If you missed it earlier today, the NFL ran a conference call featuring Jim and John Harbaugh's parents and sister. Jack and Jackie Harbaugh joined Joani Crean to talk with the media about life with the brothers. The call featured some great stories, and even an unexpected call-in from John at around the 21-minute mark.
The call audio is available over at 49ers.com, and I recommend listening to it if possible. The transcript is entertaining enough, but the tone of voice for all three Harbaugh family members brings a little something extra.
I know the boys grew up in a football family. Did they kind of get into coaching on their own? Did you try to steer them away from it? How did that develop as they both ... I know Jim followed you for a short time as well.
Jack: "I think they both decided to get into coaching on their own. We look back, and growing up mainly at the University of Michigan when they were in elementary school and junior high school, they loved sports, had a passion for sports. They enjoyed being around the game. Then came a time to make a decision in what their life's work would be, and they decided on coaching. I think the greatest joy I got in my life - after seeing all of the ups and downs, and the ins and outs, and all of the different things involved in the coaching profession - is that that is something they would decide [to do]. It was something they wanted to do."
Is that something that you were on board with, too? I know you grew up with a lot of coaches in your day.
Jack: "I took great pride and joy in the fact that that was what they wanted to do, that they wanted to spend their lives in the coaching profession. I do recall Jim in high school ... He talked about playing the game as long as he could, possibly a college career, and then the pros came unexpectedly, I guess, to everyone, because of the difficulty it is to get into that particular profession. Then his goal was after playing as long as he could, he wanted to coach. He made that very clear. John took a different route. His route was, he talked about political science and maybe politics at some point in time, but after his college career at Miami of Ohio, he decided that coaching was something he wanted to do and came on staff with us at Western Michigan and started his career there."
Do you make it back down to Western Kentucky much?
Jack: "There were great years in Western Kentucky. We went there in 1989 and spent 14 great years there. We have so many good, good friends in Bowling Green, Kentucky, friends that we have been in contact with these last few days. In September, we went down for the Southern Miss game, for a chance to have a reunion with our 2002 team who won the National Championship, and there were about 85 to 90 guys that participated in the program that were there that night, and Jackie and I just had a fantastic time. Some of them we hadn't seen in 10 years, and to relive that great championship run and to be a part of Western Kentucky is something we will remember for the rest our lives."
I love the story about you and the wooden nickel. Did you tell the boys something each day when the day started, or where did that come from?
Jack: "It came from Iowa. We were coaching back at the University of Iowa back in 1972. The first time I remember it - and we would take the two boys to elementary school - it was cold, they had their hats pulled down over their ears, and they had their books, and they didn't look very happy, to be honest with you, in the backseat of the car. We dropped them off and looked back and saw their faces, their sad, sad faces, and our thing was: ‘We will attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind! And oh, by the way, don't take any wooden nickels.' And that wooden nickel thing came from my dad, and I have no idea what a wooden nickel is, and I have no idea what that means, but it sounded like a pretty neat thing to say."
I'd like the ladies to answer this first, if that's OK. It seems like from afar that Jim has had maybe more of a blessed life here with football. He was the quarterback at Michigan. He had the 15-year career. Head coaching, he kind of dominated right from the start at San Diego. First of all, do you agree with that, and because of that are you pulling for John a little bit in the Super Bowl?
Jackie: "We are neutral in the Super Bowl, and we are just excited that they have brought their teams to the pinnacle of sports. The Super Bowl is the ultimate accomplishment for them and for their teams and for all of the extended football family and all of the teams who have participated in this great game. We are excited for that type of thing."
Joani: "I would have to respectfully disagree with that in a sense, because Jim has worked incredibly hard at every turn. Whether it was fighting to be in the NFL - his seven years with the Bears and three spectacular years with the Colts - a lot of hard work came into that every day. Even with the Oakland Raiders, he put in more hours ... We hear about his deprived sleep and sleeping on the couch there, and he has really done an incredible job. For after only being a head coach in the NFL for two years, because of all of the hard work he has put in up until now ..."
Jackie: "The other point for John, is when John made his choice to become a football coach, he started as a graduate assistant, and he worked his way up through the ranks at different colleges along the way. I think what has happened for both of them, all of the lessons they have learned along the way through their hard work, also observing how other coaches handled their team ... They had put so much time and energy into this. And through all of this, the main lesson has been about family, and making their team part of their own family and bringing their teams together as a family. And that is what really makes me proud, and Jack proud, and Joani also. And Tom [Crean] has done the same thing with their basketball team."
