beauty of it, they allow themselves to be who they are. I think Jackie and I are most proud of that."

So the answer was a definite sidestep.

However, Jack did allow that both sons are true to their own personalities, a trait he tracks back to former Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler, for whom he worked from 1973-79 and under whom Jim played quarterback from 1983-86.

"The one thing that we watch and take great pride in is that both of them are themselves, " Jack said. "We were around Bo Schembechler for a long time and there were a lot of coaches that tried to emulate him. The first time you weren't yourself, you were exposed and somewhat of a fraud. So, always be who you are and not follow anyone else."

When asked if his sons consulted him with football questions, Jack recalled a phone conversation with Jim after the first day of the 2011 draft.

"He asked what I thought about the draft," Jack said. "We didn't have much to talk about as it relates to the draft, but he had not expressed to me who they were thinking about drafting at the quarterback position so I said 'Jim, tomorrow in the second round, surely you're going to draft a quarterback, but which one is it going to be?' and it was dead silent.

"He said 'we're drafting Colin Kaepernick. Do I not only think that he's the best quarterback in the draft, I think he's the best football player in the draft and we're going with Colin Kaepernick.' And I thought to myself, 'wise decision.'"

There is an oft-repeated saying in the Harbaugh family. It is hardly unique and is attributed to former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy, among others. "Who has it better than us?" it begins. And the chorus-like reply is "Noooobody."

Jack and Jackie readily admit that being parents of competing head coaches in the Super Bowl, certainly fits that saying, and vice versa.

"All those millions of people that are parents out there, this is just a fantastic, fantastic experience and really no one has it better than us," Jack said.

"But when you're in the process of going through parenting, the day that they made the junior high school football team, they said we made our high school team. You have that feeling of being thrilled for your children. They go to high school and they make the high school team. Then they are lucky enough to get a college scholarship. Then every one of those stops along the tremendous journey. The thrill that you feel, I know this is on a big stage, but in parenting, those don't rank any differently."

He does have a cautionary view of how things may be after the game, however.

"The one thing that I do think about is after the game," he said. "There is going to be one winner and there is going to be one that is going to be totally disappointed. My thoughts go to that one that will not experience the thrill of victory. That's where our thoughts will be."

"We had a little bit of a dry run on this last year with Thanksgiving," he added, recalling the 2011 game between the brothers in a game won by the Ravens. He recalled the smile on John's face in a jubilant Baltimore locker room. And he recalled going into the 49ers locker room.

"We opened up a couple doors and finally saw Jim all by himself in this room, just a table and a chair. He was still in his coaching outfit. His head down in his hands and you looked into his eyes and you realized that this is where you're needed as a parent.

"Every single parent can identify with that. That thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. On Sunday night, we're going to experience both of those great emotions. Our thoughts will be with the one that comes up a little short."

Since that game, Jack has reviewed that game and found reason for happiness.

"Looking at that game in retrospect and watching it playback a couple of times, I thought that was one of the finest played football games that I had ever been a part of," he said. "I'm not just talking about the way it was played strategy-wise and the intensity of the offense and defense and special teams. . . . A great, great display of football. I believe that's what we're going to see on Sunday night."
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