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LORAN SMITH COLUMN: Coaching runs in the family for Harbaughs

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Jack Harbaugh, one of the National Football League's proudest fathers, was in Athens earlier this week for a speaking engagement. Jack's sons John (Ravens) and Jim (49ers) are the first pair of brothers to work as NFL head coaches.

There is another important head coaching connection in his family. Jack's son-in-law Tom Crean is the head basketball coach at the University of Indiana. Jack himself coached from 1964, when he began his career as a high school coach, until 2009, when he was the running backs coach at Stanford, where he worked for his son Jim.

Jack Harbaugh won a national championship while coaching at Western Kentucky. As an assistant coach, he made stops at Iowa, Michigan, Pittsburgh and San Diego (in addition to Stanford) and finished his athletic career at Marquette.

"My seven years with Bo Schembechler at Michigan were my signature years as a coach," Jack says. "I loved Bo Schembechler. He was a stickler for playing by the rules, and he was about as sound fundamentally as any coach the game has ever seen."

From his experience in Ann Arbor, Jack had a close-up view of the legendary battles between Schembechler and Woody Hayes of Ohio State. The two coaching titans squared off ten times from 1969-1978, Bo holding a slim 5-4-1 advantage. Michigan and Ohio State were known as the "Big Two" in the Big Ten. No team among the "Little Eight" could break the dominance of the two league powers.

One of the most memorable clashes between the two rivals came at Ann Arbor in 1971 when Hayes, irate that game officials had missed a pass interference call, went into a rage. He tore up yard markers, stormed the field, and tried to break the down marker over his knee. Finally he was ejected. An amused Schembechler, with Michigan headed to victory, told his assistants. "I know what Woody is doing. He's getting his team ready for next year's game in Columbus."

Harbaugh gleaned a number of humorous stories from his days at Michigan involving Hayes, who was fired at Ohio State for forearming a Clemson player in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Seems that Woody and an assistant were driving back to Columbus from a recruiting trip in Michigan. A few miles from the Ohio border, Woody's assistant kept reminding Woody that they were running low on gas, but Woody demanded that they drive on. Finally, the assistant was exasperated. "Coach we are going to run out of gas." Woody noted that they were just a few miles from the Ohio border and said. "I'll be damned if I am going to spend a dollar of our budget in the state of Michigan."

While visiting with the courteous Harbaugh, there were references to Archie Manning, who is the father of two NFL quarterbacks, Peyton with the Colts and Eli with the Giants. Archie, the consummate gentleman, played 14 years in the NFL but on only one team that had a winning record. When both his sons won Super Bowl rings, there was a big expression of gratefulness among all of Archie's friends -- couldn't have happened to a more deserving father.

Even though Peyton is sidelined with a neck injury this season, there remains the possibility that the two sons, playing in different conferences, conceivably could face off in a Super Bowl some day. That, too, could happen for Jack Harbaugh.

This season, his two sons will meet in a regular-season game in Baltimore on Thanksgiving night. The senior Harbaugh and his wife, Jackie, will watch the game on TV at their home in Milwaukee. When John, coach of the Ravens, was asked what his parents would be doing at that game, he gave a politically correct answer. When the question was put to Jim, he grinned, "Who gives a damn."

It would be deserving for Jack Harbaugh to see his sons, like the Mannings, win Super Bowl rings. Also like the Mannings, hopefully, they won't have to compete for the honor in the same Super Bowl.