John Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh, a bond unbroken by competition

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2011; 12:24 AM

The house in Ann Arbor, Mich., had a tiny front yard, with a strip of grass perhaps five feet wide, Jack Harbaugh remembers. The back yard was another matter entirely. It was expansive, and mowing the lawn on that side of the home was an assignment that required quite a bit more time and effort.

Harbaugh's sons John and Jim, separated in age by 15 months, took turns cutting the backyard grass. Or at least that was how it was supposed to work.

"One week one would cut the little front yard and the other would cut the big back yard, and then the next week they were supposed to switch," Jack Harbaugh said. "But it was amazing how many times they'd forget whose turn it was to cut the big back yard, and we'd have these heated discussions full of explaining and politicking."

All of that explaining and politicking served the young Harbaugh boys well. It's part of what both now do for a living. They followed their father into coaching football, and now they are believed to be the first set of brothers to be NFL head coaches. Jim was hired in early January as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and John just completed his third season with the Baltimore Ravens.

"We both thought the world of my dad," Jim Harbaugh said. "We went to practices. Friends of the family were coaches. There was a cycle to the year that revolved around football and family. We saw it all the time. We saw the good. We saw the bad."

The two are close, "brothers in every sense of the word," Jim Harbaugh said. Their bond was reinforced in recent years by frequent phone conversations. The question is whether that practice will continue uninterrupted now that their teams are scheduled to play one another next season.

"We'll still be brothers," said John Harbaugh, the Ravens coach and, at 48, the elder brother. "We'll still talk football. We'll probably be a little more careful with what you share. We won't be talking about injuries, I know that, before we play that week. But it's just a great thing. I couldn't be more proud, more excited. It's very cool. I know our parents feel great about it."

The business they've chosen

Jack Harbaugh played football in college at Bowling Green State University and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League in 1961, then spent more than four decades in coaching. He won a Division I-AA national championship in 2002 as head coach at Western Kentucky and was head coach at Western Michigan. There also were college assistant-coaching stops at Pittsburgh, Michigan, Iowa, Stanford, Bowling Green State and Morehead State. It was a nomadic existence for his family.

"When I look back now, I don't see it as a negative," Jack Harbaugh said during a recent telephone conversation. "They made friends all over the country. They had the ability to adapt."

They also learned to rely on each other. Whenever they went to a new place, they had each other as friends and teammates. "We shared the same room for 16 years, best friends," Jim Harbaugh said. "John was my role model and someone I wanted to emulate." The two have a younger sister, Joani, who is married to Indiana University men's basketball Coach Tom Crean.

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