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Column: Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh gives Cardinal edge

It is easy to see what makes Jim Harbaugh one of the top up-and-coming coaches in college football. The former Michigan quarterback was destined for this.

Harbaugh was a three-year starter under the legendary Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler and led Michigan to a 10-1-1 record in 1986, capped off with a Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska, and an 11-2 record the following season with a trip to Pasadena and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors. There is no mistaking the fact that Harbaugh knows how to win in college football, and as much credit he gives to his former coach there is also the family coaching tree to thank.

Jim’s father, Jack, was a head coach at Western Michigan and Western Kentucky in addition to being an assistant under Schembechler. Jim’s brother, John, has worked his way up through the NFL coaching ranks from special teams coach for the Philadelphia Eagles to current head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Jim got his coaching career started in the NFL but made the move to the college game in 2004 as head coach of the University of San Diego, not to be confused with San Diego State University. The University of San Diego Toreros football team competes on the FCS level in the Pioneer Football League. Under Harbaugh the program 29-6 with a pair of 11-1 campaigns, which caught the eye of Stanford. The Cardinal hired Harbaugh in 2006 to recreate the success Harbaugh experienced at San Diego. This brought Harbaugh back home, to where he played his high school ball in Palo Alto.

Though he ruffled some feathers in the Pac-10 in 2007 by commenting on the job status of USC coach Pete Carroll Harbaugh did most of his talking on the field. In the same season that Harbaugh commented that USC “may be the bets team in the history of college football,” Stanford upset the top-ranked Trojans, a 41-point favorite, 24-23. Last season Stanford ambushed the Trojans once again, this time blowing them out in the Los Angeles Coliseum 55-21. After the game Harbaugh was accused of running up the score on USC but it was clear that Harbaugh had become the coach on the rise not only in the conference, but in the nation.

When Michigan failed to reach a bowl game for the second consecutive season in the Rich Rodriguez era some wondered if Michigan would dump Rodriguez and go after their former star quarterback. Harbaugh has said all along that he is content at Stanford, but what coach doesn’t say that? If Harbaugh’s profile continues to rise the way is has in the past few years then it should be expected that his name will float around in rumor mills for the next few years until a school offers him a deal that cannot be turned down. Right now, unless Rodriguez has righted the ship in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh would likely be at the top of the list of replacements for the big “M.”

For the time being Harbaugh will don a white cap with a cardinal red “S” on it, and as long as he does Stanford football will continue to play with a lunchbox mentality, something that is not characteristic of a football program known more for their intelligence on and off the field. Stanford has an old-school flavor to it that is sure to please the football purists watching. What team actually makes use of the fullback position anymore? Stanford does, and last year’s Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart was a shining example of what Harbaugh has done with it.

This year the focus is on quarterback Andrew Luck. With Harbaugh having been one of the top quarterbacks in the college game it is certainly no surprise to see Luck excelling the way he has thus far. This season Luck has thrown for 11 touchdowns and has been intercepted just twice (each coming last weekend in a win at Notre Dame). He is already two touchdowns shy of his 2009 total of 13 heading in to the game of the season in the Pac 10 when Stanford travels to Oregon Saturday night.

About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.