There’s not much left to be said about the brothers Harbaugh. One’s older, the other’s younger. One’s gregarious, the other’s cryptic. One’s polished, the other’s perpetually khaki’d. One will end this day a Super Bowl winner, the other will end it a loser.
Of all their differences, it is the latter that will determine their respective legacies. Ultimately, no matter the character of the man, success is always greatest indicator of comparative value. This is what separates Eli Manning from Peyton. Alec Baldwin from Daniel, Stephen, William, etc. Mario from Luigi. Joe Jonas from… Oh, hell, I don’t know. But you get the point.
The result of today’s game will be the measure of the man. If Jim losses, we’ll question his leadership. We’ll point to the various public relation fiascos as proof that the week was too big for him. Maybe we’ll decry his excuse for keeping David Akers. Perhaps we’ll reignite the ol’ Alex Smith debate. If John losses, he will dub him the modern day Marv Levy. We’ll say, “he’s a good coach, but not a great coach,” though we have no idea what that means. We’ll question his game plan, and specifically his decision to allow offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to abandon or stick with the run.
In short, we’ll forget one man’s success to spotlight his failure. We’ll do this because sports talk is hyperbole, because we love to compare using a straw man’s logic, because it’s better than listening to Gary Radnich put down Larry Krueger for three hours. But, perhaps more importantly, we’ll do so because we know what it’s like to fight. We know what it’s like to want something desperately, and to not get it. We know what it’s like to ask ourselves, “Who’s got it better than me,” knowing that there are others–lots of them–who have it better.
So tonight, when Jack Harbaugh rallies his two sons, and asks them, rhetorically, “Who could possibly have it better,” one brother will lie, one brother will tell the truth, and both will answer, “Nobody!” What 49ers’ and Ravens’ fans both want to know is whether their Harbaugh will be the liar. Whether their Harbaugh will be the better the brother.
Naturally, as a Bay Area-centric sports blog, we’re inclined to think Jim is the better of the two. So, to provide a more robust analysis of the brothers, we spoke with NFL writers Mike Wilkening and Mike Fast.
Wilkening has experience covering the AFC North, as well as the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans, and currently maintains his own blog, where he offers analysis and handicapping. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeWilkening.
Fast is a Ravens blogger and Featured Columnist at the Bleacher Report. If you prefer your Ravens analysis to be more concise, follow Mike on Twitter: @MikeFastJr
East Bay Sports Guy (EBSG): Jim Harbaugh is known for being extremely intense and tough to deal with at times from a media sense; does John ever exhibit those qualities?
Mike Wilkening: I’ve never dealt with him on a personal basis, but my sense is that he gets along fine with the media. Like all coaches, he’s more expansive on some topics than others, which is an ever-growing trend in the 21st century.
Mike Fast: No. I don’t know about Jim, but the first thing John always does is thank media members for being at the press conference. He’s very personable and explains his answers as much as they need to be explained.
EBSG: When all is said and done, who will be the more successful of the Harbaugh brothers?
Wilkening: It’s difficult to say. Both have done special things. The Ravens’ consistency in John Harbaugh’s tenure is remarkable, while the 49ers’ turnaround is amazing. Jim Harbaugh has a chance to create a legacy somewhat like Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome by pairing an accomplished playing career with special post-playing work.
Fast: To answer that question, you have to look at two things: A–How is the coach supported throughout the organization he works for? B–How tough is the division he coaches in?
From experience, I know the Ravens organization, from owner to facility to everything in between, is first-class. They are as driven as any organization while caring about people. The AFC North, as many know, is very rough and rugged.
Right now, John is a few percentage points behind Atlanta’s Mike Smith for the best winning percentage among active coaches. As far as Jim and his chances go, I’d predict he is a close second to John regarding this topic, especially considering the emergence of Russell Wilson and the decline of Ben Roethlisberger.