Phil Barber here again. Below is another interview I conducted in profiling Jim Harbaugh for NFL Magazine. This one is with NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk, who played with Harbaugh in Indianapolis from 1994 to 1997. Faulk was a rookie out of San Diego State in ’94; Harbaugh was starting fresh after seven years with the Bears. As you can tell from the transcript, we spoke before the Washington game in Week 9.
Thanks again to Grant Cohn for letting me squat on his blog — and apologies for the troglodyte who managed to get Grant’s log-in information and wreak havoc after my last post. Here’s Faulk:
Knowing Harbaugh as you do, did it surprise you to watch the confrontation with Jim Schwartz at Detroit?
“He has passion, and he has fire in the belly, and it shows. The reason that team is playing the way they’re playing is because the guy whom we see is the guy they get in the locker room, in front of them at meetings, telling them about what needs to happen in order for them to be successful. And I think what was said about what happened with both Jims – if you know those two guys, I mean, they’re two fiery guys. If a miscommunication about a situation is going to happen, and it’s going to get testy, those two coaches might be two of the coaches.”
Did he welcome you as a young player?
“Unfortunately for me, Jim and I, we both joined the Colts at the same time. This was a second opportunity for him. This was my first opportunity, so we were kind of learning everything together. But the pitfalls of being a top pick, the pitfalls of some of the things that can happen to you in the NFL, I mean, Jim was always about how to do it right. At times, even if he didn’t do it right, he knew how to do it right. Physically, he may have been challenged. But his intent and his will and his desire to be successful, that was never in question with Jim.”
He seems to have two sides to him as a coach – fun but intense. Was he like that as a player?
“Oh, I wouldn’t call it two sides. It was just one way. Jim would, and with a smile on his face, challenge us in the huddle to go kick somebody’s butt. Now some guys do it yelling and screaming. Jim did it in a way that, OK, this was going to be fun trying to kick somebody’s butt. This is no knock on Jim: His talent was not anything close to his drive. So if you take his will and his drive, and you put it with guys that have talent, and he could instill that in them? That’s what you’re seeing. We’ve always looked at the 49ers as a team where we said, ‘Man, this team is talented. Why can’t they win?’ And this is no knock on Mike Singletary. Jim, in a roundabout way, he has these kids believing in themselves, and he knows how to push the right buttons to get the most out of them.”
But are you surprised they have won so quickly under Harbaugh?
“We didn’t expect them to be 6-1, and Jim would be the first person to tell you, ‘OK, applaud us for what we’ve done. Don’t applaud us for what’s supposed to come, what’s ahead.’ I mean, they have a tough road ahead. They’ve played well, and things have went great thus far. They’re one play away with the Dallas Cowboys from being undefeated right now. So yeah, let’s pat ’em on the back. But does Jim believe that this team is world beaters? No. If they continue to work hard, and fight in games, and fight to the end of games, they’re gonna have an opportunity to win games because they’re talented.”
Do you have a favorite Harbaugh moment?
“This has nothing to do with his drive. This has nothing to do with his intensity. As a young player, I would listen to Jim ask Ted Marchibroda every question in his head that could pop up about a play or about a defense that a team would run, to make sure that – and this happens to us as players. When you’re out there on the field, you have a thought. And to have a thought, and not have an answer for that thought, it brings indecision. I started asking questions, too. My preparedness was because how I watched Jim question. He wasn’t questioning whether it’s going to work. He’s questioning why are we doing this? How are we going to get this done? And that’s how I learned to ask questions, and throughout my career, people – ‘Oh, boy. He’s an intelligent player.’ Listen. If you ask questions, guess what? You can become intelligent. I’ve watched that team. In every situation, you rarely see a player out of position. They know what’s going on.”
You were known as one of the best-prepared players in the league, so that seems like high praise to say you learned it from Harbaugh.
“No doubt. When you listen to your quarterback ask questions – and listen, he’s supposed to have all the answers. And how is he getting the answers? He asks the questions. Why shouldn’t I ask them? That’s what coaches are there for. Use them.”