Jack: "As a coach and sitting back and watching both John and Jim and what we have here at Indiana University, it is just incredible having gone through that same experience myself and seeing how hard they work, how hard they trust and believe, and how they believe in the team. And I go back to those years at the University of Michigan ... ‘The team, the team, the team.' Everything they have done has reflected on what is going to be in the best interest of putting that team together."
Both coaches made a big decision at midseason. One changed coordinators and one changed quarterbacks. Those are really gutsy decisions. Where they always risk-takers? Does that come naturally? Was one more a risk-taker than another?
Jack: "When those decisions were made, I kind of reflected on my own career, and I think that is what coaching is all about. 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, and there was a right way to do and a wrong way to do it. Sometimes it was a decision that there wasn't much difference - the kind of decision that you had to make. But we always look back to that saying, ‘What is in the best interest of this football team? What is going to make us a better team? What is going to bring us together to achieve our ultimate goal?' Then you make the decision. Sometimes it is clear cut, sometimes it a decision that is easy to make, sometimes it is not. Sometimes the line is very unclear, but you go ahead and make it. Then if it is not headed in the right direction, then you have enough vulnerability about yourself that you say, ‘Hey, we are headed in the wrong direction; let's change and go the other direction.' So, I am proud of both of them, that the team was the focus of what they were trying to do. They made the decision, and again, [we are] very proud."
Where are you guys going to be sitting during the game? I know you guys said you are neutral during the game, but what will you guys be wearing?
Joani: "I am wearing black."
Jackie: "I am wearing neutral colors, whatever that neutral color is today."
Joani: "I am wearing whatever fits that day. We don't know where we are sitting."
About the program at Western Kentucky, it seems like such a family thing. I think you have told the story a few times. Can you just take us through that process, how they got involved? Did they approach you? What was that process like?
Jack: "It was almost divine intervention to be truthful. I think it was 1992 to 1993, the president of the university came and said they were dropping the program, to pack up the uniforms. It was in March, and there was no sense in having spring practice. We don't want to take a chance on getting a player injured. This program is over. In a month's period time, we were able to change it, a vote change, we were able to keep football, but they cut our budget in half, cut about $500,000 out of our program. They dropped 13 scholarships from our program and cut two coaches off of our staff from six coaches to four coaches, so we were in desperate trouble. Other schools were using it against us in their recruiting. We were able to have the program next year, but we really stumbled along. I figured my coaching career was pretty much over. It was early January, I am sitting in my office, and my head is down, I am feeling sorry for myself, I am pouting, acting not very professional I guess. The door opened and in walked Jim, and I said, ‘What are you are you doing?' And he said, ‘I am driving down to Orlando, Florida, and what are you doing here? It is the middle of recruiting; you should be out on the road recruiting.' I went through about how tough it was and the recruiting and people were using it against us and Jim said, ‘Well this doesn't sound like you. How can I help?' At that time, we put the plan together, that he would be a full-time assistant coach at Western Kentucky with no pay. He could get on the phone and start recruiting. He had to take a recruiting test that was kind of interesting. I said, ‘You will have to take this test,' and he said, ‘Well you know, I am a Michigan graduate and did well there academically. It is an open-book test, and I think I can handle it.' He did take the test and passed it. The first guy he called was Willie Taggart from Bradenton Manatee High School, and that story since has well been told. Willie came to Western [and played] four years as our starting quarterback. [There were] 10 years of winning football, tournaments, and finally, in 2002 we won the National Championship. But I also mention John, because John was then at Cincinnati and he fed all of the recruiting list to Jim in the Florida Corridor from Orlando over to Tampa. He gave him all of the names of players that he thought weren't going to be recruited by Cincinnati, but to be recruited by Western. So the two of them got together; they were a team, and the rest is history - and of course, enough to win a National Championship."
Jackie: "I might add, also during those years, John and Jim and Tom Crean helped us with auctions at Western Kentucky every year, to help raise money for our football expenses."
Jack: "Another story that is kind of interesting is that while all of this is going on, I came home one night at about 11 o'clock, and again, I was in that pouty [mood] and was all over. And Tom and Joani were at the house, and I couldn't figure out what they were doing there. Tom said, ‘You and I need to take a walk,' and so we took our dog TD around the block ... And Tom hates dogs and he didn't want to be around TD, so ..."
