By Kyle Gans
On Sunday, two brothers, Jim and John Harbaugh will be facing off against each other in the Super Bowl. They’re only 15 months a part and shared a bedroom for 16 years. You would think two brothers who are both head coaches in the NFL would be quite similar, but that’s not true, in fact they couldn’t be any more different.
Jim and John Harbaugh are the perfect examples that coaching in the NFL is an inexact science. There is no attitude, philosophy, demeanor, personality or background that will guarantee you success as an NFL coach.
Jim Harbaugh played football at both the collegiate and professional levels. He attended the University of Michigan from 1983-86. He finished his college career in the top 5 in passing attempts, completions, completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns in school history. In his senior season he was the Big Ten Conference Player of the Year and finished third in the Heisman voting.
Jim was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the No. 26 overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft. Harbaugh played for the Bears, Colts, Ravens and Chargers during his 14-year playing career. He finished with 26,288 yards and 129 touchdowns, while
John played college football at Miami University (Ohio) where he was a defensive back from 1980-1983; he never played professional football.
During his final eight seasons in the NFL, Jim was a NCAA-certified unpaid assistant coach for his father Jack, at Western Kentucky University. He helped scout and recruit high school players in Indiana, Florida and Illinois. Jim was helped recruit 17 players on Western Kentucky’s 2002 Division 1-AA national championship team.
Following his stint with WKU Jim became the quarterback’s coach for the Oakland Raiders from 2002-03.
He then took the head-coaching job at the University of San Diego in 2004. In three years at San Diego the Toreros went 29-6 and won back-to-back Pioneer League titles.
Harbaugh was moving up the coaching ladder quickly, when in 2007 he took the head-coaching job at Stanford University where he rebuilt a dying football program. In his first season at Stanford they won four games, by the time he left to take the 49ers job Stanford went 12-1, won the Orange Bowl and finished fourth in the country.
John’s path to the Baltimore Ravens head-coaching gig wasn’t nearly as quick or glorified.
John’s first coaching job was at Western Michigan University (1984-87) as the teams running backs and linebackers coach, he then went on to the University of Pittsburgh where he was the Tight Ends coach for one season.
In 1988 John began his career as a special teams guru at Morehead St. He then took the same position at Cincinnati, where he was the special teams coordinator for eight years. John had one more collegiate stop at Indiana University in 1997 before he got his big break.
In 1998 John Harbaugh was hired by Andy Reid to coordinate the Philadelphia Eagles special teams, he stayed there until 2008 when he accepted the Baltimore Ravens head coaching job.
John slowly worked his way up the coaching ranks for more than 20 years. He was never a head coach, or an offensive or defensive coordinator before excelling as the Ravens head coach.
Not many coaches have risen through the coaching ranks as quickly as Jim Harbaugh did. In 2004 he was coaching a team in the Pioneer football league, by 2011 he was the head coach of one of the most storied franchises in NFL history, the San Francisco 49ers.
Jim Harbaugh is pretty competitive to say the least. He’s the uncle at your family Christmas party who refuses to lose to any of his nieces or nephews in a “friendly” game of ping-pong and then brags about it at the dinner table.
He’s extremely animated and intense on the sidelines and has the tendency to rub some people the wrong way. All you need to do is go back to his infamous handshake with Jim Schwartz, which almost led to a fistfight, to realize that
John definitely has a calmer demeanor and more self-control. His doesn’t emit much emotion on the sideline, but his players love his approach just as much as the 49ers players love Jim’s approach.
The NFL is an inexact science. There’s no formula or equation to figure out if someone will be a successful head coach. May different styles and approaches have worked over the years. You have guys intense, animated, no-nonsense coaches like Bill Parcells, Bill Cowher and Bill Belichick who have been extremely successful during their respective careers.
Then you have even-keeled, relaxed, “players coaches” like Tony Dungy and Dick Vermeil who have been very successful as well while taking a completely different approach.
There are many coaches with many different styles, backgrounds, and personalities. There isn’t one type of coach who is proven to be more successful than another. Despite being brothers, John and Jim are a perfect example of this.