San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll have been tweaking each other since Harbaugh was at Stanford, Carroll was at USC, and the Pac-12 was the Pac-10. Their rivalry (which seems to go beyond the traditional coaches' rivalry to something more closely resembling light contempt) has accelerated this offseason, with many experts claiming that the two teams may be the best in the NFL coming into the 2013 season. Carroll's team has been in the news over the last few years for the wrong reasons more than Harbaugh's, and the cause has been a string of player suspensions related to violations of the league's substance-abuse policy. In May, defensive end Bruce Irvin became the sixth Seahawks player since 2010 to be suspended, and unprescribed use of the ADD drug Adderall has been the primary reason.
Asked about the Seahawks' extracurricular issues at the end of the first day of his team's minicamp on Tuesday, Harbaugh couldn't resist another tweak at Carroll, and a clear definition of his own coaching philosophy.
''Is it a concern? I've definitely noticed it,'' Harbaugh said of the Seahawks. ''You don't know what it is. Even when people say what it is, you don't know that that's what it is. I've heard this thrown out or that, but that's usually the agents or the players themselves saying it's, for example, Adderall. But the NFL doesn't release what it actually is, so you have no idea. You're taking somebody at their word that I don't know if you can take them at their word, understanding the circumstances.''
Harbaugh was clearly referring to the fact that some consider Adderall to be a masking agent for other, more dangerous performance-enhancing substances, such as steroids. Harbaugh made it clear that such activity would not be tolerated on his team, and even invoked the name of the late Bo Schembechler, the Michigan coaching legend who Harbaugh played for at the college level.
''It has no place in an athlete's body. Play by the rules,'' Harbaugh said of substances prohibited by the league. ''You always want to be above reproach, especially when you're good, because you don't want people to come back and say, 'They're winning because they're cheating.' That's always going to be a knee-jerk reaction in my experience, ever since I was a little kid. We want to be above reproach in everything and do everything by the rules. Because if you don't, if you cheat to win, then you've already lost, according to Bo Schembechler. And Bo Schembechler is about next to the word of God as you can get in my mind. It's not the word of God, but it's close.''
Carroll has said that the Adderall problem is something he and his front office need to get their arms around, but there are limits to what a coach can do after the fact. Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson recently led a players-only meeting in which the team's veterans let the younger players know that they're just hurting their colleagues in the locker room when they take these mis-steps. We don't yet know if this will have an impact. Irvin was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season, including the first of two matchups with the 49ers.
It's also unknown what would happen if a current 49ers player was suspended for such a violation, especially a high-profile player. By dint of good fortune, and possibly a more authoritative hold on his players, Harbaugh hasn't had to deal with such things.