STANFORD, Calif. -- Jim Harbaugh's first summer job was
painting Stanford Stadium.
Harbaugh was a student at Palo Alto High School across the
street from the Stanford campus, where his father was an assistant
coach and John Elway was the star quarterback.
Harbaugh admits he looked down at the field during his breaks
imagining what it would be like to play there. He never got that
After a stellar college career at Michigan, 15 years as an NFL
quarterback and three years as head coach at University of San
Diego, Harbaugh finally got his opportunity on The Farm with a
five-year contract to become Cardinal's new head coach.
"I used to stare down at the field when I was stenciling those
numbers. I so very badly wanted to go to Stanford and play for the
Cardinal," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "That wasn't meant to be. I
never played a football game at Stanford. But it's a great honor
and privilege to be back here now. This was my number one choice
It won't be an easy job for Harbaugh, who must make the
transition from being a successful coach at a non-scholarship
Division I-AA program to competing in the Pac-10.
He led the Toreros to a 29-6 record, winning 27 of his final 29
games. But now he takes over a Stanford team that set a school
record for losses in a 1-11 season this year that led to the firing
of coach Walt Harris. Stanford has won just 16 games in the past
five seasons under Harris and Buddy Teevens.
Harbaugh and San Diego Chargers receivers coach James Lofton
were the finalists for the job. Athletic director Bob Bowlsby said
Harbaugh's decision to leave his job as an assistant with the
Oakland Raiders following the 2003 season to take a college job was
an important factor.
"He chose to go to a place where he could run his own program
and have the experience of standing on the sideline and have the
decisions land in his lap," Bowlsby said. "I think that's a
Coaching is in Harbaugh's blood. His father, Jack, is a longtime
college assistant and head coach. His brother John is an assistant
for the Philadelphia Eagles, and his brother-in-law, Tom Crean, is
the basketball coach at Marquette.
Harbaugh played for Bo Schembechler at Michigan and Mike Ditka
with the Bears and worked for Al Davis when he was with the
Raiders. Harbaugh said he's incorporated aspects of all of those
coaches into his style.
"Coaching is something I knew I'd do my entire life," he said.
"Back before I can even remember when I was 4 or 5-years old, I
knew I'd play as long as I possibly could. I knew I'd then coach
and then I'd die."
Harbaugh was a first-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 1987 and
played 15 seasons in the NFL, leading the Indianapolis Colts to the
1995 AFC championship game.
Harbaugh worked as a volunteer assistant for his father at
Western Kentucky during his NFL career. He was an assistant with
the Raiders in 2002-03, going to the Super Bowl his first season.
"The players will flock to his personality," Raiders
quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo said. "He's the type of coach
they'll want to play for."
Harbaugh is a high-energy coach, unlike Teevens and Harris, and
brings a level of excitement to Stanford that had been missing in
recent years. He's known to join his players in drills and even
pulled a muscle trying to outrun the quarterbacks with the Raiders
when he was a coach.
"We like what he does offensively and we like what he does
defensively," said Stanford quarterback T.C. Ostrander, who
advised Bowlsby during the search. "He's enthusiastic. He loves
the game. ... He brings a lot of new things to the table. I can't
The first challenge for Harbaugh will be recruiting players who
can meet Stanford's stringent academic requirements. Harris and
Teevens both struggled in that aspect of the job and Harbaugh will
need to find players who can compete in the Pac-10.
Harbaugh said he welcomed that challenge and said there's no
program that can compete with the prestige of a Stanford degree and
the opportunity to play in a major conference.
"This is the best of the best," he said. "The academic
challenges are what we proclaim from the rooftop. This is an
unbelievable ticket to success to have a degree from Stanford."
Harbaugh said he would not rush to put together his coaching
staff but said he did plan to bring David Shaw from San Diego to
likely become his offensive coordinator. Shaw, a Stanford graduate,
coached in the NFL for Philadelphia, Oakland and Baltimore.