INDIANAPOLIS – Lindy Infante had a distinguished career that led him to a Super Bowl with Cincinnati and to its doorstep while with Cleveland (twice) and Indianapolis.
Infante was the Colts’ offensive coordinator in 1995, when Indianapolis came within a desperation pass in Pittsburgh of making Super Bowl XXX.
Jim Harbaugh was Infante’s quarterback through that thrilling season, and Infante was his head coach the next two seasons after succeeding Ted Marchibroda.
The Colts returned to the playoffs in Infante’s first season, but he left the club after the 1997 season. Infante lives in his long-time residence in St. Augustine, Fla., and he will be watching his former pupil in a career moment this Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII.
“It’s been fun for me to watch Jim,” said Infante. “How quickly he rose to the top is the most incredible thing. If you go back and look you can see certainly this is possible. He’s from a football family. His father was a football coach. His brother is a football coach. He’s a football coach.
“All the years he played in Chicago and Indianapolis and all those places, he brought a wealth of knowledge with him to that position. It really doesn’t shock me that he has done what he has done.”
Along with Marchibroda, Infante helped Harbaugh achieve his most productive season in 1995, hitting 200-of-314 passes for 2,575 yards and 17 touchdowns. Mixed among the nine wins that year were dramatic 21-point second-half road comebacks against the Jets and Miami, plus road playoff wins at San Diego and Kansas City.
During his four seasons in Indianapolis, Harbaugh was a volunteer assistant at Western Kentucky under his father, Jack. After finishing his playing career in 2000, Harbaugh launched his coaching career in earnest, going from Oakland (2002-03; QB Coach) to head coaching stints at the University of San Diego (2004-06) and Stanford (2007-10).
He took the 49ers’ reins in 2011 and became the NFL’s fourth rookie head coach to take a losing team (6-10 in 2010) to 13 wins.
“He’s a very competitive guy. He competed from the time he stepped on the field,” said Infante. “It seemed like every play he had to prove to a group of people that he was worthy at that position, whether it be as a player in Chicago, or whether it be as a coach. He did it in college. He went to Stanford and took them to winning season(s).”
Harbaugh helped spark a resurgence in Cardinal football during his four years, and his final two teams produced 8-5 and 12-1 records. Harbaugh was 29-21 at the Stanford helm.
“A lot of it is just the fact that he’s one of those guys who have paid the price,” said Infante. “He knows what it’s all about.”
During his Colts days, Harbaugh described himself as a “mudder.” When Indianapolis toppled the top-seeded Chiefs in the Divisional Playoffs, he said the Colts were no longer “ragamuffins.”
Harbaugh has worked his way through college ranks, endured a title setback with the Raiders 10 Super Bowls and brought San Francisco back to the title game for the first time since 1994. He did so after experiencing a difficult home overtime loss in last season’s NFC Championship game.
“To get where he is right now is a relief,” said Infante. “Everyone who’s in the business, they have one goal in mind, that’s to win the Super Bowl. It’s not even good enough (just to get there). I’ve been with a team in Cincinnati that went to the Super Bowl. We got beat because we couldn’t get it in from the one-yard line. That’s how close we were to being the Super Bowl champion.
“There is only one team in the NFL that is happy when the season is over. Everybody else has gotten beat. There’s a lot of stress. You have to line up and perform every day, every week. He has been able to do that. He’s gotten the monkey off his back relatively early in his career. He’ll be around for a long time. There will be other opportunities for him to win Super Bowls, regardless of what happens in this one.”