June 17, 2007

Harbaugh picking up where Dad left off

From his Milwaukee home this spring, Jack Harbaugh heard a familiar voice and a familiar saying coming from the television.

During a segment about spring practice, Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh Jack's son stood at the center of his new team and emphasized the importance of the day's practice.

Before sending his team on its way, Jim Harbaugh barked one last piece of advice.

"OK, men, attack this day with an enthusiasm UNKNOWN TO MANKIND!"

It's a phrase Stanford players will probably hear for years to come. It's a phrase that has been a Harbaugh family motto for decades.

Jim and his older brother John heard it almost every day, beginning when they were toddlers. It started when their father dropped them off for elementary school.

"I thought to myself that there should be an asterisk on that, that it came from his father," Jack Harbaugh said.

An inspirational phrase is far from the only trait Jim Harbaugh has picked up from his father. Harbaugh begins his career as Stanford's head coach this year after going 29-6 in three years at Division I-AA San Diego.

But he's been training to be a head coach since kindergarten, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father - who coached for 42 years. After serving as an assistant at Iowa, Michigan and Stanford, Jack Harbaugh won a Division I-AA national championship at Western Kentucky in his final season there in 2002.

"Ever since I was 5 or 6, as far back as I remember, I wanted to play as long as I could and then I wanted to coach and be just like him," Jim Harbaugh said. "As a coach, he's one of the all-time greats. He might not be a household name like some people, but he's one of the all-time greatest coaches. I'd love to be half the coach he is."

Growing up a coach's son, Jim Harbaugh called his childhood a playground. When Jack was an assistant under Bo Schembechler at Michigan from 1973-79, Jim was a regular at Michigan practices. His father brought players home for dinner.

Before Jim could drive, he and John - who has been an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles for nine seasons - sat behind a 16 millimeter projector dissecting Michigan game film.

"John and Jim took notes at relatively young age," Jack Harbaugh said. "They were looking at football from the standpoint a coach might look at it and talk about it."

Jack Harbaugh had no idea what those film sessions would mean to his own coaching career.

After Jack arrived at Western Kentucky in 1989, the program was in trouble. The school cut 15 scholarships, two full-time coaches and slashed the operating budget by half.

In 1993, Jim drove to Florida from Chicago, where he was playing for the Bears. He stopped in Bowling Green, Ky., on the way. He found his father in his office, despondent.

The son vowed to help his father put the program together again. During the height of his NFL career, Jim also took on the role as a full-time, unpaid assistant for Western Kentucky. He couldn't be there for practice or most of the Hilltoppers' games, but he could recruit.

Jim and his father spent offseasons recruiting in Florida. The pair went on marathon recruiting sessions, visiting eight to 10 high schools during the day and two or three players in the evening.

Among the players they landed was Willie Taggart from Manatee High. Taggart left Western Kentucky as the top rushing quarterback in Division I-AA history in 1998, and joined Harbaugh's staff at Stanford this year.

On the field, Jim had as much of an impact. During a bye week in the NFL, Jim coached alongside his father on the sideline. During a game against UAB, Taggart had run Jack Harbaugh's triple option perfectly, building a 14-0 lead in the middle of the second quarter.

Western Kentucky had not thrown a pass.

Jim Harbaugh walked up the sideline to his father and asked, only half-jokingly, if he had a pass play in his playbook.

"I said, 'Yeah, we have a few here,' " Jack said. "He said, 'If you don't run one here soon, I'm going home. This is absolutely boring. I'm just telling you, throw a pass.' "

The son's walkout was averted when Taggart's first pass play went for a 60-yard touchdown.

Father: Bobby Bowden
Coached at: Samford (1959-62), West Virginia (1970-75), Florida State (1976-present)
Son: Tommy Bowden
Coaches at: Clemson
Father: Vince Dooley
Coached at: Georgia (1964-88)
Son: Derek Dooley
Coaches at: Louisiana Tech
Father: Dennis Franchione
Coached at: New Mexico (1992-97), TCU (1998-200), Alabama (2001-02), Texas A&M (2003-present)
Son: Brad Franchione
Coaches at: Blinn College
Father: Jack Harbaugh
Coached at: Western Michigan (1982-86), Western Kentucky (1989-2002)
Son: Jim Harbaugh Coaches at: Stanford
Father: Lou Holtz
Coached at: NC State (1972-75), Arkansas (1977-83), Minnesota (1984-85), Notre Dame (1986-96), South Carolina (1999-2004)
Son: Skip Holtz
Coaches at: East Carolina
Father: Dave Kragthorpe
Coached at: Idaho State (1980-82), Oregon State (1985-90)
Son: Steve Kragthorpe
Coaches at: Louisville
Father: Lee Tressel
Coached at: Baldwin-Wallace (1958-80)
Son: Jim Tressel
Coaches at: Ohio State
Jack was the beneficiary of his sons' magic again, this time when he was playing for the I-AA title in 2002.

He returned home from the national semifinal win over Georgia Southern to a conference call from Jim and John.

The Harbaugh sons spent three hours on the phone picking out seven plays for their father to put into the game plan for the championship game against McNeese State.

In his final game as Western Kentucky's coach, Harbaugh took his sons' advice and won the national championship with a 28-17 victory.

"They were all pass plays. We ended up passing for 200 yards in that game, and for us it would take five games to pass for 200 yards," Jack Harbaugh said. "We used all seven in that game, and all seven worked as if it was preordained. At least two of them ended in touchdowns."

Jack Harbaugh left Western Kentucky to become associate athletics director at Marquette, where his son-in-law, Tom Crean, is the men's basketball coach. In 2004, Jack had one more coaching duty.

When Jim took his first head coaching job at San Diego that year, Jack took a leave of absence from Marquette to serve as Jim's running backs coach. Jack was a part-time assistant during the next season.

Jim wanted his father there to help him in his first coaching job, but Jack was surprised to find out how much his son had already learned.

"It was his first year and I'd close my eyes and it would be Bo Schembechler in his inflections in the way he spoke," Jack Harbaugh said. "You wouldn't expect it. After 15 years in the league and in his first year as head coach, you'd think there would be a process there when he experienced different things, but it was obvious that he had been training to be a coach."

Jim, though, will say he learned from the best.

"He was a true coach," Jim Harbaugh said. "That's the best thing to say about him. What a wonderful thing to say about him."

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    David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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