How Good Was Jim Harbaugh as a Player?
As he’s become one of the most popular and highly-paid coaches in football over the last two decades or so, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Jim Harbaugh was once a great player. He was one of the best college football players in the country during his time at Michigan and then went on to play 15 seasons in the NFL, although he didn’t take a single snap in his final year in the league.
Here’s a quick look back on the playing career of Jim Harbaugh.
Jim Harbaugh was a three-year starter at Michigan
Jim Harbaugh first arrived at the University of Michigan, where his father had been an assistant coach for seven seasons in the 1970s, in 1982 but didn’t see a single minute of game action, thus retaining all four years of eligibility.
Harbaugh remained the No. 3 quarterback for the 1983 season but finally did get on the field in a lopsided win over Purdue and completed his first college pass. He became QB1 ahead of the 1984 season and led the Wolverines to a huge upset win over the defending champion and top-ranked Miami Hurricanes in his first start. Unfortunately, just a few weeks later, Harbaugh broke his left arm against Michigan State and was forced to miss the remainder of the season.
Jim Harbaugh came back strong for the 1985 season and led Michigan to a 10-1-1 record. He set the school record for completions in a single season and completed 63.9% of his passes for 1,976 yards and 18 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Harbaugh also led the country with a 163.7 passing efficiency rating.
As a fifth-year senior in 1986, Harbaugh finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, finishing behind Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde and Temple running back Paul Palmer. Harbaugh completed 65% of his passes for 2,729 yards and 10 touchdowns but threw 11 interceptions. He led the Wolverines to an 11-2 record and was named Big Ten Player of the Year.
Harbaugh left Michigan as the school’s all-time leader in passing yards and is now in eighth place on that list.
Jim Harbaugh played 15 seasons in the NFL
Jim Harbaugh was taken in the first round of the 1987 NFL draft with the 26th overall pick by the Chicago Bears. He didn’t see much playing in his first two seasons but started five games in 1989 and then became the full-time starter in 1990. Harbaugh led the Bears to the playoffs that season, throwing for 2,178 yards and 10 touchdowns, but was forced to miss the postseason due to a shoulder injury.
In 1991, Jim Harbaugh became the first Bears quarterback to start all 16 games in a decade and threw for a career-high 3,121 yards and 15 touchdowns. But he also threw 16 interceptions, a problem he faced throughout his career. Nevertheless, he once again led the Bears to the postseason but lost his first playoff start to the Dallas Cowboys. He played two more seasons with the Bears and ended his career in the Windy City with a 35-30 record as a starter.
Jim Harbaugh signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 1994 and enjoyed the best year of his career in his second season with the team in 1995. He led the Colts to the AFC Championship Game and set career highs in completion percentage, touchdown passes, and passer rating. Harbaugh was named Comeback Player of the Year and finished fourth in the NFL MVP voting. He spent two more years with the Colts and ended his tenure in Indy with a 20-26 record as a starter.
Harbaugh jumped around over the final few years of his NFL playing career. He was traded to Baltimore in 1998 and played one season with the Ravens before joining the San Diego Chargers for two seasons. He signed with the Detroit Lions in 2000 but was cut just before the start of the season and then joined the Carolina Panthers. He suited up for six games but never took a snap and retired.
Over 15 years in the NFL, Jim Harbaugh appeared in 177 games and started 140 of them. He had a career record of 66-74 and completed 58.8% of his passes with 129 touchdown passes and 117 interceptions.
He actually began his coaching career while he was still playing
Over the final eight seasons of his playing career, Jim Harbaugh was already setting up his next career as a coach. He was a certified unpaid assistant under his father at Western Kentucky and helped with recruiting. He was responsible for bringing in 17 players on the Hilltoppers’ 2002 national championship team.
Harbaugh joined the Oakland Raiders as a quarterback coach in 2002 and spent two seasons under Bill Callahan before becoming the head coach at the University of San Diego. He moved to Stanford in 2007 and led the Cardinal to the BCS National Championship Game in 2010 before heading back to the NFL as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Harbaugh led the Niners to the Super Bowl in his second season but lost to his brother, John, and the Ravens.
After four seasons in San Francisco, Jim Harbaugh returned to his alma mater to become the head coach at Michigan.
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference