WEEK 12 VS. 49ERS: HEAD COACH JOHN HARBAUGH MONDAY CONFERENCE CALL
John, let me ask you a childhood question right off the bat… Do you think that your childhood competition with Jim helped get you where you are today as far as just learning how to be competitive from an early age? "I don't know. I don't think it was any different than most other childhoods or brothers or different people you talk to. I'm pretty sure it was kind of like everybody else's. It definitely impacts who you are as a person. We both competed with each other and against each other. I know one thing: [I] couldn't have anybody tougher to compete against or anybody more challenging to compete against every single day, so from that standpoint, if you go against the best, that had to help a little bit maybe."
What's your reaction when you see or you hear the Harbaugh family motto, "Who has it better than us?" being used in the 49ers' locker room? (Laughing) "I am sorry that he got to it first. I should have thought of it before. We should have made up some T-shirts, too, earlier. I think it's really cool. I think it's neat. It's very meaningful, obviously, to us. The thing that I think is pretty cool about it is the fact that maybe people out there, 'Niners fans or football fans, can kind of take something like that and maybe try to apply it a little bit with their family or whatever. It can be something that they can have some fun with and maybe make a little difference with people."
How much do you guys borrow from each other? I know that Jim used the blue-collar shirts this year. Have you taken anything from him over the years that he has done, either here or at Stanford? "[Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations] Kevin [Byrne] is here saying, 'Tell the truth.' There is a lot more than the blue-collar shirts that he has used, and certainly, a lot of things that we've used, too. I have a saying above our outer office here that talks about hustle. It talks about [how] our program is all about hustle all the time. I took that directly from Stanford. There is always stuff we use. But, probably more than that, more ideas on how to run a practice or, in some cases, Xs and Os things, or just how to approach situations that you deal with with players or coaches. We talk a lot about that kind of stuff, too."
The one thing that I think Jim may have gotten from you was talking about you either have "baby deer skin" or "armadillo skin." Is that one of your babies that he took? "Yeah, that comes from the Ravens, no doubt about it. That's one of a few things. I am doubtful that Jim has owned up to where some of the stuff comes from, but I am glad to hear that maybe it has taken place. That's good news. (Reporter: "He didn't admit that. That's just my own reporting.") Keep digging. You'll find more." (laughter)
How much have you stolen from your father? "Well, that's the point. I think all of it comes from him. To me, it's not stealing anyway. It has nothing to do with stealing. It's conversation. It's just kind of the way we… I think a philosophy, kind of, was imbued in us early on and just an approach and a way of looking at things in terms of football or life or whatever. That comes from our parents. We're very proud of them."
John, there have been stories that have said that you two are best friends and at least one that said that you have never had a fight, that your wife knew of, at least. Is that a fair description? (Laughing) "She's only known us in our adult years. We have never had a fight as adults, maybe since we were 25 or something, I guess. But, we had some knockdown drag-outs when we were younger. I can remember my mom screaming, whaling and crying, 'You're brothers! You are not supposed to act like this! You're supposed to get along better!' There are probably a lot of mothers out there that can relate to that."
Would you describe each other as best friends? Is that fair? "Absolutely. Absolutely. I absolutely would. And, throw our dad right into that category with that. He's a guy I trust the most and would entrust him with absolutely anything in my life."
Is there anything difficult about this matchup for you emotionally? "I don't know if I have really thought about it. Maybe there is in there. You think about the fact that I have never rooted against him, really, ever. We played against each other one time in baseball in high school on an American Legion team. My dad was actually coaching Jim's team. We won, 1-0. That's the last time I remember a team going against [each other]. We were always on the same teams all the time. It's going to be a little different that way, but we're not going to be playing. It's going to be the players playing the game."
John, your dad said one of the things he was proudest of in regards to you was the fact that while Jim established himself as a great college quarterback and an NFL quarterback, you were always his biggest cheerleader, his biggest supporter, the first guy to call him after a big game. Where did that come from? It seemed to be that while you guys were competitive, it wasn't envy or jealousy. "I don't know where it came from, but to me that was easy. That wasn't even a consideration. If you can't root for your brother, I don't know who you could possibly root for in the world. I was always just so proud of what he was doing. I probably felt like he was the most underrated quarterback that ever played. I felt like he never got enough credit. I thought he was always just a great leader, led his team. I don't think he ever had a great supporting cast. I just feel like he was really a special, special player. I will forever be proud of that. But, I am even more proud of him now as a coach and really more proud of him as a father and a husband. What he is doing with his kids, it's neat to see. You grow up with somebody for half a century almost – I guess we are dating ourselves a little bit – but it's neat to see a person that you are attached to, so to speak, grow and become the person that he is."
