For over an hour Friday afternoon, Jim, John and Jack Harbaugh gathered on a stage on the court at Crisler Center, preaching the gospel of the game they love.
Two thousand coaches were in the audience, watching the first football family of Ann Arbor talk about what the sport can do for kids trying to get into college, the importance of loving your players and the secrets to successful coaching. And for over an hour, the coaches in the audience listened, taking it all in as the Harbaughs played ambassadors for coaching the game of football.
“Doing a clinic, or even a talk or a speech of some kind, you try to give something that somebody can use,” Jim Harbaugh said after the event. “Even if it’s just one or two or three things. I think we did that.”
Added his brother, John: “There was a lot to choose from,”
And with so many high school coaches in attendance, the eldest Harbaugh, Jack, couldn’t help but be pleased with the turnout.
“Our game’s under some stress right now with the concussion factor and some other things, but the feeling that I had walking off the stage, this game is in good hands,” Jack Harbaugh said.
The Harbaughs don’t need anyone to explain the merits of football to them, nor did anyone in attendance. It was a coaches’ clinic, after all, and no one who doesn’t love football winds up a football coach.
Instead, John Harbaugh said part of the importance of the clinic and their speeches was providing positive reinforcement and encouragement to the coaches in the audience.
“They’re leaders of young men, in the front lines in high schools and junior high schools, they’re making a difference for our country, for society,” John said.
“There are so many great things about the great game of football, and we talk about it all the time … There’s never been a guy who played high school football, a young man, who has ever played high school football, who looks back and says, ‘I wish I hadn’t done it.’ ”
Friday, they provided that encouragement and passed on wisdom, and they still left time for some light-hearted fun, swapping stories about a time they went fishing and broke the boat, and once when Jim held John under water a little too long.
Because while this was a coaching clinic, the great entertainment was watching the interactions of three men who, between them, have won just about every kind of title you can imagine in football. Football and family are one in the same for the Harbaughs, after all, and they have countless stories together.
Even Jim Harbaugh said he also picked up tips watching various presenters, including Baylor’s Art Briles. More than that, it was also a chance to simply do something together.
“Great memories of all those times we were doing stuff together,” Jim said. “The three of us, we’ve done a lot of cool stuff together. This was certainly one of those shining star days.”
And while the attendees got merely a taste of the Harbaugh brothers’ coaching philosophies, their father, who in part taught them, has been seeing it their whole lives.
Jack has the enviable privilege of being able to sit in on John and Jim’s meetings, getting a front row glimpse at their methods. And while he’s there, he can’t help but wonder what it might have been like to work with them.
“When I just sit back at the back of the room and watch how they address their team, or sit into a coaches meeting and watch how they address their coaches, the great trust that they have with their team and their coaches, I marvel,” Jack said. “I say, ‘Why wouldn’t the lord put me on the earth earlier in my coaching career when I could have has an opportunity to experience that? I think I would have been better.’ ”