If you recall, we last saw Jim Harbaugh performing an exaggerated pantomime of a holding call in the Super Bowl like a WWE wrestler pleading his case to the ref about an illegal move he missed. The football version of “THAT GUY JUST EYE GOUGED ME!” In some ways I suppose, that was the tamest reaction one could possibly expect from a guy who’s become known equally for flying off the handle and making crazy-person faces as he is for what’s been one of the more impressive coaching jobs in recent history.
At the time, it was just Harbaugh being Harbaugh. He just lost the Super Bowl and if there had been prop bets on how he would handle such a thing, “with decorum” likely wouldn’t have been on the list of options. Looking back, Harbaugh’s reaction to the no-call in the Super Bowl wasn’t particularly different than say, any of the other mouth-frothing tantrums he’s thrown. But it was kind of telling. Here was a guy who had berated and spit on and did everything short of morphing into a goddamn dragon and biting referee’s heads off over the course of the season. And yet at the end, there he was again, trying to force his way by making the holding call with his arms harder and more embellished with every motion. It was as if he thought the more intense his incredulousness, the more likely the referees would throw a flag. We had an entire season of Harbaugh giving deathglares, but those few seconds where most coaches are humbly walking away to their locker rooms to console their players said it all – the dude can’t handle not getting his way.
So when Harbaugh’s name popped up again yesterday in response to Clay Matthews’ comments that he intends to tackle the quarterback like he’s paid to do this Sunday, it really got me wondering, Just what is it with this guy? To review, Matthews’ comments on ESPN’s ‘Mike & Mike’ radio show were:
“One of the things that the referees have told us is that when these quarterbacks carry out the fakes, they lose their right as a pocket-passing quarterback, the protection of a quarterback. “So with that, you do have to take your shots on the quarterback, and obviously they’re too important to their offense. If that means they pull them out of that type of offense and make them run a traditional, drop-back, pocket-style offense, I think that’s exactly what we’re going for. So you want to put hits as early and often on the quarterback and make them uncomfortable.”
Apparently offended by the notion that Matthews plans on playing football within the rules, Harbaugh told reporters that he intends to talk to the officials before the game about how hits on the quarterback will be called. What Harbaugh really meant was,
“I plan on making it clear to the officials beforehand that if I don’t get my way on gray-area judgment calls, I will make their lives a living hell for the next three hours.”
Basically, this was Harbaugh putting the horse’s head in the referees’ sheets before the games are even played. He isn’t asking for an interpretation of the rulebook. He’s sending a message. Thing is, even that seems relatively normal for Harbaugh. He already spends half the game doing his best Bruce Banner impression, why not screw with the refs mentally, too?
Where things just got outright absurd however, were in his following comments to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“It sounds like targeting a specific player. You definitely start to wonder.”
Wait, so the most intimidating coach in football and whose pre-game chant is, “Who’s got it better than us? No one!” is all of a sudden playing the victim? Even by psychotic, narcissistic coaching standards, this is pretty fucked up. It’s fairly well understood that mind games are a part of football and sports in general, but to even suggest your players are bounty targets in this case is akin to the bully at school punching himself in the face and then blaming his black eye on someone else.
What’s even more messed up is, Harbaugh seems like the type of person totally capable of convincing himself that his team is being targeted, even in the midst of his own players taking cheap shots like this. Whether you view it as just gamesmanship on Harbaugh’s part or just outright delusional is beside the point. Harbaugh seems to have convinced himself that he can have it both ways. That he can play the bully when he wants and yet still have credibility in making comments like the ones he did. I’m not sure whether I feel contempt for the guy, or whether I feel bad knowing that one of the league’s premier coaching talents seems destined to burn out any day in another one of his rage-fueled meltdowns.
Ironic that in the eye of the league’s concussion crisis, the guy who seems to need his head checked the most spends every game on the sidelines.