He calls him Jimmy, not out of insincerity or disrespect, but out of familiarity.
Tim Ryan spent three seasons as Jim Harbaugh’s teammate with the Chicago Bears and a result, Ryan refers to the 49ers head coach like he’s a childhood friend.
Ryan, a respected NFL analyst for FOX television broadcasts and a Sirius XM NFL Radio host, will call Harbaugh’s name even more this upcoming season, now that he’s the 49ers preseason analyst for CBS 5’s (KPIX-TV) preseason broadcasts.
It didn’t take very long for Ryan to learn what the new 49ers coach was all about when the two first met.
“Jimmy’s fire and brimstone,” Ryan told 49ers.com. “He’s a fighter.”
How would Ryan know? Because the two had a minor squabble on the first day of Chicago’s rookie minicamp in 1990.
As a third-round pick out of USC and a two-time college All-American, Ryan was looking to make an impression on his teammates. In order to do so, Ryan showcased his relentless desire – even if it meant bringing down the team’s starting quarterback.
“It was pouring down rain in Chicago and we were just wearing helmets,” recalled Ryan of his earliest Harbaugh memory.
“We went to the team period and I was rushing over the right guard. I threw a move, got by the guard and got tripped up. From there, I crawled toward Jimmy’s ankles, grabbed him and pulled him down to his back. He went down in the water and soon the whole O-line jumped on me.
“They were ready to kill me – the rookie who tackled the first-string quarterback on the first day of minicamp,” Ryan said. “Jim wanted to go at it too.”
Ryan spent five years with the Bears before retiring in 1994 due to a career-ending neck injury. Soon after, he started a promising broadcasting career and has since become a valued voice on the game of football.
And now that they’re crossing paths once again, Ryan still sees the fiery competitor in Harbaugh that he first witnessed in the early 90s. He sees a composed, intelligent decision-maker, poised to lead his team to the playoffs. But this time, that team is the San Francisco 49ers.
“The thing I can say about Jimmy is he’s going to battle you. He’s going to be prepared and he’s smart,” Ryan said. “I don’t think you can ask for much more than that.”
If Harbaugh’s considered to be a “football guy,” the same can be said for Ryan.
The San Jose native, who played at Oak Grove High School, is 100-percent all about the game. Ryan co-hosts Sirius XM NFL Radio’s “Movin’ the Chains,” which allows him to discuss league-wide topics five days a week with co-host Pat Kirwan. But that’s not all the broadcasting Ryan does. He’s called more than 145 NFL games for Fox Sports since 2002, with many of those contests featuring the 49ers.
Because he’s considered as one of the game’s best voices, Ryan has been offered to call preseason games over the years but has turned down such requests. This time however, Ryan felt the broadcasting role with the 49ers and CBS 5 was too good to pass up.
“When the opportunity presented itself, it was a no-brainer,” Ryan explained. “I’m absolutely pumped to be a part of it.”
In addition to his radio show and regular season telecasts, Ryan will join CBS 5’s Sports Director Dennis O’Donnell in the booth for preseason telecasts and also for the team’s weekly 49ers Preview Show.
Ryan is certainly pleased to be talking 49ers football on local television and he’s more than happy to do it on his radio show.
“If you’ve ever listen to our show, we’re football,” Ryan said. “The 49ers fans can call in and we’ll talk 49ers football any time they want.”
Ryan has a lot to offer on the details of the game. He likens his broadcasting style to how a coach watches a play unfold.
“First, I’ll look at down and distance. Then I look at the offensive personnel grouping as a coach would. Then I’d look at the defense as they try to match the personnel grouping. Then I immediately turn to the back end of the defense to see what the coverage is, and there are some indicators there – how the corners line up or where the safeties are. I look at it as a quarterback at that point, defensive front, then the coverage.”
The pre-snap routine allows Ryan to anticipate the play, but it also gives him perspective on what’s taking place at the line of scrimmage, a place he calls, “the pit.”
“When the ball is snapped and a blitz is coming or somebody beats somebody quick, I can see it then I just expand to the big picture,” Ryan explained.
“I think it’s a lot easier for guys like me who have played in the trenches, to understand all the idiosyncrasies of what goes on in there… On every play – there’s a reason why it happened.”
Since he’s so aware of football’s finer details and what’s happening in league circles, Ryan truly understands the challenges his former teammate faces in his first season as a NFL head coach.
With the league’s current work stoppage delaying typical offseason activities, Ryan thinks the 49ers coaching staff will be challenged, but will come together because of it.
He estimates the NFL’s 23 new offensive and defensive coordinators will be facing similar difficulties this offseason too. Ryan believes teams will reduce their schemes and implement them on a weekly basis if the current stoppage lasts into the summer.
However, Ryan feels strongly about the talent on the 49ers roster and their chances of succeeding in 2011. With so many emerging players, Ryan sees Harbaugh having a lot to work with once practices begin.
“I think it’s an exciting time for the 49ers fans, just looking at this team and knowing them over the years, this team is not short on talent,” Ryan said. “With Jim in charge and the new leadership structure, 49ers fans should equally be excited as I am.”