Jim Harbaugh Q&A

By now you have seen the video of Jim Harbaugh's hiring press conference public session. There were more nuggets unearthed afterward, as well, in some more individual Q&A with the new Stanford Football head coach. Read about his high school memories of The Farm, how long he will be at Stanford, choosing between Stanford and Michigan, his offense, Mike Ditka's influence, his new staff and more.

Your name came up for some other jobs before Stanford.  What happened through all of that, and was your mind on Stanford while these other jobs were in play?

"It's amazing, and it's been a real education.  When you hear a job being filled and see the name go across the ticker... there is so much timing and so many unique circumstances for the university and for the candidates.  A lot goes into it.  I interviewed at a couple other places, Tulane being one.  They were on different timing than Stanford in terms of the hiring process.  To have the chance to go to Stanford and to coach at Stanford, to me, was worth waiting for.  It was worth rolling the dice and taking a chance.  I couldn't be more pleased and more honored.  It's a privilege and it's pleasure to be here.  I feel comfortable and confident that we can do a very good job here."

How do you feel about the transition from coaching non-scholarship football to competing in the Pac-10?

"I feel like I was AAA Stanford all these years.  It's a AAA team.  We had a lot of success there, offensively and defensively, and with our record.  The last two years, we have averaged over 43 points a game.  I don't think it was by accident.  I think we have a very good plan, a very good group of coaches and a system.  The nuts-and-bolts planning, you'll see that unfold.  The time is now.  The time is timeless.  We have a very clear vision of what we want to accomplish."

What kind of offense did you run at San Diego?

"It was a West Coast Offense, very similar to Jon Gruden's when he was with the Oakland Raiders.  Also Bill Callahan was there.  It's that version of the West Coast Offense, which is also what you see Jon running in Tampa and Bill in Nebraska.  It's very similar."

When you were a kid stenciling those numbers in Stanford Stadium, did your mind ever wonder and let you think about someday you could be on the sidelines?

"No question.  I used to paint those stencils up on those bleachers, look down on the field and dream about playing at Stanford and being in the red and white.  There is no question about that.  Me and my crew painted all the numbers in the stadium, and then the next summer, we were shifted over to the swimming pool and had to come over at about 5:30 in the morning to put the chlorine in the water.  That was a much tougher jog than being out in the sun stenciling the bleachers.  Stanford was my first choice coming out of high school in Palo Alto, and it didn't happen.  But it's great to be here now."

There's a story about you knocking down walls in the football office, apparently on a construction crew...

"Yeah, we were a whole team and traveled around campus.  There are some really funny stories.  My brother has a really funny one.  My brother worked on campus.  If I won't tell you now, you'll think it was me.  My dad coached here.  My dad was the defensive coordinator here at Stanford University in 1980 and 1981.  I was in high school, and my dad was able to get us summer jobs on campus.  We made minimum wage, but we had great jobs working around campus.  We were able to lift weights in the weight room and throw the ball with guys like John Elway.  Turk Schoenert would come back.  Ken Margerum was out there catching balls.  Sometimes when they needed a quarterback, I got to jump in if one of the guys didn't show up, and I got to throw to all these guys.  Football-wise, it was very life-changing for me as a high school junior and as a high school senior to watch guys like John Elway throw the ball and the accuracy of guys like Guy Benjamin and Turk Schoenert.  It was amazing the precision that they had.  In my own mind, it really created a vision of myself and something to work for.  It was really life-changing for me as a quarterback."

Do your players remember you from the NFL?  Do you expect to meet with these guys and have them say, 'Oh yeah, I remember you,' or was that too long ago?

"Some of them talk about it from video games or ESPN Classic [grins].  C'mon guys, I wore a facemask, for goodness sakes.  It shouldn't be that hard to remember.  And if they can't remember, I'll just show 'em.  I'll pick up a ball and start throwing a few balls out there to show them that I can still sling it."

