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.
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.
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.