Jim and John Harbaugh look and sound like they could be twins, though they are in fact roughly one year apart in age. But is one brother the better coach? Who has the edge in Super Bowl XLVII, the San Francisco 49ers' Jim or the Baltimore Ravens' John?
Aside from the blood they share, there's another aspect of Jim and John Harbaugh that makes them extremely similar: their boldness. Both coaches made major changes at critical times in their successful seasons -- Jim switched quarterbacks; John switched offensive coordinators -- illustrating their willingness to shake things up in order to maximize their teams' potential. This is also a reason why it's so tough to call one coach better than the other. They each have what it takes to be great for a long time.
But in this case, on this day, I believe John's more in-depth experience as an NFL head coach will help him target his brother's vulnerabilities in this game. So the Ravens' Harbaugh gets the edge.
John Harbaugh has set up and maintained a team of excellence the past few years, but what Jim's done in less time has been extraordinary. Instead of listing what he's accomplished in the past two years, let me give you some of The Associated Press' recap of the 49ers' final game of the 2010 season (a 38-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals, and their last game before hiring Harbaugh):
Instead of the playoffs, San Francisco enters an offseason of change. The franchise will soon hire a new general manager, and a coach, then search for a quarterback.
Alex Smith played and talked like he was gone. ("I'm moving forward, who knows where.") The Niners thought they had their new QB midway through the season in Troy Smith, then found out they didn't. Patrick Willis had undergone a second surgery on his broken hand. Frank Gore had a broken right hip. Raise your hand if you thought this would become the newest NFL dynasty.
I feel that Jim Harbaugh has the advantage, if for no other reason than the fact that his team has tasted nothing but immense success. In his first season, the San Francisco 49ers were thisclose to making the Super Bowl. If the whistle was not blown just before an apparent Ahmad Bradshaw fumble, his club might be playing in the Super Bowl for the second straight year. John Harbaugh has done a great job in Baltimore, but it's not like the Ravens have come this far every season.
Obviously, we're splitting hairs here. Another thing worth mentioning is the fact that Jim can be hands-on with the offense, particularly the quarterback. To me, that's a bit more significant than the work of John, whose pro background is in special teams. Even if the coaching is a dead heat, Jim has more experienced coordinators on both sides of the football. His club also has a better record over the past two seasons.
Both are great coaches -- there is no denying that. And while John is the guy who would probably be more pleasant to hang out with at the corner tavern, I would take Jim as my coach.
There is no doubt Jim has the gumption to make the right decision (just look at Colin Kaepernick), but there also is something about him that just screams "winner." He can rub people the wrong way, and he's a PR nightmare during news conferences, but that's the kind of thing that makes him dangerous. It's kind of like the difference between Maverick and Ice from "Top Gun." Ice might have been the more technically sound pilot, but it was that "danger" element from Maverick that made him better.
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