The Harbaugh family

The Harbaugh family (Phil Hoffmann, Baltimore Sun / January 26, 2013)

"I don't know that we instilled anything," Jack said of introducing his boys to coaching. "But I think they watched."

John, a reliable defensive back, didn't begrudge his sibling stardom on the field.

"John was not as talented, but it never bothered him — and you never thought of him as being in Jim's shadow," said Tim Anderson, a teammate at Pioneer High. "John was his own man, focused and with a quiet dignity about him. And he was proud of his brother."

John's leadership skills and attention to detail were apparent even then, said Anderson, a linebacker who went on to play at Michigan:

"There were times when you'd make a good tackle, and John would congratulate you, like a coach would. He was cerebral, and more mature than the rest of us."

Jim? Not so much. But what he lacked in maturity, Jim made up for elsewhere. At Tappan Junior High, the ninth-grader led his team to the city championship game against rival Forsythe. All week, he talked trash with his rivals, reveling in the banter, coach Rob Lillie said.

"Jim would come to school and tell us how he'd gotten five phone calls the night before from Forsythe players, saying they were going to bite him in the leg," Lillie said. "He laughed. He put on a show that game, but we lost. To this day, Jim still hates Forsythe."

John was a senior in 1979 when Jim entered Pioneer and became junior varsity quarterback, leading the team to three easy victories.

"One game, when we were up by three touchdowns, I took Jim out for few plays," Coach Paul Fuehrer said. "So he came over to me and said, 'Coach! Coach! Let me call a play!'"

Fuehrer relented.

"Jim sent in the play and we lost three yards. A few minutes later, he came back and asked again."

Buzz off, the coach said. Harbaugh's clipboard career would have to wait.

"In the back of Jim's mind, I think he always wanted to assume the lead role," Fuehrer said. "He had coaching blood in him from the start."

Struggling in mid-season at 1-3, Pioneer promoted Jim to varsity, where he outshone his brother. He started five games, winning three for the purple-and-white while rubbing some the wrong way. A locker room tussle with a teammate ended with both players being banished to the wrestling room to sort things out.

"I knew that would happen, but the trade-off was worth it," Pioneer coach Chuck Ritter said. "Jim could make the outstanding play that others couldn't."

Seeing the Harbaughs side-by-side in school that year cemented their differences, teammates said.

"Jim had an edge about him. That's healthy, but it's dramatically different from John, who took what he had and made the best of it," said Greg Yarrington, a defensive end.

"Jim was more arrogant, while John was about 'team' and the people around him."

Yarrington, who is black, became friends with John, as did other African Americans from the west end of town

"We hung out with him, and he embraced us for who we were," said Yarrington who, with several other blacks, accepted Harbaugh's offer to accompany him to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp for a week one summer.