Tough decisions lead Harbaughs to Super Bowl

Jim and John Harbaugh both made unconventional moves in the middle of their seasons that could have blown up their offenses. Instead, the offenses are operating as well as ever and they meet in the Super Bowl.

As the hype begins for Super Bowl week, the Brothers Harbaugh will be breaking new ground – not for what they've accomplished, but the aggressive moves they made during the season that may have well landed them in the spots they are today.

Jim Harbaugh was a pedestrian NFL quarterback who bounced from Chicago to Indianapolis to Baltimore to San Diego. John Harbaugh was a special teams coordinator with moxie that got a head coaching job against the odds. Both made the type of gutsy moves during the season when they were enjoying success that could have easily been their downfall.

Jim and John Harbaugh.
Getty Images

It can be argued that both of the Brothers Harbaugh should have been in the Super Bowl a year earlier. Critical mistakes cost both of them a chance at last year's Super Bowl and a step backward this year could have put one or both of them on the coaching hot seat. With that in mind, it made what they attempted even more impressive, because, had the decisions blown up in their faces, the blame would have place squarely at their feet.

One of the last things any head coach wants for his team is a quarterback controversy. It can divide a locker room and create chaos, especially in the case of the 49ers. Jim Harbaugh made a strong push to land Peyton Manning in the offseason and was one of two finalists for his services. When Manning chose Denver over San Francisco, Harbaugh was forced to kiss and make up with jilted Alex Smith. Yet, it was clear he wasn't completely committed to Smith.

When the opportunity arose and Smith got injured, it provided a chance for unheralded backup Colin Kaepernick to get the starting job. Harbaugh made the gutsy call to stick with his young QB and let the chips fall where they may even after Smith returned from injury. Kaepernick broke the time-honored axiom that starters don't lose their jobs due to injury, even though it happens more often than many might think. Kaepernick more than lived up to Harbaugh's faith in him and the roll of the dice paid off with a berth in the Super Bowl – a decision that could have blown up in the coach's face.

Even more startling was the move made in Baltimore by John Harbaugh. After starting the season 9-2, the Ravens dropped two straight games and Harbaugh made the unprecedented decision to fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who had run the Ravens offense since 2008. When Baltimore lost two of its final three games after the firing, many thought it would be a short playoff run for the Ravens that would leave Harbaugh forced to answer a lot of tough questions once the Ravens got eliminated.

Instead, the unconventional decision worked. Joe Flacco has been on an incredible postseason run, looking as confident as he ever has and, on the fly, has converted the Ravens offense from a run-first to a pass-first unit with a quarterback brimming with the self-confidence that has been lacking in previous playoff runs.

It could be stated that both of the Harbaugh brothers put their coaching careers in jeopardy with the team-altering changes they made. Had they failed, the blame would have fallen squarely on their shoulders. Instead, the brothers are meeting in the Super Bowl and both are being hailed as geniuses for the take-charge moves they made. Will it prompt other coaches to make similar decisions for what they think will be for the betterment of their teams? Probably, but don't expect to see the same level of success follow because the types of moves the Harbaughs made are ones that either win the respect of owners and players or are the type that potentially end coaching careers. Both took a huge risk and both have been rewarded for their gambles with a Super Bowl berth.


  • Asked following the Pro Bowl what he thought it would take to beat the 49ers, which the Vikings did early in the 2012 season, Jared Allen said the formula is pretty simple – be more physical than San Francisco and beat the 49ers at their own game. Allen said going against teams like the 49ers, "you have to hit them in the mouth" and turn their aggressive nature back on them.

  • From the "Missing the Forest For the Trees" Department comes this: Sports Illustrated conducted a poll of NFL players asking them about the job performance of Commissioner Roger Goodell. The initial reaction to the 39 percent approval rating was that it's a vote of no confidence. Far from it. Two of five players think Uncle Roger is doing a good job? The same players that made Osama bin Laden references to Goodell on Twitter just 18 months ago? Somewhere in opulent surroundings, Goodell will be kicking his feet up on a rich mahogany desk and firing up a Cuban. Among players, his popularity should fall somewhere in between the "no-nonsense" high school principal and Lance Armstrong. 39 percent? Pop the corks!

    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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