Jim Harbaugh credits his father, Jack, for influencing him in thousands of ways, personally and professionally. He describes his father as, “My role model, my best friend… the person I talk to most about football, other than the coaches here on our staff.”
But perhaps no life lesson is more important to the 49ers coach than a saying commonly said by his grandfather to Jack at just about any point of the day.
“Who’s got it better than us?” the Harbaugh family patriarch routinely asked of his kids until they responded with the appropriate answer: “Nobody!”
Jack Harbaugh relayed that message to his sons, Jim and John (head coach of the Baltimore Ravens), who have shared the exact saying with their respective teams in the NFL.
So it should come as no surprise that Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers coach, used his family’s go-to line at the end of his first victory speech as a NFL head coach.
In an energetic talk to his locker room following the 49ers 33-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Harbaugh congratulated his offense, defense and special teams for all contributing to the win. Harbaugh also singled out wide receiver
And after Harbaugh’s players asked him to break the team down following his first win, the new 49ers coach elected to go a different route than the standard, “Niners on three,” cheer.
This time, Harbaugh raised his hand for his players to follow, and immediately yelled out, “Who’s got it better than us?”
Right on cue, the entire room belted out the correct response: “Nobody!”
Within milliseconds, a huge grin appeared on face of the 49ers head coach.
Jack’s face looked much the same after his son’s first win in the NFL. The former college coach of 43 years never coached in the professional ranks, but certainly enjoyed a similar experience vicariously through his sons.
Along with wife Jackie, Jack spent all of last week in the Bay Area, including a visit to Candlestick Park to watch his son win his first NFL game as a head coach.
“I promise you, we are so blessed,” said Jack after the game, who was also quick to point out that John and the Ravens were victorious along with his 12-year-old grandson, Riley Crean, who won his first junior high football game in Bloomington, Ind.
“The Harbaughs have a hat-trick, and today, nobody has it better than us,” said Jack with a smile.
Though he was happy with the 49ers result, Jack was especially pleased with the plan and patience of his son.
“A great quality in a coach is having patience,” explained Jack. “When things aren’t going the way you want them to, stay with you plan, stay with your game plan. Be patient, don’t try to do something outside your game plan.”
Jack saw his son do just that by sticking to his game plan against the Seahawks.
“The way the game was managed, all the pressure was on Seattle early in the game and it stayed there,” added Jack. “Then eventually, the two kick returns (by Ginn) broke it open, but the way the game was managed and the patience of the coaching staff I thought was just outstanding.”
Despite Jim’s busy schedule during the week leading up to Sunday, Jack spent time with him at the 49ers facility watching practices daily. It didn’t take long for the former Division I-AA National Championship coach (Western Kentucky, 2002) to recognize talented players who fit into the vision for his son’s 49ers team.
“The players are very responsive –they’re very excited and you know they’re eager to be successful,” said Jack, who reviewed film of the 49ers training camp practices Jim had sent him prior to visiting the Bay Area.
Besides noticing an eager roster of players, Jack couldn’t help but notice the way his son interacted with the 49ers roster.
It reminded Jack of his former boss, late Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler.
“I see Bo in some of the things he does, the sayings, the inflection in his voice,” said Jack. “I can kind of hear Bo’s voice a little bit.”
As much as the father and son communicate, Jack will speak to Jim often this season. Seeing him on the other hand, is a completely different story for Jack.
“In years past it was Stanford on Saturday, so we had a chance to dig in and watch it. Then on Sunday, we would get the Ravens. Now it’s going to be bang-bang on the same day, back-to-back. I’m not real excited or sure how we’ll handle that.”
While the Harbaughs decide how they’re going to view games on Sunday, they’ve already said they won’t attend the Thanksgiving Day meeting between the 49ers and Ravens.
However, experiences like the one the family experienced last week in the Bay Area will be good enough for now.
“I’m thankful that our kids allow us to share in it, to be a part of it,” explained Jack. “They invite us to practice. They give us the opportunity to talk football sometimes and it’s so good they allow us to be a part of their families and their lives. Their lives happen to be football, something I spent 43 years with, so it makes it even more rewarding for me.”
Now that Jim is 1-0 as a head coach in the NFL, he’s determined to make his father even more proud.
“He’s one of the all-time greatest coaches in the history if the game in my opinion,” said Jim prior to beating Seattle. “If I’m going to compare me to him, I’d say I’m probably half the coach he is, but I’m trying.”
The 49ers will try for win No. 2 in the Harbaugh era this Sunday against the visiting Dallas Cowboys.