Jack and Jim Harbaugh: raising greatness at QB camp

Delaney Ryan/Daily
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By Jacob Gase, Daily Sports Writer
Published June 21, 2015

At Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh’s Aerial Assault quarterback camp on the eve of Father’s Day, it was only fitting that one of the most famous fathers in Michigan football history was standing on the sideline.

Wearing a white Michigan pullover, khaki pants and a familiar wide grin, former Michigan assistant coach Jack Harbaugh stood and watched his son address the hundreds of campers on the field at Michigan Stadium early Saturday morning.

The camp already boasted the presence of numerous current and former Michigan and NFL quarterbacks — “as many resources as you can possibly have,” Jim would say.

But Jack had come to the Big House with Rick Kaepernick, father of current San Francisco 49ers quarterback and former Jim Harbaugh pupil Colin Kaepernick, to deliver a unique message about raising greatness — one aimed just as much at the parents in the stands as the sons on the field.

“What a journey,” Jack said. “Looking back, when our youngsters — (current Baltimore Ravens coach) John, Jim and daughter Joani — went through these types of experiences, the things we shared as parents, we found there’s really three things.

“We used to have a sign here at Michigan, that’s probably the best way to tell you. ‘Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently believe, enthusiastically act upon will inevitably come to pass.’ ”

A paraphrased quote from Paul J. Meyer, a businessman and philanthropist who created a foundation based on motivating people for success, this philosophy perfectly applied to Jack’s experience raising a young quarterback.

According to Jack, the first step of vivid imagination starts with childhood daydreaming — in Jim’s case, adolescent fantasies of becoming a star quarterback.

The second step is the most important. Once a child “ardently believes” they can do something, Jack said, that’s when it’s time for a parent to step in.

“Once you find out they have the passion and love for something, and they’re willing to believe in it and willing to work for it, now I’m gonna do everything as a parent to help you achieve that goal,” Jack said.

In Jim’s case, helping him achieve his goal meant instilling in him the competitive fire necessary to play the quarterback position. That fire is the reason why, even at a camp where everyone has an equal opportunity to learn, Jim installed a leaderboard on the stadium jumbotron to directly pit the young quarterbacks against each other.

“It kind of tells you who Jim Harbaugh is,” Jack said. “What you have to do to be the number one quarterback, you have to take someone else’s job. And if you aren’t competitive, and you don’t like competition, and this kind of bothers you ... you might want to look at a different position.”

A young quarterback also requires plenty of wisdom and advice. Just like Jack, a coach for 40 years, was able to impart that wisdom on his son growing up, Jim surrounded his young campers with walking sources of quarterback knowledge.

Nearly 40 years of Michigan quarterbacks coached at the camp, including Rick Leach, who started for four years when Jack Harbaugh was on the coaching staff in the 1970s.

“To see (Leach) out there working with other quarterbacks 40 years later, that’s what Michigan tradition is all about,” Jack said.

After Jim finished his opening remarks and Leach, Denard Robinson and the other seasoned veterans began to instruct the next generation of quarterbacks, Jack wandered up into the stands. As he looked at the young faces on the field — plenty of which were showing signs of vivid imagination or ardent belief — he easily identified with the parents seated around him.

“It’s not my goal, it’s not my dream, it’s (the kids’) dream,” Jack remembered thinking. “And I’m gonna do everything in my power to make sure that I give them every chance to achieve that goal.”