Jim Harbaugh is the brash head coach of the 49ers, who will play the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday.
Confident, yes. Competitive, definitely. Competent, sure.
But I didn’t notice the brash streak during Harbaugh’s seven seasons as a quarterback with the Bears.
The signs were there, from listening to Michigan coach Bo Schembechler to watching Harbaugh to understanding the circumstances.
Harbaugh was raised by a father who coached football. He went on to play for the demanding Schembechler at Michigan. He endured Mike Ditka in Chicago.
The meek don’t survive that trifecta.
Maybe what deceived me was Harbaugh being a decent enough fellow with All-American-boy good looks. He just didn’t seem like somebody who could irritate you.
Harbaugh was just another in a long line of flawed Bears quarterbacks abused on several fronts while here … in his case by fans, his coach and some teammates.
Seriously, back then Harbaugh didn’t come across as a guy who while coaching Stanford would develop a feud with USC’s Pete Carroll. Or a guy who during his first season with San Francisco initiated a dust-up with Detroit’s Jim Schwartz during a postgame handshake, of all things. Or an impatient guy who doesn’t suffer fools in the media, the coaching fraternity or officiating outfits.
How and when did that become who Jim Harbaugh is?
It must have started when he and brother John — who will coach the Ravens on Sunday — grew up in a football household. It was drilled deeper when Harbaugh played for Schembechler.
“The best thing I got from Bo is he can put a lot of pressure on you, whether it be in practice or a game,” Harbaugh said early in his first NFL training camp.
Then came Da Coach … Iron Mike.
Schembechler said at the time, “The Bears weren’t worried about Jim’s arm or mobility before the draft. They wanted to know if he could go to the sidelines and face coach Ditka after he messes up and a drive is stalled.”
The reason for the concern was punctuated Oct. 4, 1992, in the Metrodome, on one play that for many Bears fans is the signature memory of Harbaugh.
Ditka ordered Harbaugh not to audible. Harbaugh audibled. The Vikings intercepted. The coach tore the quarterback a new earhole on the sideline.
Long before that, however, the Bears experience required Harbaugh to be tough. Ditka reportedly wanted a defensive lineman in the 1987 draft but was overruled by Mike McCaskey and Bill Tobin, who took the quarterback 26th overall.
The organizational division didn’t bode will for Harbaugh when he arrived at the old Halas Hall. Nor did the reception from teammates who were comfortable with incumbent quarterbacks Jim McMahon and Mike Tomczak.
“I promise,” Schembechler insisted, “Jim won’t be intimidated.”
As Harbaugh went from one demanding coach to another, Schembechler chuckled, “He won’t have a hard transition.
At his first Bears minicamp in April 1987, Harbaugh recalled missing his first meeting in college.
“Bo told me I’ll never play a down at Michigan,” Harbaugh said with a smile. “He said he was going to call my dad and that he never expected that from me, a coach’s son.”
Harbaugh played a lot for Schembechler and a lot for Ditka, and maybe that’s as good an explanation as any for him becoming who he has become … the 49ers’ brash, hard-nosed, no-nonsense head coach in Super Bowl XLVII.
Jim Harbaugh shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the moment.
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