His sons, John and Jim, have no choice but to be in the media spotlight the next two weeks. But Jack Harbaugh? He’s keeping a low profile as his NFL coaching sons prepare to face off in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3.
The father of both Super Bowl coaches — John with the Baltimore Ravens and Jim with the San Francisco 49ers — has heard from family, friends and especially the media since the teams advanced to the Super Bowl with conference championship wins on Sunday. To keep his phone’s ringing to a minimum — mostly from the media, of course — it’s for that reason Jack Harbaugh is declining one-on-one interviews in the days leading up to the game.
“We’ve had a lot of phone calls so we’re trying to do what we can to set up a conference call (through the NFL),” his wife, Jackie, said from their Mequon, Wis., home on Tuesday.
Interest in the family is high these days as John and Jim prepare to become the first brothers to coach against each other in the Super Bowl in New Orleans. And for the Harbaughs, their coaching roots started sprouting in the Miami Valley. Jack Harbaugh’s first head coaching job was at Eaton High School in 1964. He led the Eagles to a 5-4-1 season, the program’s first winning record in years. He followed with a 6-4 record in 1965 before taking the head coaching job at Xenia in 1966, going 8-1-1 and winning the Western Ohio League.
“We have so many great memories,” Jackie said. “John and Jim were toddlers when we moved to Eaton. We were all young and just starting out. It was a great time and we had a lot of good friends in the Dayton area that we went to college with.”
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Jack and Jackie — both graduates of Bowling Green State University — were last in Eaton five years ago. Jack returned to Xenia in 2010 to speak at the Xenia Pride Foundation’s Evening of Football and Fun. One of the organizers was retired Xenia and Hamilton football coach Ed Mignery, who is the answer to a trivia question when it comes to Jack Harbaugh.
“I always kidded him at coaching clinics,” Mignery said. “I would ask him who was his first college recruit? He would say, ‘You were.’ Then I always reminded him, looking him right in the eye, who was your best? He couldn’t look at me and he always said, ‘You.’ We always had fun with that.”
Harbaugh recruited Mignery, a 1967 graduate of Hamilton Badin High School, to Morehead State University in Kentucky. He also met John through coaching clinics when the older Harbaugh brother coached at the University of Cincinnati from 1989 to 1996. John also played defensive back at Miami University before graduating in 1984.
“Jimmy’s got the same characteristics of (Jack),” Mignery said. “John is a little more methodical in speaking and Jimmy is the fireball you see on the sidelines. With Jack, he was intense and when he hooked up with Bo (Schembechler at the University of Michigan) he fit in real well. He’s a great guy and I’m glad I got to know him.”
With his personal connections to John, it’s no secret who Mignery is pulling for in the Super Bowl.
“I’ll be honest, I know John better than Jimmy so I’m rooting for John myself,” Mignery said. “I could walk up to John and he would remember me, and that makes me feel good. … But what a proud father.”
The family coaching roots don’t end with the Harbaugh brothers. Daughter Joani is married to Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean.
“When you think of it his two sons in the Super Bowl, then his son-in-law is the head coach at Indiana University,” Mignery chuckled. “When you sit down at Thanksgiving dinner you’ve got two NFL coaches and the head coach of Indiana basketball, Jack takes a backseat.”
Xenia’s Earl Knight was an assistant coach on Harbaugh’s Buccaneers’ staff in 1966 and talked to him about a month ago.
“I think he’s a hell of a coach, to tell you the truth, and I like him as a man,” Knight said. “I just hope both of the boys do well in the Super Bowl.”
For her part, Jackie isn’t taking sides in this Super Bowl.
“What do you think?” she said with a laugh when asked if she’s favoring one son over the other. “We’re neutral. We’re neutral. We’re just so excited for all of them, for our family, the teams, for Baltimore and the Bay Area. It’s just a great time and a great moment. We hope everybody enjoys the game and the moment with their families.”
And that includes those in Eaton and Xenia.
“It was a great time for us being young and Jack entering his first head coaching job at Eaton. It’s just a beautiful area,” said Jackie, who wanted to deliver a special message to the Miami Valley. “Thank you to our friends who have followed our kids and our family. We feel the same about them and what their families have accomplished.”
Oh, Jackie Harbaugh had one more message, too, for family and friends hoping to find an inside connection to the Super Bowl:
“We’re not in charge of tickets. The NFL is in charge of that.”