Harbaugh comments on coaching jump to NFL

Darron Cummings/AP
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Daily Sports Editor
Published February 24, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS — John peeked over the swarm of media members, looking for his brother.

Jim was sitting just to John’s right, trying to take in the press conference from afar.

And once he found him, the smiling John went on — about how Jim Harbaugh didn’t need his older brother’s advice about Jim’s unprecedented accomplishments at Stanford the past four years, with the Cardinal’s meteoric rise to the top of college football.

“He built a family and his family ran over people,” said John Harbaugh, the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

Jim decided to start a new football family, as he left Stanford for the San Francisco 49ers last month. At the time, Harbaugh was the hottest coaching candidate in the country, drawing interest from all over — including speculation that he’d return to his alma mater, Michigan.

Michigan wasn’t where Harbaugh wanted to go, though.

“I have great love for Michigan,” Harbaugh said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I look at Michigan, that was my University. Stanford was my University too ... Both would’ve been great options.

“On a lot of levels, I wanted to do it — coach at Michigan, coach at Stanford. Ultimately, there was a level where I wanted to coach in the National Football League — the highest level of football. And that challenge, that competitive challenge, was what I wanted.”

When he walks into the 49ers' facility every day, Harbaugh said, five Lombardi Trophies immediately stare him down — that’s the legacy and the challenge he relished.

Harbaugh declined to comment as to whether or not he was offered the Michigan job. However, back on Jan. 5, during the press conference announcing Rich Rodriguez’s firing, Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon said he thought Harbaugh would ultimately end up in the NFL.

Who would blame Harbaugh for going, Brandon opined — especially with wealthy NFL owners chasing him?

News broke of Harbaugh’s five-year, $25 million contract with San Francisco just four days after Brandon made those remarks.

For Baalke and the 49ers, they reached out to Harbaugh when he did come available — and there was mutual interest.

“What we basically did was we laid out our philosophy and our vision,” Baalke said. “We were as honest as we could be and gave him plenty of space to make his own decision. For me it was about the fit, getting the guy that wanted to be the head football coach of the 49ers. It wasn’t about selling someone into being that guy.

“So we probably took as laid back approach as anyone in the whole process. We just laid it out. This is how it is. This is how we’re going to go about building this franchise and bringing it back to respectability. And then it was up to Jim to make his decision.”

The 40-minute drive from Palo Alto, Calif. to San Francsico may have played a role in the decision, too.

And Jim will have the chance to compete against his brother John — the 49ers and Ravens are scheduled to play each other next season.

According to Baalke, there’s a reason San Francisco had to fight off competitors like Denver, Miami, Stanford and Michigan, who were chasing Harbaugh hoping he’d coach their teams.

“I’m just a big believer in pedigree,” Baalke said. “Jim’s been a football guy his entire life. He grew up, obviously his father was a well-respected coach. He grew up playing it, grew up wanting to be a coach, started coaching while he was still playing.

“He’s a football man. He loves the game, has a great respect for the game. And I think that’s the passion that I saw in him dating back to when I ran into him at the All-Star games. I just had a really good feel that he’d be successful.”

Michigan eventually hired Brady Hoke, formerly of San Diego State, with hopes of turning around a program that finished 15-22 in three seasons under Rodriguez.

As for what Harbaugh thinks of Hoke:

“Great coach, class guy,” he said.