With the Ravens and 49ers playing Thanksgiving night in the much-ballyhooed meeting of the Brothers Harbaugh, CSNBaltimore.com's John Eisenberg and CSNBayArea's Matt Maiocco exchanged their thoughts on the opposing coaches:
I must admit, Ive been around Jim Harbaugh daily since the last week of July, and I cant quite figure him out.
Hes a very emotional coach. In a very short period of time, he has built a tight-knit outfit with the 49ers. He loves his players. And he is wildly popular inside the locker room because of the passion he demonstrates every day.
Yet, Jim Harbaugh claims to have no emotions about facing the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving.
He recognizes that its the first time two brothers have ever faced each other as NFL head coaches. But the historical footnote that, he says, is the most relevant to him is that it is unprecedented for a West Coast team to play on Thanksgiving on the East Coast.
There's no question we drew the short end of the straw on this one, Jim Harbaugh said.
I don't know if John is quite as popular in the Ravens locker room. He has been around longer, been through some ups and downs on a variety of issues, including the coaching. Jim and his players have only experienced success. They should enjoy the ride. Things are never as easy over the long haul.
Don't misunderstand, the Ravens have a ton of respect for John. He has brought a level of consistent success to the franchise that it never had before. And he has done it with an intense style that players like. The 49ers can relate, I am sure. John breathes fire on game days. He is still pretty wild-eyed in some of his postgame press conferences.
He also preaches a family environment. There is a side of him that gets that entirely. But another side preaches tough love. After David Reed fumbled two kickoffs and basically blew a game in Seattle, John didn't cut him, just deactivated him last Sunday. Sent the tough message but also had his back.
His response to the time-zone issue was typical. Asked about it Monday, John said Jim and the 49ers are 4-0 on the East Coast, so get over it. It does appear to me to be a tough draw on a short week, but John is not buying.
The one thing about Jim Harbaugh that hasnt taken long to figure out is that the guy can flat-out coach.
He turned around college programs at the University of San Diego and Stanford. And what he has done with the 49ers without the benefit of an entire off-season to implement his plan has been nothing short of amazing. He could take a vacation for the next six weeks and still be the NFL Coach of the Year.
Harbaugh brought most of his Stanford staff with him to the 49ers, including defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. He got to know Fangio when the veteran coach was on Johns staff with the Ravens. Jim tried for several years to add Fangio as his top defensive assistant at Stanford before finally succeeding before the 2010 season. He did it, of course, with Johns blessing.
Offensively, the 49ers feature a power running game and a passing game that has maximized the production of quarterback Alex Smith. After six seasons of having a defensive-minded head coach, Smith is having far and away the best season of his career under Jim Harbaughs tutelage. That is no coincidence.
The Ravens agree about the 49ers being well-coached. Chris Carr, one of their more analytical players, said this week that the San Francisco offense was the best the Ravens had seen all year.
"Everything they do is so solid," Carr said, and when asked to identify the key to it all, he added: "It looks like really good coaching, a great scheme."
If and when Jim is named NFL Coach of the Year, that will give him a leg up on his brother in that battle. John has never won the award. But John has set a pretty high standard in terms of consistent success. He has a 39-18 regular-season record and has gone 4-3 in the playoffs, all on the road. The Ravens are the only team in the league to have reached the postseason in each of the past three seasons, and it's looking like they'll make it four in a row in 2011.
The brothers are a lot more alike than different, that's for sure. No surprise, I suppose, but listening to Jim's conference-call interview on Monday was just like listening to John's. Neither likes comparison questions. Neither likes questions about injuries. They exude confidence and competitiveness. They're both successful, and they hate to lose.
The loser of Thursday night's game will be in no mood to wax on about what a great occasion it was.
Jim Harbaugh certainly wants no part of the warm and fuzzy storyline. He had this to say about John: This week, my brother is just somebody we're trying to beat.
He downplayed it to the media. And he hasnt even mentioned it to his team.
What Jim Harbaugh continues to stress is that every game is the most important game because its the next one on the schedule. One of the 49ers mantras this season has been to use every practice and every game to get better. The 49ers can clinch a spot in the playoffs this week with a victory and a Seattle loss.
It might not happen this week, but soon enough the 49ers will wrap up the NFC West. That will guarantee at least one Harbaugh will be coaching a team in the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
I don't think the players are really into the Harbaugh Bowl thing at all.
Terrell Suggs was asked about it and said: "It's going to be fun to be part of a sibling rivalry." But Suggs gets the media, and it felt like he was just saying what he thought he should say. When Joe Flacco was asked if the players wanted to win the game for their coach, he said: "We want to win it because we want to win the game. Obviously, it's a little extra for him, but for a team, it's an important win for us right now, just as important as any win. That's how we're looking at it."
Not exactly a "win one for the Gipper" speech.
John is not mentioning it to his players, either, and he has been careful from the outset to try to lateral the focus to them, not that he can pull that off when the league and media are playing up the family story for obvious reasons.
But, honestly, despite what they say, in the end I think both brothers will find it weird to be standing across the field from each other. It will be more emotional than they expect.