The man known as Captain Comeback during his NFL days is starting to look like a turnaround specialist in his second career. In his third season at Stanford, coach
While the Trojans and Bears are still trying to pick up the pieces from their recent, respective stunning defeats, leadership of the Pac-10 will be decided in (it feels weird typing this) Palo Alto, when the Bruins take on Stanford. Even as he's been counting the days until starting quarterback
Leading the Cardinal's attack against that unit will be
There came a night when Harbaugh and some friends "got in a fight with some guys from Texas, and they said they were gonna kick our ass, Texas-style," recalls the coach, specifying neither the year nor band of brothers with whom he shared this adventure. "And I didn't know what that meant, until it happened."
This self-deprecating account was in keeping with the general theme of our discussion, which centered on how Harbaugh has transformed a soft, sad-sack outfit into a team that, even if it doesn't beat you, is going to inflict a beating.
The team Harbaugh inherited in 2007 had lost a school-record 11 games. It finished the season ranked 115th in rushing, 117th in rushing defense, and 119th in sacks allowed. The truth is that even before Stanford hit rock bottom under coach
"We're gonna be creative, we want to be creative, but we're not trying to out-finesse anybody," he says. "We'd rather be blue collar than ... geniuses."
Which is not to say there aren't some seriously hypertrophied IQs on the Cardinal roster. Luck was his high school's valedictorian. Left guard
Just as Harbaugh believes Marecic "may be the best fullback in the country," he also thinks the junior embodies "more than anybody the personality of this team. He just loves to hit people."
Marecic has five carries in three seasons. His raison d'être is to protect Luck and clear a path for tailback
That his push for a "blue collar" ethos drew potshots from around the conference -- and from one Berkeley-based school in particular -- was predictable. Strolling the pathways of this palm-lined university (whose endowment plunged 30 percent this year ... to a scant $12 billion!), stopping to admire, say, the Paul Allen Center for Integrated Systems or the Rodin sculptures in Memorial Court, one does not pick up on an especially proletarian vibe.
More surprising was the pushback Harbaugh got from within The Farm. "When we came out with the whole 'blue-collar' thing," he recalls, "a lot of Stanford people" asked "Blue? Why blue? We're red." Others inferred an insult to white-collar workers.
"But it's coming around," says Harbaugh. "People are starting to appreciate it and buy into it. We're a work in progress."
As that work goes on, Stanford is starting to kick butt on the football field -- a state of affairs which, until very recently, seemed highly implausible. To paraphrase Harbaugh, you didn't know what that meant until it happened.