The Harbaugh sister: Joani Crean, the first lady of Indiana basketball, is a lot like her brothers

Kevin Kaduk
Shutdown Corner

The Harbaugh brothers may be at the center of the sporting world this week, but there's a member of their family who will be trying to get through two big games this weekend.

We're talking, of course, about Joani Crean. You may know her as the wife of Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, but she's also the younger sister of Jim and John Harbaugh. Look at the photo to your right and there's no doubt she's a Harbaugh all right — strong jaw, intense glare and all.

There's little chance, however, that Joani is thinking about the San Francisco 49ers or Baltimore Ravens in the picture. Say the words "big game" around Joani her days and she'll probably think you're talking about the Saturday night date between the third-ranked Hoosiers and top-ranked Michigan at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. Joani and her family won't take off for New Orleans until that Big Ten pressure cooker is over.

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Still, despite her focus, Joani has occupied a Super Bowl storyline this week as requests for interviews have flooded into Indiana's sports information department. Rest assured they're from reporters looking not for her take on her husband's ability to return Indiana's program to its former glories but for any additional insights she can provide on her older brothers.

Those reporters might come away disappointed, though. Inquiries into her rooting interests are met with comparisons to being neutral like Switzerland.

And unlike their father Jack Harbaugh, a former college coach, it's not like she's discussing in-game strategy with either sibling.

From the New York Times

“In my mind-set, we have three games before the Super Bowl; my son has a game and he has a science test,” Joani Crean said last week. “Honestly, I’m more nervous watching Tom’s games. That affects our life every day. That affects my kids going to school every day. I would say Jim and John’s jobs don’t affect my daily life.”

Joani met Tom Crean when he was an assistant basketball coach at Western Kentucky, the school where Jack Harbaugh coached football from 1989 to 2002. She likely saw a lot of the same qualities in her future husband as she did in the men of her family — hard-working, loyal, occasionally brash and armed with a demanding will to win.

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Tom Crean, meanwhile, tells the NYT that there was no mistaking that Joani was a Harbaugh because her attributes have never been much different from Jim and John:

“She’s opinionated, very smart and she doesn’t like to be wrong; she rarely is,” Tom Crean said. “She’ll race our kids in the pool and she’s not letting our two oldest beat her in anything. She wants to win. Joani is not going to lose an argument. To grow up in that house, you had to be competitive.”

Joani tells the paper it's difficult to conquer all of the schedules and get all of the siblings together for family get-togethers. She says the last time they all saw each other was last Super Bowl week when both brothers lost in their conference championship games.

This Super Bowl weekend will make for a much more memorable reunion, though. Especially if Joani arrives in the Big Easy with that big Hoosier win she's been eyeing.

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