John, what's been your view of just how the 49ers have pulled off win after win after win this season from afar? "I think it's just good football. It's not surprising at all. It think, first of all, they're very talented. They've got a lot of good players, and I know Jim talks about that all the time – he talks about the players. They have a lot of very, very good players. I think they are very well coached, and I think they stick to their philosophy. It's good, solid football. It's field-position football. They don't turn the ball over; they play defense and they play special teams. They run it, and they complete passes. I think that it's a proven formula, and I think they have been very disciplined in sticking with that."
Have you gotten a chance to watch 49ers film, even before this week? "Sure. Throughout the season, I have had the chance to throw them on there and watch them over the weeks."
Was that something you did during your bye week? "No, our bye week was a little earlier, so we were getting ready for Houston during that bye week. I know that the 49ers game-planned us on their bye week, but it was a little bit later. We didn't get a chance to do that in our bye week because it was so early. We were getting ready for the Houston Texans."
Another childhood question: Your dad says that you and Jim were competitive in all sports and you would even invent games in the house to play. Can you share one of the games that you two made up and played? "Man, I tell you what, I have to dig back in the memory bank. When we were really little, we used to have the sleeveless T-shirts, underwear things, and we would draw those up as different uniforms in the Big Ten. And, we would play tennis-ball basketball on a coat hanger rim. We did that every now and then. We were throwing balls between tree branches, I guess, and throwing snowballs against trees. I don't know. Maybe Jim can remember some. It was whatever we could think of."
John, can you shed a little light on your brother's personality? He has often said that he doesn't care to have any friends in the coaching fraternity other than you. Obviously, [he had the incident] with [Lions head coach] Jim Schwartz. Can you talk a little bit about how you two are different from that standpoint, or are you? "I don't know if you guys are buying everything there. I think you probably have been around him enough that he is a pretty personable guy, very clever, very funny. You have to figure out where he is coming from sometimes. Usually, he has a message for you, probably, for his team and everything. You have to figure out what he is trying to tell you, I guess. He has lots of friends."
John, what are your thoughts on Ray Lewis being able to play on Thursday? "My thoughts about it? I think about it a lot. I have lots of thoughts about it."
Let me try it again. Do you think Ray Lewis will be able to play on Thursday? "Is that something I really want to share right now, you think? Would there be any value in doing that? *(Reporter: "You sound like Jim Harbaugh. We cover your brother, so we think the answer is no. I have to ask.") *Sure, I understand."
Can you talk about what Thanksgiving is going to be like after the game for the Harbaugh family? "All the Harbaughs, the extended Harbaughs, will have a great time one way or another. One Harbaugh side will be really happy, and there will be another Harbaugh side that will be really, really disappointed. Then Mom and Dad will be torn. That's kind of how I think it will go."
Are you planning to get together for the holiday with the whole family? "Get together? Well we've got a lot of extended family coming in to watch the game and stuff. So, I'm the one who has had to get the tickets. That's been kind of an expensive proposition, but that's cool. I haven't heard from Jim; I haven't gotten an offer on buying any tickets. I was surprised about that to be honest." (laughter)
Are you guys planning to get together and have any sort of Thanksgiving dinner together? "No, I haven't talked to Jim for a little while. But no, this is about football really. We wouldn't have Thanksgiving together anyway, if we were playing a normal game. I'm sure both of our focus is going to be on the game and on our team. You know, there's no time for anything else. (Reporter: "I meant after the game.") I think he's going back. I think they're going back; they have a flight back after the game. They'll be on a charter."