Obviously you show a lot of energy and passion.  How big is that for a program like this?  Does it need a little bit of a push of energy and emotion?

"I think there are some coaches, some of the great ones, who you didn't know if they were ahead by 50 points or down by 20 points.  Very stoic in that manner.  Those are some of the great coaches to ever coach the game.  But I'm really emotional.  I'm as see-through as a plastic baggie.  I just enjoy and have a love for the game, and I can't help but show that.  Whether it's on the sideline during games or practices, I just can't help it.  Sometimes it makes me giddy, just being out there on the field."

Pete Carroll is like that...

"I've seen some of his practices, and it looks like the players are having a lot of fun.  I think that you can have a lot of fun in a difficult, hard sport like football.  I think there's a lot of fun to be had."

Do you share a lot of your NFL stories with your players?

"Sometimes.  I like to talk to the players a lot - before practice, after practice.  Usually stories are a great way to do that.  Whether that's stories growing up, in college or professionally, they are experiences they can relate to.  I like to do that, and I like to hear their stories, too.  I like to get to know the man, and I like the man to get to know me.  Stories are a good way to do that."

What was your dad's reaction when you told him you got the job?

"He was very excited and just offered advice, like he always does.  He is a tremendous resource to me as a football coach.  It's like having one of the best ever to be in the profession to be your dad.  That's what it's like.  I'm a football coach, and he's a football coach.  There are times I call him and bounce things off of him and get very quick answers on how to do things exactly right."

Any specific advice he had?

"Hire a tremendous staff.  You can't win without a great staff.  The number one thing he talks about is having a great administration and a supportive administration.  It couldn't be better than what we have here at Stanford University.  Everything is in place, and now we just build a foundation and get this thing improving as fast as possible."

The admissions standards have toughened in recent years here.  Maybe you need a little relaxation, one or two players a year, to get this program back.  Was that part of the discussion?  Do you expect that to be part of the discussion for your term?

"I would say this.  Certainly not a football coach or assistant football coaches are going to change Stanford University.  That is not our intent, and we won't waste one minute of our time trying to do that.  We love the standards here, and we're going to proclaim those standards.  You go into the high schools and explain that to the high school coaches, the prospects and their parents so that they know what the standard is.  It gives them something to shoot for because we're not going to lower the standards for the football team, and I wouldn't expect that.  There will never be one excuse made about that because I think it's an advantage.  I really do.  I think it's a tremendous advantage that our football players have a chance to go to the top university in all the land and play BCS football.  It's a tremendous, tremendous opportunity.  We wouldn't try to diminish that one little bit."

Do you have expectations for the timeline to turn this program around?  Are you a patient guy?

"I'm patient.  I'm patient, and I can't wait to get to started and get to improving as fast as possible.  That involves a lot of things - evaluating this roster, meeting this team.  One conversation at a time, building a culture that is going to be fun and that is going to allow us to work hard and play hard every single play.  The nuts and bolts of this plan are there, and I can't wait to put them into effect.  I'll be honest with you, if you want to know what the vision is for on the football field, it is to win multiple conference championships and treat people in a first class manner."

What is your vision for how long you will be coaching at Stanford?

"I would like to have the legendary type of program that I envision here - 10, 15, 20 years.  When I look at how other programs have been built to that legendary type of status, like what Bo Schembechler did at Michigan, what Charlie Weis is doing at Notre Dame and Pete Carroll is doing at USC, it takes being there for a long time.  Creating a culture and tradition where it never graduates.  Guys come back standing on the sidelines, being a part of the program.  It's something that just gets better, as guys play and go back to their high school, then tell the kids how great it is play football at Stanford.  I guess that was long-winded, but I would like to be here for a very long time [laughs]."

What did Bill Walsh say to you on that phone message?  Can you share that with us?

