“Michigan and the Ravens is a very similar culture because of the men running it, Jim and John Harbaugh.”
Ben Mason, a member of the Ravens' practice squad who played at Michigan
Eleven years after turning the Super Bowl into one of football’s most memorable family reunions, John and Jim Harbaugh are again at the forefront of the sport.
This time, the two coaches are chasing different prizes — and won’t be in each other’s way.
John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens have the NFL’s best record and have clinched the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan team will face Washington on Monday night in Houston for college football’s national title, a game John said he’s planning to attend.
“I’ve never seen either of them have as much fun with their team as they’re having now,” said Joani Crean, their younger sister. “It brings a pure smile to my face.”
The family should be used to the publicity. At the end of the 2012 season, John’s Ravens defeated Jim’s San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. Jim took over the Michigan program after the 2014 season and now has the Wolverines playing for the national championship.
Of course, Jim has also been as polarizing as ever this season, suspended once by his school amid allegations of recruiting violations, and then by the Big Ten during the fallout from Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal. Through all of that, John Harbaugh was quick to support his brother, saying at one point that Jim had “come through this thing with flying colors” and that an investigation into Jim’s phones and computers had turned up nothing of substance.
When Jim was suspended for a road game against Maryland, John had him over to watch.
Lately, the mood at Michigan has been far more celebratory. After Monday’s semifinal victory over Alabama at the Rose Bowl, Jack Harbaugh and his wife, Jackie — the parents of Jim, John and Joani — did an exuberant, endearing interview for WXYZ, a TV station in Detroit. Jack said, at a key moment in the game, he and Jackie superstitiously traded seats.
“That is so classic of them. ... It probably did make the difference,” John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “My dad is fun, but he’s a little bit polished; he’s been interviewed before. My mom — you put a microphone in front of her face, or you hang out with her for a couple of minutes, you don’t even have to ask her what she thinks. She’s going to tell you what she thinks.”
Jack was an assistant coach at Michigan under Bo Schembechler, and Jim played quarterback there during the mid-1980s. John was a defensive back at Miami of Ohio. The family’s saying — “Who’s got it better than us?” — is one Jim has made somewhat famous. And John has worn a Ravens-colored shirt with that question on it at practice.
With the Harbaughs in charge, the ties between the Ravens and Michigan run deep. “The team, the team, the team” — one of Schembechler’s mantras — is on the wall at the Ravens’ facility.
When Jim Harbaugh was on shaky ground at Michigan before the 2021 season, he hired Ravens linebackers coach Mike Macdonald as his defensive coordinator. After helping the Wolverines win a Big Ten title, Macdonald came back to Baltimore to be the defensive coordinator there. Now it’s Jesse Minter, who was on John Harbaugh’s staff with the Ravens from 2017-20, who runs the Michigan defense.
“Michigan and the Ravens is a very similar culture because of the men running it, Jim and John Harbaugh,” said Ben Mason, a former Michigan player who is now a fullback on Baltimore’s practice squad.
The Ravens finish the regular season Saturday, then have a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Mason said he could “potentially” go to the Michigan-Washington game Monday in Houston. John Harbaugh is heading there with his wife, Ingrid.
Crean is married to ESPN analyst Tom Crean, the former basketball coach at Marquette, Indiana and Georgia. She lives in Florida but was at Michigan’s victory over Ohio State and the Ravens’ preseason game at Tampa Bay. Like John Harbaugh, she’s planning to be in Houston to watch Jim.
“Everybody in a family has a different personality. They care about the same things,” she said. “Maybe they go about things differently, but I think that’s more of a perception than reality. They’re caring human beings. I know people don’t want to hear that, but that’s the truth. You can’t fake things in a locker room, or a building, in sports and there’s nothing fake about them and that’s part of why they’re successful.”