AL HAMNIK: Jim Harbaugh doing what comes naturally -- building winners

2013-01-15T17:15:00Z 2013-01-18T15:29:04Z AL HAMNIK: Jim Harbaugh doing what comes naturally -- building winnersAl Hamnik Times Columnist
January 15, 2013 5:15 pm  • 

Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers are one win from Super Bowl XLVII and no one should be surprised.

The often moody and frightfully intense Harbaugh isn't, nor are the folks who are close to him.

His supreme confidence can be mistaken for arrogance, but the family tree suggests otherwise — he is a brilliant coaching mind capable of shredding the best offenses and defenses like confetti.

Erik Campbell wouldn't bet against his former buddy.

The two played for the legendary Bo Schembechler at Michigan, Campbell as a wide receiver/defensive back from 1984 through '87; Harbaugh as the Wolverines' starting quarterback from 1983 until '86.

Campbell, a Roosevelt grad, was able to read Harbaugh quicker than a soup label.

"He was always a leader," Campbell said. "He also was the guy who made the guarantee in the paper that we'd beat Ohio State — in Columbus — and go to the Rose Bowl in '87.

"Jim was our quarterback. We thought: 'If he said it, we got to back him up.'"

And the Wolverines did, winning 26-24 as Harbaugh earned Big Ten Conference Player of the Year honors and finished third in the Heisman voting.

Campbell went on to coach at Navy, Ball State, Syracuse, Michigan and Iowa but never envisioned Harbaugh having such an impact on NFL sidelines  despite a family tree that had clipboards, whistles and playbooks hanging from its branches.

Harbaugh's father Jack was a coach. Older brother John has the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC final. And Jim's brother-in-law Tom Crean is the men's basketball coach at Indiana.

But it's Jim whom many outsiders see as being volatile and confrontational. Remember the very weird post-game "handshake incident" with Detroit's Jim Schwartz last season?

That's Harbaugh, who makes 5 hour Energy look dull.

"It's the same thing as you see now -- the moxie, the confidence level," Campbell said. "He's got a good football mind. It helped him be a good quarterback at the college and pro level.

"There's no pressure like being a quarterback at Michigan or in the NFL."

Harbaugh was a first-round pick of the Bears in 1987 and coach Mike Ditka rode him like a mule, slamming clipboards to the ground on each interception, cursing up a storm, grabbing the young QB by his jersey and shaking him like a pair of maracas.

Ditka failed to break him, however.

"If you grew up under Bo (Schembechler), you knew how to take it," Campbell said.

Harbaugh has also proven to be an excellent judge of talent — making Colin Kaepernick his starting QB over veteran Alex Smith — and players remain devoted regardless of their place on the depth chart.

He puts team above everything else, and they get it.

"Jim's having a blast, even though he doesn't smile much," Campbell said. "He's so intense, that's his way of having fun. That's why players love him, love playing for him. You can see it."

On every snap of the ball.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at

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