"He congratulated me on the season we had at San Diego this year and the wonderful success we have had the last three years.  He asked that I consider Stanford.  He left his cell phone number, and he asked me to call him.  He told me that I would be a very good fit at Stanford.  I'll play it for you sometime.  I'm not erasing it."

You credited Mike Ditka with helping your development.  There were some times you are on the rough end of some Ditka tirades.  Was that a positive thing?  Does that provide you a unique perspective on how to treat quarterbacks?

"I played for a lot of legendary coaches, one being Bo Schembechler and the other being Mike Ditka.  I learned so much from Mike Ditka - his passion, his technical skills for the game, his loyalty.  He made it fun to be a Chicago Bear.  There would be times where he would let you know after you turned the ball over.  But he was a great man.  He was somebody who was a mentor to me as a football coach and as a person.  I love him.  He once told me that to him, I was a real Bear.  George Halas would have appreciated the way I played, and that meant the world to me."

It sounds like you do have a piece of Ditka in you because one of the most animated things you discussed was your quarterback taking care of the football...

"[laughs]  That's lesson number one.  But seriously, having played for Mike Ditka, Bo Schembechler, Lindy Infante, Ted Marchibroda, Earl Hanson, Al Davis and so many others, I take a little piece of them and their coaching legacy because they have trained me what to do.  That lives on in me.  When you get me, you get a little piece of all of those people."

You talked about the importance of your staff, and you have spoken in the first-person plural about the coaches.  Who is coming with you from USD, and is David Shaw one of the most logical coaches because of his Stanford playing background?

"Absolutely.  I have the utmost respect for David Shaw.  He went to Stanford.  He knows our system.  He's just a great coach, who has NFL experience.  You will find that there will be NFL influences in all three phases - offense, defense and special teams.  The goal right now is to put together the staff that is the best in the country and that will bring real confidence and calm to the situation for everybody.  That's what we're going to do, and it's in place.  The thing is that I really have to talk to the coaches who are here already.  I have a list of guys, but I want to find out if the guys who are here are better fits.  Or if other people will surface in the next week or two as the BCS games and bowl games conclude and as the NFL season concludes.  It's all going to happen in the next two weeks.  There may be some tremendous coaches who might become available.  That's why I'm hesitant to talk about particular names because I want to keep my mind open to that.  We are going to be able to put together a very good staff."

Shaw will be here?

"Yeah, Shaw will be here."

And would he carry the same titles and responsibilities of passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach?

"He'll be a coordinator of some capacity.  Definitely."

Do you and your brother ever talk about coaching together?

"Oh yeah.  That is something that would be really attractive.  I don't know if it would be possible.  He's a great coach."

Maybe not now, but down the road you are going to have a kid you are recruiting who is looking at Stanford and Michigan, with offers from both sides.  What message do you deliver to that kid, given your background at Michigan and your current role at Stanford?

"Stanford is better.  Stanford is better.  I knew that coming out of high school myself!  I wanted to go to Stanford.  That was my number one choice.  Michigan was number two.  This is the best of the best.  What's the best school in the country?  It's Stanford, number one or number two by anybody's count.  To be able to play BCS football and get a Stanford degree is an unbelievable ticket for scholar-athletes.  That would be my advice."

If you don't mind my asking, what happened if Stanford was your number one choice?  Did Paul Wiggin not offer you, or did you meet the admissions standards?

"[laughs]  They wouldn't offer a scholarship.  I had an official visit here but wasn't offered a scholarship right at the end.  John Elway was my host.  He came to a high school basketball game."

What quarterback did they bring instead?

"Well, they had two the earlier year - Greg Topp and Fred Buckley from Florida.  Then the next year they had John Paye.  They had recruited two All-Americans the year before, and I think John Paye was the guy on the Peninsula who was being groomed to go to Stanford.  I don't know.  I guess that's the way I've thought about it since then.  Yeah, I wasn't offered a scholarship to come here."


Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!


The Bootleg Top Stories