Tuesday, August 09, 2005 | Jim Harbaugh, the University of San Diego’s head coach and the son of a football coach, has spent his life surrounded by influential men while playing or coaching a game that is a world of mentoring, leadership and camaraderie.
His father, Jack, was an assistant coach at Iowa, Michigan and Stanford before he became a head coach at Western Michigan and Western Kentucky. Jack won a Division I-AA national title at Western Kentucky and now volunteers on his son’s staff.
Harbaugh started at quarterback for three years under Bo Schembechler at Michigan.
He played quarterback in the NFL for 15 years, including two with the Chargers in 1999-2000.
He spent two seasons as the quarterback coach of the Oakland Raiders, where owner Al Davis tried to talk him out of taking the USD job with the intent to groom him to become the Raiders’ head coach.
Consider such a background as you listen to Harbaugh, his voice breaking, explain how much he’ll miss Evan Harney playing on his team this year. The two-time Division I-AA All-American running back from Fallbrook High was fortunate to survive a freak fall on July 30 when he suffered a fractured skull and severe concussion.
“I’ve met tremendous people in my life, starting with my Dad and Bo Schembechler,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve come across men of amazing character and trust through the years, and I would put Evan up there in the top five men I’ve known.”
Let’s see, his Dad and Bo take up two seats in Harbaugh’s top five. That leaves only three more, and one is reserved for Harney, a 22-year-old-kid.
I hope to be that mature when I grow up.
USD’s football team reports today for fall camp and its second season under Harbaugh, who will have Harney around the team informally as an assistant coach while the 3.9-grade-point-average student finishes his business degree in the fall. Harney plans to apply to the NCAA for a sixth-year medical redshirt season in 2006.
“This is one of the most shattering things to happen to me,” said Harney, who was hospitalized for three days. “I love sports and football so much. To have that taken away from me with the snap of your fingers is shattering, but I’m blessed to be able to walk away from the accident.”
The fall happened near Harney’s Linda Vista apartment. He opened the door to help friends out of a car when he lost his footing in the dark and a nylon fence behind him gave way. He tumbled 30 feet down the hill.
But instead of coming to a rest at a retaining wall, he was regaining his feet when his momentum carried him over the wall to another 10-foot fall, with his head hitting the concrete. Harney said two emergency medical technicians lived in an apartment at the bottom of the hill and heard his fall.
“They stabilized me and took me to the hospital instead of waiting for an ambulance,” Harney said. “At the hospitals, the doctors said because I got there so quickly they were able to control the swelling. Otherwise they would have had to perform brain surgery.”
Harney started his collegiate career on a baseball scholarship at the University of California, Irvine in the 2001-02 school year, but he never played for the Anteaters. After a back injury forced him to miss his freshman season, he decided during his second year at Irvine to transfer to USD to resume his football career as a walk-on in 2003. In just two seasons, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder established himself as the Toreros’ career record holder in rushing yards (2,809), attempts (588) and touchdowns (35).
Harbaugh considers Harney talented enough to play for a Division I-A football program and deserving of an NFL opportunity. His favorite Harney story was last year’s 38-35 win over Dayton when the Toreros drove 70-yards for the game-winning touchdown, scoring in the final seconds on a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
“Our best play is a blast ‘iso’ over the right side,” Harbaugh said. “Evan goes up over the top and gets stuck by two linebackers, but somehow he managed to get a foot down on the ground and weave his way in to score a touchdown and win the game with 20 seconds to go. That guy is special. We’re honored to have him. That moment was a feeling I’ll never forget.”
But it only partially explains how Harney made it onto a list of Harbaugh’s top five.
Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). You can e-mail him at