It’s only natural that Joani Crean married a coach. There’s a reason why her maiden name is Harbaugh.
As the younger sister of Jim and John Harbaugh, Crean didn’t have to worry much about being picked on at school growing up. She had two brothers to protect her, the same two brothers who will face each other on football’s biggest stage at the Super Bowl.
“My job was to tag along,” Joani said on a joint nationwide conference call Thursday with her parents Jack and Jackie. “I was the runner in pickle. They just kind of threw me in to keep me busy.”
When it came to dad’s profession, Joani was the best assistant around.
Instead of drawing in coloring books, she grew up coloring scouting reports. Need to splice game film together? She had you covered by the age of 10.
“It was your life,” Joani said. “I didn’t know I was in a coaching environment. That was it. That was what my dad did for a living.”
Jack’s coaching career spanned 43 years. To this day, if you ask Jim who the best coach of all-time is, he’ll tell you his father.
From Kentucky to Iowa to Michigan to San Diego to Pittsburgh, Jack’s coaching path brought he and his family all around the country. It also shaped the livelihoods of his two sons, while Joani is now married to esteemed Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean.
“The rock of our family is Jackie, there’s no question about it,” Jack said of his long-time wife. “She did all the heavy lifting. In our 43-year coaching career, we moved 17 times. She was the one that sold house, bought the house, drove the kids to school, took the kids out of school. … She deserves all the credit.”
The Harbaugh family will be on center stage for the next 10 days leading up to the Super Bowl. Two days before the game, Jim and John will even do an unprecedented joint press conference in New Orleans.
But John couldn’t even wait until then to get in on the conversation, as he dialed into the nationwide conference call before heading out to the field for Thursday’s practice.
“Is it true that both of you like Jim better than John?” the Ravens coach said.
Fooled by the unexpected caller, Jackie was initially taken aback by the pointed question, before realizing it was her son.
“Mom was ready to come right through this phone,” Jack told John as the family burst into laughter. “I’m so happy that Joani recognized your voice.”
“Got the fighting spirit up,” John said, laughing.
The competitive edge is apparent in all of the Harbaughs. When told that John could be the third Miami (Ohio) University alum to coach his team to a Super Bowl, Jackie was quick to tell the reporter that her and her husband’s Alma Mater Bowling Green “also has a cradle of coaches, you might know.”
This isn’t the family’s first time in the nation’s spotlight.
A Thanksgiving matchup in 2011 also pitted the 49ers and Ravens against one another, as Baltimore emerged with a 16-6 victory at home. But it was a bittersweet evening for the parents, who felt both the thrill of John’s victory and the agony of Jim’s defeat.
“After the game, when we saw Jim and all the hugs and talked about some of our feelings, John came out and ran to the buses to find Jim, and talked to him briefly,” Jackie said. “It was, again, just how everybody in the family feels about each other and always try to raise one another up. … At the end the end of the game, it’s still about family.”
No matter who wins, the Harbaughs will add a Super Bowl ring to the family’s impressive string of accomplishments. In the same vein, one of their sons will be handed what figures to be one of the most devastating losses of their coaching careers.
So as mom, dad and sister watch Super Bowl XLVII, don’t expect them to be wearing any 49ers or Ravens gear.
“I’m going to be neutral in that game,” Jackie said. “I know one is going to win and I know one is going to lose, but I really would like it to end in a tie. Can the NFL do that?”