INDIANAPOLIS – “Captain Comeback” is back in Indianapolis for his second Combine as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Jim Harbaugh authored a few outstanding moments while quarterbacking the Colts from 1994-97. He led his 1995 team to within a play of making Super Bowl XXX. He took his 2011 49ers team to within an eyelash of reaching Super Bowl XLVI, which was held in Indianapolis.
Harbaugh took a moment to reflect on Indianapolis and head coaches Ted Marchibroda and Lindy Infante, whom he played for with the Colts (1994-95 under Marchibroda; 1996-97 under Infante).
“(They were) some of the best memories of my life,” said Harbaugh. “I love the Midwest. I loved playing here in Indianapolis. There’s that memory. There’s the memory of, we were pretty close to playing here (in Super Bowl XLVI) a couple of weeks ago. Almost the signature years of my life when I think back at those four years playing here in Indianapolis. The people above everything and working with my teammates and coaches (are fond memories). There was a great feeling with the community and it was all, so (it was) positive as I reflect back on it.”
He recalled the tough feelings about losing conference title games to Pittsburgh as a player and the New York Giants as a head coach.
“Both tough, the same feeling,” said Harbaugh. “There’s mixed emotion there. On one hand, your team gave it everything they had in both cases, when I played with the Colts and also this year our team with the 49ers. I mean talking about (both teams), they played their hearts out. They gave it everything they had. They gave it their best. Technically you can say, ‘Okay, it wasn’t good enough because you didn’t win that game…and you didn’t go on to being in the Super Bowl.’ You feel so proud that you’re part of a team that did play their hearts out and did give it their best and played extremely well in the championship game.”
Harbaugh appreciates his playing experiences under Marchibroda and Infante. He thinks of them sometimes now that he walks in their former shoes.
“There are so many times I give a coaching point (and think), ‘That was Ted, or that was Lindy.’ Both those men were great coaches,” said Harbaugh. “I feel really blessed to have been able to play for two offensive minds and great football coaches. Above anything else, Ted Marchibroda and Lindy Infante know how to teach. I’m proud to say I am in their coaching tree.”
Marchibroda followed his former pupil this year and very much liked Harbaugh’s natural style.
“Jim did just a great job. In seeing five or six games this year, two in person and the rest on television, I found he had his team ready to play every week,” said Marchibroda. “That’s the most important thing with your ballclub. You have to get them ready to play. Number two, he had great game plans. Those are the two motivating factors in order to win – get your team ready to play and have the game plans motivate your guys. He did a great job.
“One thing I know about Jim. He loves football more than any guy I know. He loves everything about football. He loves meetings. He loves practice sessions. He loves the coaches. As a result, he relates tremendously to his players. This is one of his greatest assets. Jim is as open as you’ll find a coach. He’s not closed. He has his own ideas, but he’s receptive to things he knows will help him.
“He knows people extremely well. I think his relationship with his players is tremendous. I had a routine with Jim (in 1995). I would go up to him during the week and on Sunday before the game and I would say, ‘Let ‘er Rip.’ The television caught us before one of our playoffs games that year. You could see the pre-game moment he had with Alex Smith before the Giants game. He had his hands on Smith’s shoulders before the game. That was his relationship with Smith. That’s how he’s gotten with Smith, and that’s how he relates to his players.”
Former Denver quarterback and current Broncos executive John Elway was a fierce competitor who notices the same with Harbaugh.
“I don’t know him real well. I just know having played against him, his competitive nature and his ability to compete and his intensity,” said Elway. “We saw that on the field. It has transcended right into his coaching career. He had a great year this year in San Francisco.”
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck benefited from Harbaugh’s coaching before he left to direct the 49ers. Luck considers Harbaugh as someone who shaped into what he became at the college level.
“He’s been an unbelievable resource ever since coming out of high school, to dealing with college, things that come with being a quarterback and maybe getting a little more attention than other people because he obviously was been there, done that before,” said Luck. “I’ve called and asked for advice on certain things, texted him. He’s a great resource. I feel very fortunate to have been coached by him.”