Have you taken a step back at all, has it sunk in how unique and unbelievable it is that you and your brother are head coaches in the NFL? "You know, it's funny, because on one hand, you know you really are focused on the job. So, all your energy… You're almost immersed in your team and the issues that you're facing or the team that you're facing and the game plan and those kinds of things – the preparation part of it with the challenges that you have. The other side of it, I think, when you kind of, underneath everything… It's an amazing thing. To say that it's not there, that you're not thinking about it, wouldn't be real. It's an amazing thing. It's a historic thing. It's very special. I couldn't be more proud for our parents or for Jim. I just think it's really neat. I'm really hopeful that if there's a message out there that people can kind of connect with somehow some way, it's basically some kind of a family message, some kind of thought that really anything is possible. Maybe God does work all things for good in some way. If you try and do the right thing – and we've made plenty of mistakes, we've screwed plenty of things up, we've said the wrong thing to each other and to other people plenty of times – but you have to try to maybe, in some ways, set your heart in some way and put your family first and things can work out like that. I know the NFL is taking a family theme in this whole thing, but we try and do that here and Jim tries to do the same thing, because we grew up that way. We were always around the office. We were always around the field. We were always in the locker room, and we've tried to do that with our team. We have our players' and coaches' kids here all the time. Our players' kids are here all the time. One of our players, Kris Wilson's three-year-old, he didn't have a babysitter, so he brought her over to the Saturday night meetings and she was running around. A lot of coaches would look at that as a distraction, but I think in our places of work and what we're doing, I think we should make it family friendly. Let the kids come around. Let the kids be a part of it. They're not as much of a distraction as you would think, and we don't always do a great job with our kids in this society. If we don't do a good job with our children, I mean, that's what it's all about. So, I know I'm rambling a little bit and it's not a very well-organized thought, but maybe that message is in there somewhere, you know?"
What are your strengths versus Jim? What are things that you excel at versus him? "I would never even touch that question because it's a comparison. And what it does is it ends up diminishing one side or the other. So I never answer those. I can go over his strengths if you want me to tell you what he does well, but there's no comparison. (Reporter: "Sure, please.") I just think he's a real competitor. He's very smart. He knows the game inside and out. He's very disciplined in the way he approaches it. He has a great vision for his team. He knows what he wants them to look like, and he has a great way of communicating it. He's a really good teacher and I think he learned that from our dad. Dad always talked about being a great teacher. You have a picture in your mind of what you want it to look like, and you do a great job of taking that picture and putting it in the players or the students, put it in their mind."
Will your mom and dad be in the stands on Thursday? "I don't think so. They're talking about coming pregame and being out on the field and then sneaking away and watching it on TV. I think they're kind of torn and conflicted about that. So I don't' know where they'll be right now."
I was just wondering… Your father had a terrific coaching career. When you look at him as a model and the times that you've seen him up close, what things did you learn from him to apply to your coaching career? "I mean, I'd say what didn't we learn from him? The list would be so long. But the one thing that strikes me about my dad even to this day, he's a man without guile. He's a guy… He's as honest and straightforward a person as I've ever met in my entire life. If there's one thing that Jim and I have both taken from that, and there's one thing that I'd like to be on my gravestone, it would be that. You know where he's coming from. He's very sensitive and he's very caring. He cares about people and puts other people first. It's always about ministering to other people. He's very emotional and very passionate guy. But, at the same time, he's very honest and very straightforward, and that's one of the things I really love about him."
You can look at all the success he had, but he actually retired after he took his team to the national title. Can you talk about how unique that is in this day and age, when people are constantly trying to pile on more and more? "It is incredible. I know he had a few more years left in him; he could have coached for quite a while. But I think he was excited about what he was doing and the grandkids; they've got a bunch of grandkids. They wanted to spend some time… He and mom have had a chance to travel around and walk in the door and scream, 'Who's got it better than us?' And all the kids go, 'Nobody!' And to make that part of their lives, the most important part of their lives… But I'll tell you one thing: I've been around a lot of coaches over the years. There's never been a better coach. I've never been around a better coach, a better teacher, than Jack Harbaugh. I can tell you that."
You just mentioned the NFL has a family theme this weekend. I was wondering who do you think the first family of the NFL at the moment is… Is it the Harbaugh family, or the Ryans, or the Mathews or the Mannings? "Again, I would never even go there. I just think it's cool that these are the stories that are out there. There are so many great famil