Question I have first for Jackie is you mentioned earlier that winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate accomplishment. It certainly changes the lives of who wins the Super Bowl. How will this change the brothers' relationship? One of them has to win, one of them has to lose. Jackie, you first ...
Jackie: "I think I will start with the idea after the AFC Championship game. I felt that was a joyful moment for them, for our whole family, our extended family and for my father who is 97 years old. [It was] great feeling of joy. I am going to be neutral in the game, and I know one is going to win and one is going to lose, but I would really like to end in a tie. Can the NFL do that? (laughter)
Jack: "I think we experienced that a little bit Thanksgiving last year in the game where the two played together. I do recall coming down to the locker rooms, and I peeked into the Raven locker room and they were ecstatic, the guys jumping up and down, and the smile on John's face and the thrill of victory - that type of thing we hear so often. I thought to myself, ‘We really aren't needed here; this looks like it is pretty well taking care of itself.' I walked across the hall there in Baltimore and went into the 49ers' locker room. It was quiet and somber, and finally I saw Jim, all by himself, no one around him. He still had his coaching thing on, and his hands on his head, and we realized that that is where we were needed. So that feel of victory and agony of defeat ... And we know we are going to experience that next week."
Jackie: "Also, after the game, we saw Jim and all of the hugs and talked about some of our feelings, and John came out and ran down to the busses to find Jim and talk to him briefly. It just was, again, the epitome of how everyone as a family feels about each other, and all we always tried to raise one another up. These are difficult times in football when you are playing against your own brother, and a lot of brothers in the NFL have experienced that. But at the end of the day, it is still about family and your feelings for one another, and that is what came through at the Thanksgiving game. And I would like to congratulate the media on that. After the game was over, we went back and went through all of the clips on television. That was the sense that came through to me, that the media portrayed this as a family, not only as our family, but everyone's extended family on Thanksgiving Day. Thank you for that."
You are going to look at this from two angles, from a father and from a coaching standpoint. Talk to me about any body language you would be looking for from any of the boys as the game progresses.
Jack: "I am totally neutral on that. I don't look for body languages; I am not really a coach anymore. I am a spectator and a parent. When I had the chance to watch over the weekend, all of those parents of those players that were competing and the thrill of watching their youngsters compete at that level, all of the coaches involved, their careers, how they all started out in high school and college, and now they are in the NFL and competing for this ultimate prize. I think more as a parent now than I do as a coach, and I don't really get involved in those other things."
Question from Baltimore: Is it true that both of you like Jim better than John? (John Harbaugh's question)
Joani: "Hey, John, how are you?"
Jackie: "Is that John?"
Jack: "Is that John Harbaugh? (laughter) Mom was ready to come right through this phone. I am so happy Joani recognized your voice."
John: "[She] got that fighting spirit up. That's the way it should be. That is all I needed to hear. I just needed to know that."
Jack: "Hey, John, she grabbed my arm and she was reaching for the phone!" (laughter)
John: (laughter) "Not the first time that's happened. You guys are doing great; it has been fun listening to a couple of minutes here. You guys are very articulate and have done a great job. But, I have to go to practice now. They are calling me right now, but it was good to hear your voices. Ok, I will talk to you later, love you both. Love you, Joani."
There was also a story that you knew how to hot-splice film by the time you were 10? Can you talk about the coaching environment from your point of view, as a little girl?
Joani: "Well it was your life. I didn't know I was in a coaching environment, I just felt that was how we lived, that's what my dad did for a living. Luckily, I think as parents they involved their kids in their professional life. So if dad had practice, mom took us out to practice, that's how we saw dad in the afternoon. Or we sat down at the kitchen table and I'd color his scouting reports because he was working, so that's how you'd spend time. I think they were no different than any other parents, that's just how we'd spend time, it was around football."
And did you know how to splice film?
Joani: "Yes, I believe I did, very well. I was very good at it."
Dad could you address that at all?
Jack: "She was the best hot-splicer that we ever had in our program and that's including a lot of great coaches along the years. Most coaches now, the young coaches, will have no idea what we're talking about. It was the old celluloid 16mm film and you had to cut it with scissors and then you would cut the offensive plays and the defensive plays so that you had a training film that you could use, none of that technology that we have now. Joani would come into the office on Saturday and hot splice, boom, boom, boom, here's dad. And very seldom, she'd get them backwards where the numbers were backwards and that was one of the no-no's in that particular profession. But she was the very best."
