SANTA CLARA, CALIF. (AP) - Jim Harbaugh’s aggressive, second-long handshake and back slap with Lions coach Jim Schwartz has talk radio all atwitter, and Twitter, too.
And, boy, were his 49ers players entertained by it all.
San Francisco’s emotional first-year coach is winning, and celebrating the team’s turnaround in his unique style _ even if he rubs people the wrong way in the process. The Niners are 5-1 heading into their bye week after a 25-19 victory over the previously unbeaten Lions.
“It’s something you don’t see every game. As a player, I was kind of pumped up about it,” left tackle Joe Staley said, chucking. “They weren’t fighting, they were just getting after it. It’s an intense game and football is an intense sport with high emotions. It’s just something that happened at the end of the game. Obviously you don’t want to see a fight happen, but there was some yelling and stuff.”
Harbaugh insisted before the trip back to Michigan, where he starred in Ann Arbor for the Wolverines, that he has no friends. He probably didn’t make any at Ford Field.
And this isn’t the first time. Something similar happened during his Stanford days with former Southern California coach and now Seahawks chief Pete Carroll. They have become bitter rivals.
In 2009, Carroll asked Harbaugh, “What’s your deal?” when they met at midfield after No. 25 Stanford ran up the score on 11th-ranked USC in a surprising 55-21 rout, even attempting a 2-point conversion with the game way out of reach.
Harbaugh doesn’t much care about that stuff. He is all about winning, whatever it takes.
Yet back in the locker room Sunday after the skirmish, the coach told his players he wished it hadn’t happened and taken the focus off their monumental victory.
“He’s a competitor,” said tight end Delanie Walker, who scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:56 left. “And that shows a lot, you know. He was very emotional. It was a big win, we overcame a whole lot in the game and he kinda felt that _ you know, he didn’t play, but he coached the game. So I could see him acting the way he acted. Really wasn’t no big thing, it was just a rough handshake, and I think it got carried out of proportion. But, you know, when he got in the locker room he talked about it, he wished it never happened because he didn’t want to take away from our win.”
Quarterback Alex Smith spent the moments after the game ended talking to former 49ers QB Shaun Hill, along with Staley. They all hugged.
“We had a slightly less physical handshake,” Smith joked. “This team loves and appreciates the fact that our coach is fiery and a competitor. We like that. I don’t think any of us hold that against him for what happened.”
Schwartz on Monday said he regretted the incident, in which he chased down Harbaugh after the infamous postgame semi-greeting but was held back by players and team personnel.
Harbaugh had at least one supporter outside Santa Clara team headquarters, 3,000 miles away at that: big brother and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
“I can tell you this, whoever was right or wrong, I know whose side I’m on. The same side I’ve always taken,” John Harbaugh said Monday. “You know what? Everybody’s got a lot to learn. I guess right now he’s 5-1. If the biggest lesson he has right now is how to shake hands postgame after a victory, he’s doing OK.”
Some protocols of etiquette aren’t clearly defined.
Titans coach Mike Munchak, who only saw a replay of the Harbaugh-Schwartz exchange, acknowledged that when people are passionate things like this can happen.
“I don’t even know what the rules are and all that,” Munchak said. “When I became a head coach, there were things I didn’t know. I didn’t even know if before the game you were supposed to go and shake. I was a line coach and I never went out to shake anyone’s hand, or when I was a player, I never went out to shake anyone’s hand. I very rarely like to do it after the game.
“It’s good sportsmanship obviously, but I think everyone realizes how competitive we are, how hard you work. It’s hard after a game to work that hard, 100 hours a week or something, especially some of the coaches and not play well or play poorly. But obviously, you could suck it up and go over and shake a guy’s hand for 5 seconds or 10 seconds.”
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis remembers Baltimore’s lunchtime basketball games in 1998 with Jim Harbaugh and then-defensive coach Schwartz during Harbaugh’s playing days for the Ravens.
“I think Jimmy and Jim both, I’m sure, wish things would have been different and it doesn’t have to become such a big thing. But really, (there’s) not much to it,” Lewis said. “Schwartzy and I would be playing against Harbaugh all the time and we’d play lunchtime basketball and Jimmy was playing for us. Two competitive guys.”
San Francisco’s players talked about the run-in on the flight home from the Motor City, even with Harbaugh sitting among them in coach class and not in his first-class seat.
“It’s almost like he’s still playing football. He’s with us,” defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. “Just to see a coach fired up, to see him jumping with you, slapping five, patting you on the back, telling you good job and stuff and he’s into the game, that’s our energy right there. We thrive off of him. It seems like he’s still playing football but he’s just doing it from the coach’s position.”
AP Sports Writers David Ginsburg in Baltimore, Joe Kay in Cincinnati and Teresa M. Walker in Nashville contributed to this story.
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