UD coaches remember rivalry with 49ers coach

Mike Kelly, a University of Dayton associate athletic director, was in a New York City hotel room Monday on a fundraising trip and caught ESPN coverage of the heated exchange between San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

After knocking the Lions from the ranks of the unbeaten Sunday, Harbaugh gave Schwartz an exuberant handshake on the run and a rather forceful slap on the back. Schwartz charged the rookie coach, and the two almost came to blows. Harbaugh could be seen mouthing the words, “Get out of my face.”

When Kelly was asked what he thought of Harbaugh drawing the ire of an opposing coach, he replied, “Frankly, it doesn’t surprise me.”

Kelly was the UD football coach for 27 years and was rubbed the wrong way by Harbaugh as the former Michigan quarterback was building the University of San Diego into a Pioneer Football League power from 2004-06.

In the midst of their only losing season in the last 35 years in 2006, the Flyers were trailing 41-7 in the fourth quarter against the Toreros.

Harbaugh transgressed coaching protocol by having his team complete a long pass for a touchdown and then go for a two-point conversion. San Diego won 56-14.

“I looked at the official on the sideline (after that), and he puts his head down and says, ‘Coach, I have no answer for you,’ ” Kelly said. “I’m going, ‘What’s he thinking? What’s he trying to do?’ But then the next week he calls me and never said a word about it. He respected us and wants to be your best friend, and I’m thinking, ‘You’re going to get hit in the nose someplace, son.’

“Every place he’s been, you hear a story or two kind of similar.”

Harbaugh, who had a 14-year NFL career, was confronted while coaching Stanford and running up the score on Southern Cal in 2009. During the postgame handshake, USC coach Pete Carroll asked him pointedly, “What’s your deal?”

UD coach Rick Chamberlin, who was the Flyers’ defensive coordinator in 2006, said of Harbaugh: “He was a hard guy to really feel warm to.”

Chamberlin added: “Jim came in and had been in the pros all those years and played big-time football, and I thought he carried that attitude in his program — the idea of things being maybe better than anyone else. He’s a very enthusiastic coach. He’s a great offensive coach. ... It was just sometimes that the way he carried himself turned some people off.”

Kelly was quick to point out he doesn’t feel Harbaugh means to be malicious, but that his competitiveness gets the best of him. Kelly recalled after that shellacking against San Diego, Harbaugh had the nerve to ask Kelly to use his influence to help SDU get into the Division I-AA playoffs.

Harbaugh’s insensitivity surfaced again in another episode with Kelly.

“He called once and said, ‘We’ve got a great rivalry going on, and we ought to have some kind of memento back and forth that goes to the team that wins every year. I said, ‘Let me think about it.’ Then I thought, ‘Nah.’ ... I didn’t even get back to him,” Kelly said.

“The next year they came to Dayton. They beat us at home. And all of a sudden, one of their players had a great big flag, and he’s running around and circling. Coach Harbaugh and I were shaking hands, and this big ol’ defensive lineman was running around with this flag that had the two years they had won on the flag. Harbaugh says, ‘I think we’re going to put another year on this and next year, if you beat us, you get the flag.’

“I thought, ‘Holy cow.’ One of my players said, ‘They didn’t put the other 10 years on the flag that we beat them.’ ”

UD prevailed the next year after Harbaugh left, and Kelly put the banner in a storage bin in his garage. It’s still there.

“I asked the new coach, ‘Do you have any interest in this?’ ” Kelly said. “He said, ‘Absolutely not.’ I said, ‘Good, I’ll make a tarp out of it.’ I use it as a tarp to pick up leaves.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2125 or dharris @DaytonDailyNews.com.