Guys, congratulations on both making the Super Bowl. Jack, I was just wondering, with John being a Miami of Ohio grad and a University of Cincinatti assistant, just how you saw him develop both in college and as an assistant at UC? And also, just what was the decision for him to go to Miami (OH) as a student? (Joe Reedy, Cincinnati Enquirer)
Jack: "Well, Tom Reed was the head coach at Miami (OH) at the time and Tom had been an assistant at the University of Michigan. So Tom was very familiar with the family, very familiar with John. He had a chance to get out and watch him compete and play at Ann Arbor and he felt that was a good fit. And he went to Miami (OH), one of the great academic institutions in the country and we're so, so proud that he did receive a degree from Miami (OH) and did extremely well academically. At Cincinnati, he had an opportunity to coach there for eight or nine years and really enjoyed Cincinnati, enjoyed recruiting there, enjoyed coaching there. I would think that he would say that that was one of the signature years in his coaching career."
With the history of Miami (OH), how much would it mean to you and the family with him to join former Baltimore Colts and New York Jets head coach Wilbur "Weeb" Ewbank and Saints head coach Sean Payton if he would win and become the third Miami (OH) guy to win a Super Bowl?
Jack: "Haven't really thought about that, but that's exclusive company that you're in. And all those Miami (OH) graduates, the [former Michigan head coach] "Bo" Schembechlers, [former Miami of Ohio head coach] the Bill Mallorys, the [former Indiana University head coach] Jonny Ponts, we could go on and on, that great athletic and football tradition at Miami of Ohio. But Jackie and I, we're Bowling Green graduates, Bowling Green State University. So Miami (OH) for us is a rivalry, so we're a little bit torn there.
Jackie: "Bowling Green also has the cradle of coaches as you might know."
Thanks for doing this guys. I've got two questions, one for Jack and then one for the ladies. What did you instill in these guys? What did the boys take from you into their playing and coaching careers? And then I've got a Kansas City question for the ladies. (Randy Covitz Kansas City Star)
Jack: "One thing about it, the rock of our family is Jackie. There's no question about it. She did all the heavy lifting. In our career, a 43 year coaching career, we moved 17 times and she was the one that sold the house, bought the house, enrolled the kids in school, took the kids out of school. She was the one. We left early in the morning before the sun came up, came home at night after the sun went down. We were in the educational business with other youngsters in our extended family, Jackie is the one that did the heavy lifting in our family. She deserves all of the credit. And as far as instilling things into them, the thing that I said earlier that makes me most proud is, I don't know if we instilled anything, but I think they watched. They observed and they saw things that they liked. And this is the profession that they decided to pursue and I say, that makes me most proud.
Jackie: "Can I add one more thing? This is Jackie. I'd like to say that I think that they took from Jack by watching how he conducted himself, they learned to be who they are in coaching. Not feeling they had to imitate any other coach that they were ever around. They are who they are as individuals and that's the way Jack was when he coached."
Thank you, and for the ladies, obviously Sarah is from here in Kansas City and just wanted to get your impressions of her, when you heard how she and Jim met at the P.F. Changs in Vegas and just what advice have you given her in handling the Harbaugh-hype that's going to be leading up this week?
Joani: "They have three children under the age of four, so I think she's doing a great job of taking care of her kids and she doesn't need any advice and I think she definitely rolls with it. She loves Jim and supports him unconditionally and she has her hands full taking care of the three adorable kids.
Jackie: "Well the first time we ever met Sarah and spent time with her and continually spending time with her, she has a beautiful personality. She has a great heart and she tries to take care of so many different aspects of her life, her family life, Jim's football life, and she's doing a tremendous job day-by-day and we love her dearly. I'd also like to say that I feel blessed having two great daughter-in-laws and a wonderful son-in-law and that Tom [Crean] an Ingrid [Harbaugh], who is John's wife, and Sarah, Jim's wife, and we're so blessed to have 10 grandchildren that we have a lot of fun with."
First, congratulations with a historic moment, what a great moment for you family. Jack, I want to hear the end of that story about walking the dog. (Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times)
"Thank you, Sam. I can't tell you have how thrilled I am. Where was I?
You can start from the top.
Jackie: "You were walking the dog."
Jack: "The program had been lost, I'm walking the dog with Tom and I told Tom that this is it, my career is over. I've decided that I'm going to retire and resign. And Tom said, ‘Jack you're a young man. Do you have any plans on what you might do?' And I said, ‘No I really don't. I'm just going to go in tomorrow and I'm going to resign.' And he said, ‘You might give that a second thought,' he says. ‘I'm here at Western Kentucky working and you might want to look at how much money I'm making, and if you think Joani and I are going to be able to support you down there, that would be a tremendous mistake, so you might consider not resigning and see if you can't find some way to work this thing out. That's a great story isn't it?'
