Old yarns keep Brothers Harbaugh close

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jack Harbaugh (center) with his sons University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh (left) and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh wave during the Michigan Coaches Clinic held a Crisler Center in Ann Arbor in Friday March 11, 2016.

Ann Arbor — Brothers get together and brothers tell tales.

John and Jim Harbaugh are no different.

The brothers, inducted Friday night in the Ann Arbor Pioneer Hall of Fame not long after they shared the stage with their father, Jack, at the Michigan coaching clinic, can tell lots of stories about each other and about their relationship.

They grew up the son of a coach and became coaches. John, who graduated from Pioneer, is now the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, and Jim, who left Pioneer with two years left when his father took a job at Stanford, is in his second season as Michigan coach.

John Harbaugh on Friday afternoon very animatedly shared a story about a vacation their families took to Amelia Island a while back when Jim was early in his NFL career as a quarterback and John was coaching.

“Little did I know there was a reason he brought us there,” John said. “Maybe the last fight I had gotten the upper hand — I’m not saying I did, Jim. Maybe something was bothering him. We get in a wrestling match on the beach, next thing I know, he takes me down. We’re in the water now, under the water. I’m like, ‘OK, he took, me down, I’ll pop back up.’ We’re having fun right?

“I’m still under the water, and I’m still under the water, and I get this feeling like, ‘I don’t think he’s gonna let me up right away. Is this the moment? Is this what it’s all come to? Is he finally snapped? Is he finally gone over the edge? Is this going to be the end? He kind of let me up and kind of looked at me like, ‘Does that settle it once and for all?’ Since then we haven’t wrestled at all.”

Jim Harbaugh offered no reaction.

And then the scene went like this:

John (looking at Jim): “Remember that?”

Jim: “I do.” (Pause). “I’m just waiting for it, waiting for it.”

John: “What?”

Jim: “It’s about to come.”

John: “What?”

John amazed by brother Jim Harbaugh's creativity

Jim: “Well, every time you tell that story, you really get into it. It’s very theatrical, it’s very self-deprecating because you know, I’ve got you under the water, this is the end, this was the final confrontation, but every time that story has ever been told, then it leads to…”

John (interrupting): “That’s not true.”

Jim: “Somehow the Super Bowl now will emerge … I was waiting for it, waiting for it.”

John: “Did I bring that up? I don’t think I brought that up.”

Jim: “At the Super Bowl you had me under the water. You did.”

John: “I’m not sure … I appreciate that. Very self-deprecating.”

The three Harbaughs laughed hard. It’s been just more than three years since John Harbaugh defeated Jim, then the coach of the San Francisco 49ers, in the Super Bowl, and clearly, their brotherhood is stronger than deep-sea wrestling and a Super Bowl outcome.

For the three, Friday marked a special day in terms of sharing their coaching message to the 2,000 coaches gathered at the Crisler Center for the Michigan coaching clinic. Baylor coach Art Briles spoke to the group Thursday night and retired Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer spoke Friday morning.

“It’s like so many things we’ve done together through the years,” Jim Harbaugh said. “Great memories of all the times we were doing stuff together. The three of us have done a lot of cool stuff together. This is certainly one of those shining star days.”

Jack Harbaugh, who coached on Bo Schembechler’s Michigan staff, has said he wishes he could have coached for many years in his prime with his sons.

“As I sit back now without a coaching assignment, when I sit back in the back of the room and watch how they address their team or sit in a coaches’ meeting and watch how they address their coaches, the great trust they have with their team and their coaches, I marvel,” Jack Harbaugh said. “I said, ‘Why wouldn’t the Lord put me on the earth earlier in my coaching career when I could have had an opportunity to experience it?’ I think I would have been better. I think my record would have been a lot better as a coach.”

He laughed at his last comment. Jack Harbaugh spends a lot of time with his sons and also his son-in-law Tom Crean, who coaches the Indiana basketball team, which lost to Michigan on Friday in the Big Ten tournament.

During their time at Pioneer, the Harbaugh brothers overlapped only one season in football, when Jim was a sophomore. John had been injured early that season and returned to play receiver. Jack related his wife, Jackie’s, favorite story about her sons’ first completion.

“It was cold out there and wet and damp,” Jack said. “Jim threw a pass and John went down the field and caught a post route for about 15-20 yards. Over the PA, ‘That pass was thrown from Harbaugh to Harbaugh for 15 yards.’ Jackie had tears running down her face.”

The boys always played catch, preferring the game of “Chicken” during which after every catch, they’d take a step closer but didn’t change how hard they were throwing.

“Until someone cracked,” John said, laughing. “We were always bruised.”

Jim was always the bigger Harbaugh and the superior athlete. John said he’d grow taller, then Jim would catch up until finally Jim surpassed him.

“He got to be 6-foot-3. He got to be strapping twisted blue steel,” John said.

“Can somebody actually transcribe that?” Jim asked. “Can we make that part of the story, so my wife could read that?”