Chapter 1: Meet the new boss, not the same as the old boss

January 12, 2018 | Nestor Aparicio

the mid-1960’s. He was not an NFL prospect, but he loved every aspect of football and immediately went into coaching in 1984 as a running backs coach for his father, who got the head coaching job at Western Michigan two years earlier. During those four years in Kalamazoo, while he was coaching for his dad and earning his Master’s Degree in Physical Education, his brother Jim was 103 miles away in his hometown of Ann Arbor setting records with Schembechler and finishing 3rd in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1986 while leading the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl.

In the spring of 1987, the Chicago Bears made Jim Harbaugh the 26th pick of the first round of the NFL Draft. In the spring of 1987, John went with Jack to the University of Pittsburgh to become the tight ends coach for head coach Mike Gottfried, who is a cousin.

Harbaugh got his first paying job at Morehead State in 1988 as the secondary coach. Because he had been exposed to Scott O’Brien’s special teams schemes at Pittsburgh with Gottfried, he also became the special teams coordinator at Morehead because he was the only one of the staff who knew anything about it. “I think they also looked at me and said, ‘Hey kid, you look like you lift weights,” Harbaugh laughed. “Why don’t you be our strength and conditioning coach, too.” Such was life as a defensive assistant at Morehead State.

He quickly left for a job on Tim Murphy’s staff at the University of Cincinnati in the spring of 1989. He survived Murphy’s exit in 1994 and remained with new Bearcats’ head coach Rick Minter through 1996 when he took a job as the special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach for the University of Indiana under head coach Cam Cameron.

Cameron came from the same tree, earning his first job at the University of Michigan as a graduate assistant and then as a wide receivers and quarterbacks coach for Schembechler in his last days as the head coach in Ann Arbor. Cameron and Jim Harbaugh were also very close friends and had been since their time together on campus.

“I loved being at Cincinnati,” Harbaugh said. “That’s why I stayed so long. It was a big city. It was close to my family. I always loved recruiting and sitting on kid’s couches and telling them that the University of Cincinnati is a sleeping giant! I always felt like the basketball program there was amazing and the football program would be great someday.”

Despite Harbaugh’s enthusiasm, the Bearcats never played in a bowl game during his lengthy tenure in Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, Harbaugh had fallen in love with Bloomington, Indiana and never wanted to leave.

“The minute my wife and I drove onto that campus we were hooked,” said Harbaugh, who loved the college atmosphere and had literally spent his whole life in that Midwestern environment of academia and hard-nosed football. “I really wanted that job and enjoyed working with Cam so much. (My wife) Ingrid and I told each other we’d be in Bloomington forever unless the NFL calls.”

But much like most football seasons in Bloomington, the 1997 campaign was not kind on the field for Cameron and Harbaugh as the Hoosiers finished 2-9 and lost three games in October to Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa by a combined score of 130-0.

But, somehow, that magical first call from the NFL still came in March 1998.

Newly hired Philadelphia Eagles pro personnel director Mike Lombardi was at the NFL combine in Indianapolis and looking to help head coach Ray Rhodes fill his staff for the 1998 season and they needed a special teams coordinator and wanted a young, fresh face. There’s no doubt that Harbaugh’s famous last name kicked open a door and at least made his name recognizable.

Cameron told Lombardi: “I see you found my guy Harbaugh, but you’ll never get him outta Bloomington. He loves it here.”

Harbaugh was summoned to the Crowne Plaza in Indianapolis at 7:30 a.m. and drove up from Bloomington to meet with the Eagles’ brass.

“There was a bed in the middle of this hotel room and we had to carry it into the hallway to meet,” Harbaugh laughed. “There were like seven people in the room including their owner, Jeffrie Lurie. It was intimidating and they went after me hard for like six or seven hours.”

It turned out that it was Scott O’Brien, who was then the Baltimore Ravens special teams coach for Ted Marchibroda, who recommended Harbaugh to Lombardi. The oft-traveled Lombardi was O’Brien’s boss during the Bill Belichick-Browns regime and served on the same staff with Ozzie Newsome during Art Modell’s waning days in Cleveland.

Harbaugh went to the Hoosier Dome and watched the wide receivers run and talked about Big 10 players like Tim Dwight that he was very familiar with to Ray Rhodes, Joe Banner, special teams coach Danny Smith and other Eagles personnel.

“It was kind of surreal,” Harbaugh said, “because I never really thought I’d be in the NFL. I was really happy in the Big 10, and we loved our life at Indiana.”

Later that week, the Eagles flew Harbaugh to Philadelphia with his wife Ingrid and toured all aspects of the