- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Let’s forget for a moment the fact that the men who coach the Super Bowl participants are brothers.

You did know the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh and the Ravens’ John Harbaugh are brothers, right? You may have heard that once or twice or 10,000 times by now and you’ll only hear it 10 million more by the time the game is finally played on Feb. 3. No doubt you’re looking forward to hours of pregame time being devoted to hearing father Jack, also a coach, talk about the kids.

So, yeah, let’s not forget the Harbaughs are brothers because that’s impossible. You type one name into Google and then the other, you even get a line that says, “Jim Harbaugh is John Harbaugh’s brother.”

We know.

Let’s put it aside for a moment and consider something else about John and the younger-by-exactly-15-months Jim: They’re very rapidly moving up the list of active coaches in terms of quality. Go ahead and scribble a top five and see if both don’t show up.

Granted, it’s not that hard to move up such a list fairly quickly. But these two have done it with a bullet, as they say in the music industry, and there’s no reason to think they’ll be backsliding any time soon.

Go around the NFL position by position, even on the offensive line, and you can come up with a strong list of names of players who are at or close to superstar status. Which is fine. The game should be about the players more than the coaches.

Coaching in the NFL is usually a short-term gig. A quarter of the league’s teams changed coaches after the just-completed season. Considering that, coming up with a list of active coaches who are in the superstar realm is difficult. At least it is not very time consuming.

The Patriots’ Bill Belichick has to be on the list. Sunny disposition aside, the man has built a pretty strong program and clearly heads the class.

The Giants’ Tom Coughlin may be walking that line, another good season or two away from being in the club. Maybe he’s already there, given that he’s won two recent Super Bowls. We can include Coughlin, just so Happy Bill has some company.

Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin could get there. If you have a very powerful rear view mirror, you can still see some of the glory that used to be the Redskins’ Mike Shanahan. If he hasn’t ruined RG3’s knee, maybe he will recapture some of the glory and become a no-doubter on this list.

The Harbaughs have to be mentioned in the next breath.

Jim, 49, only has two years on his NFL resume. They’ve been quite the two years. He took over a 49ers team that hadn’t had a winning season since 2002. In his two regular seasons, San Francisco has gone 24-7-1. No surprise to those who knew Harbaugh when he was at Stanford. He won 29 games in four years there, including 12 his final season. Stanford won 16 games in five seasons before he arrived.

His work at Stanford came after he went 29-6 in three seasons at San Diego.

John, 50, took over a stronger situation in Baltimore than Jim did in San Francisco. The Ravens did win a Super Bowl under Brian Billick, though it was a while ago (after the 2000 season). Billick was let go after a 5-11 year in 2007. The Ravens gave Harbaugh his first chance at being a head coach and all he’s done is win at least 10 games in four of his first five seasons. He’s made the playoffs every year. He has a 54-26 regular-season record and an 8-4 record in the playoffs.

That five-season playoff streak is the longest for all NFL teams, though the Patriots did go 11-5 the last time they did not make the playoffs in 2008.

In the next nine days, you’ll learn more about the Harbaughs and their family and their upbringing than you’ll ever want to know. You will hear more than one corny prediction where someone says, “All I know is a Harbaugh will win the Super Bowl.”

Get used to it. And don’t worry about memorizing it. Chances are you’ll hear it again every few years. These guys are good, and they’re not going away.