Joani, I talked to John about this, I wonder about being a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz and how that, you said you recited the lines for about a year and it took over the house. Do you recall that?
Joani: "I don't recall taking over the house for a year. I don't think we need to be that dramatic with it. But, yeah, I was a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz. I was highly, highly offended. I do remember that I was not Dorothy or Glinda so I decided to memorize the entire play in case anybody went down with the flu or something, they could put me in there. So, I was just ready, ready to do. But I do still love the Wizard of Oz.
Jackie: "But we do have a tape of it."
Joani: "Lost footage."
Is that reflective of the Harbaugh-way, in terms of preparation? You'll just memorize the whole play?
Joani: "Absolutely, the Harbaugh-way, that's a great way to put it. I guess we all do it in our own way."
And one other question, John was saying, whenever you took a car trip, you would get to ride in the front seat, flop all over your parents, they would be fighting in the back seat. If you had to move to the back seat and nobody could come into your area, he said you were the baby girl and treated as such.
Joani: "And deservedly so, to be treated as such. Actually I got to ride in the front seat because if when I rode in the backseat, I got car sick and I would get ill. And if I rode in the back seat, I believe it was Jim that liked the wider space and he'd shove me over to John's square in the car. So, I just thought it'd be nice if they could get a little more room and I sat up there in the middle of mom and dad and had the air conditioner blowing on me and that way I wouldn't get sick.
(Jackie) "Now wait a second, we didn't have air conditioning back then."
(Joani) "Oh, the windows. The windows were rolled down. I forgot."
I just wondered about the game last Thanksgiving, how challenging that was for you to see one of your sons lose and one of your sons win. Can you just take us back to that night and just what you were experiencing during those moments after the game, I mean you mentioned going down to the locker, just how challenging was that throughout the game, just watching it go by.
"This is Jack. The thing I remember most about the game is Jackie and I were in a little office with a TV and we watched the game and the game lasted like three hours and fifty minutes, three hours-and-a-half and I've never seen Jackie experience that in a ballgame. I mean she was nearly comatose. She just starred at the screen, there was no facial emotion whatsoever, just a blank stare into the screen, not a word was spoken and at the end of the game, it was just over. And we took the elevator downstairs and that story that I told earlier, I have such a fond recollection of the emotions that, not fawned, that's a bad word. I had this recollection of the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory. We did it as a coast for all those different years, but either one of you lost and it was that moment, but to experience that same emotion, walking across the hall, is something that I remember and not looking forward to next Sunday."
Hey guys, congratulations and I'm sorry that Ryan missed the end of Jack's story, that was a really good one. I wanted to know, you know, there's a lot of nicknames being thrown around for this Super Bowl, but as the people in charge of the family, I figured you guys should get the last call on what it's referred to, there's been the HarBowl, the Harbaugh Bowl, is there anything that you guys prefer this Super Bowl to be called?
Jack: "For us, for me, it's the Lombardi Trophy, because I go back to the beginning. I can remember the beginning of this great, great classic originated with Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers winning those first two games. And the recollection that I have of this game, is the two captains form each team, out in the middle of the field, the official there with the coin. They flip the coin and they play the game and to see now where this whole great classic is and where it's come from, to me, is just literally, literally awesome. So, Jack Harbaugh here, I prefer it to be called the Lombardi Trophy winner."
Do you too Jackie?
"I prefer it to be called the Super Bowl."
That's fair. And just one more real quick one, is there anything, do you guys have any stories from Jim and John's childhood that kind of depicts them as different personas on the field? I know a lot of people tend to think of Jim as more energetic maybe and John as more laid back. Is that true? Are they really as different as some people perceive them?
"The one thing that we do, and we really feel strongly about this, is to make a comparison, it demeans and it doesn't, not just in when you talk about your own children, but when you talk about anyone. And to make those kind of comparisons, it really demeans one or the other. And, we chose to look at the ways of which they're very similar. They both have a love and passion for their families. They have a love and passion for their work. They enjoy being around the team. They enjoy being around their coaches. They really enjoy the fan base. They enjoy connecting with the people that have made this game so great. So, in our relations with them and our comparisons, we see great, great similarities."
Jackie: "I agree"
Very well said, and thank you very much.