Super Bowl coaches trace roots back to ToledoWritten by Staff Reports | | email@example.com
By Yaneek Smith, Toledo Free Press Staff Writer
The “Harbowl.” The Harbaugh Bowl. Or, as it’s known to everyone else, Super Bowl XLVII.
On Feb. 3, the Baltimore Ravens will face the San Francisco 49ers in one of the world’s premiere sporting events. It’s the first time two brothers will face off as head coaches at a Super Bowl. But for those living in the Toledo area, this game has extra special meaning because the head coaches of both teams were born in the Glass City.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh are sons of Jack Harbaugh, who coached in the collegiate ranks for 40 years, including stops in Bowling Green and Perrysburg. Along the way, he instilled in his sons a hard-nosed football mentality. There’s little doubt Jack’s Ohio roots had a great deal of influence on his sons.
From 1957-60, Jack played football at Bowling Green State University under legendary coach Doyt Perry, for whom the Falcons’ stadium is named. Jack later coached at Perrysburg High School from 1963-64 and later at BGSU (1968-70) under Don Nehlan, who went on to have a great career coaching the West Virginia Mountaineers.
John “Doc” Thomas, who coached football and taught physical education at Perrysburg High School from 1959-95, got to know Jack during his time coaching the Yellow Jackets.
“I met Jack when he came (to Perrysburg) to coach,” Thomas said. “Our head coach went to BGSU football games a lot at that time. When he graduated, he got a job here. Jack was a running backs coach with me, the coach that was here. I coached the guards, center, and Jack coached the offensive and defensive backs.”
Thomas had high praise for Jack and the job he did coaching at Perrysburg.
“He was a hard worker,” Thomas said of Jack, who taught general science at Perrysburg. “He knew a lot about football (and) was a good teacher for the kids. He presented his ideas and they got it. He was hard-nosed when he had to be and a softie when he had to be. I certainly learned things from him.”
Thomas noted that even after Jack left Perrysburg to coach at other places, he still kept in touch with his friends in Perrysburg, even inviting them to Ann Arbor to watch the Wolverines practice while he was an assistant coach there under Bo Schembechler.
“Even when he was (coaching) at Michigan, we would talk about things,” Thomas said. “We would go up (to Ann Arbor) and watch the team practice and Jack would talk to us about how we were going to run things.”
The two brothers, who were born 15 months apart, moved throughout Ohio and the rest of the Midwest during their childhood as their father worked as an assistant at a number of different schools.
Jim, 49, is probably the more well-known of the two. After playing for Schembechler at UM (1983-86), he had a 14-year career in the NFL. He played his first seven seasons with the Chicago Bears and, in 1995, led the Indianapolis Colts on an incredible run that saw them fall just short of the Super Bowl. After retiring from the NFL in 2001, Jim coached for two years with the Oakland Raiders before taking over as head coach at the University of San Diego in 2004. He was head coach at Stanford University (2007-10) before taking over the 49ers before last season.
Jim promptly turned things around in San Francisco, taking the team from 6-10 to 13-3 and within a three points of the Super Bowl as the 49ers fell to the New York Giants 20-17 in overtime in the NFC Championship Game. This year, however, the 49ers were able to get over the hump, defeating Atlanta 28-24 to win the NFC title.
John, 50, played football at Miami (Ohio) University, before joining the coaching ranks. He’s moved around, coaching collegiately (1984-97) before being hired by the Philadelphia Eagles as their special teams coordinator in 1998. John, who’s coached the Ravens since 2008 and has a career record of 62-30 (.674) is the only coach in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons as a head coach. After losing to New England 20-17 in the AFC Championship Game last seasons, Baltimore defeated the Patriots this time around, winning 28-13.
In addition to the Harbaughs, a number of well-known coaches trace their roots to Ohio. Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer, Les Miles and Bob Stoops were all born and raised in the Buckeye State. Alabama head coach Nick Saban played at Kent State University and coached at the University of Toledo in 1990. Meyer, who led Ohio State to a 12-0 record this season, coached at BGSU for two years (2001-02) and Gary Pinkel, head coach at the University of Missouri, was UT’s top man for 10 years (1991-2000).
Needless to say, having such rich football tradition in the Toledo area and the state as a whole gives Northwest Ohioans a lot of pride with regard to the sport. It will certainly be enjoyable knowing that two of our native sons will be coaching both teams competing in the Super Bowl.