JOE BIDDLE: Harbaughs: First family of football

Jack and Jackie Kennedy were America's first family during the Camelot years.

Super Bowl KLVII has its own first family — Jack and Jackie Harbaugh.

They are the parents of Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

It will be the first time brothers have coached against each other on the NFL's biggest stage.

The Harbaugh family is taking it in stride. The parents and the brothers have admitted it is unique, but not a life or death situation.

Much like the Kennedy families took their touch football games to stoke their competitive juices, the Harbaugh brothers have inherited their father's intense competitive personality.

Up and down the family tree, there is nothing like winning for the Harbaughs.

John is two years older than Jim. Sister Joani is married to Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean. They met when Crean was an assistant coach at Western Kentucky when Jack was the Hilltoppers' football coach.

I've known Tom Crean for years and can verify he is intensely competitive. I recall after his Marquette team lost to Tulane in New Orleans one year, Louisville columnist Rick Bozich and I waited outside the locker room just to say hello.

He kept the team in there for what seemed like hours. We could hear through the walls that Crean may have rearranged some furniture before he exited. We cut the conversation short.

Jack Harbaugh taught his sons to be themselves. They grew up around Michigan football when Jack was an assistant to the legendary coach, Bo Schembechler. The brothers literally drank and ate football.

When Jack won the Division I-AA national championship at Western Kentucky, Jim earned his coaching spurs as an assistant coach there from 1994 to 2001. He was named the 49ers head coach in 2011 and now coaches the team favored to win Sunday's Super Bowl.

Jack retired from the profession after 46 years, serving as running backs coach at Stanford in 2009, where Jim was the head coach.
Jack denies the brothers modeled their coaching careers after him.

“We always told them to be who you are. Don't follow anyone.''

Jim, who was an NFL quarterback for 15 years, is the more intense of the two. He has worn out a number of headsets when calls go against his team. John is more composed, but don't take that to mean he hates losing any less.

Jackie encouraged the brothers to share in their father's career at an early age.

“They could barely walk and she'd bring them out to the practice field,'' Jack said. “Jackie always involved our kids in what I did. They allowed themselves to be who they are.''

Both brothers made high risk coaching decisions this season. After 49ers starting quarterback Alex Smith went out with a concussion, backup Colin Kaepernick took his place. When Smith was cleared two weeks later, Jim Harbaugh stuck with Kaepernick, a second-year player. Smith was playing his best football. His quarterback rating was fifth in the NFL and he had completed 70 percent of his passes. Kaepernick's ability to make big plays with his legs and throw laser passes with accuracy gave the 49ers an added dimension.

In Baltimore, John Harbaugh decided to replace offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. It was Dec. 10 and the Ravens had lost back-to-back games. He and Cameron were longtime friends. Harbaugh called it “the hardest thing I've ever had to do as a coach.''

Jack and Jackie take pride in what the brothers have accomplished in becoming the first brothers to face off in the Super Bowl.

But Jack Harbaugh doesn't hesitate to give credit where credit was due.

He listened to his mentor Doyt Perry, head coach at Bowling Green University, where the couple went to college. Perry told Jack if he wanted to be a coach, he better marry wisely. No problem.

“Jackie Harbaugh is the foundation of this Harbaugh family,'' Jack said this week at a Super Bowl press conference. “She is the rock of our family. She's the one that moved us 17 times in a 43-year coaching career. She sold houses on every stop and she bought houses at every stop.

“She took them in to school and out of school. She went to school when things didn't go well. This is my hero right here, Jackie Harbaugh.''

Both parents realize there will be a winner and a loser Sunday. They got a preview of what they face when their teams faced each other in a 2011 regular season game.

The coach in Jack Harbaugh knows where they will be needed after Sunday's game. They will go to the losing team's locker room and be with the son that needs them most.

That's what NFL first families do.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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