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San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh did not hesitate for a second this week when asked about the best coaching lesson he ever got from his father.
“To attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” the 49ers coach told Western New York reporters on a conference call.
And you’ve taken that to heart?
“Every day,” Harbaugh said. “Since I was 6 years old.”
Harbaugh’s dad, Jack, had a 45-year football coaching career. His major-college assistant gigs included stops at Iowa, Stanford and Michigan, and he was head coach at Western Michigan and Western Kentucky, where his 2002 team won the NCAA Division I-AA national championship.
As Harbaugh legend goes, dad was driving 6-year-old Jim and his then 8-year-old brother, John, to school one day. (John, of course, now is the Baltimore Ravens head coach.) It was the elder Harbaugh’s role to chauffeur the two boys in the morning. Like most football coaches, his time with his kids was limited, so he wanted to make it count. On this day, and every day forward, he said the same words just before the two boys left the car
“OK, men, grab your lunchboxes and attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. ... And don’t take any wooden nickels.”
Harbaugh’s brand of supreme enthusiasm and confidence has helped turn the Niners into one of the elite NFL teams. Harbaugh walked into a good situation when he was hired in 2011. The Niners had a load of talent on board, thanks to years of high picks and good drafting by general manager Trent Baalke. They had been favored to win the NFC West in 2010 but had underachieved under former coach Mike Singletary.
Besides great scheming, Harbaugh has given the team a culture change it needed.
Everyone who ever has worked with him says the force of his personality is immense.
“When he walks into a room, there’s a circle of energy radiating out about 30 yards,” the father of a Stanford recruit once told the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” Bills rookie safety Delano Howell, who played for Harbaugh, said with a smile in the locker room on Thursday. “We heard that every day! And that’s what he did, too. Even in meetings, he was enthusiastic. He’d be out there at practice, throwing the ball with quarterbacks or DBs and was always active and involved in practice. He always wanted to set an example for us - and not just football, to be enthusiastic in class, and in everything we do.”
Harbaugh has pulled out motivational tricks to keep his team interested and inspired.
Last season he gave every player a light blue, short-sleeved work shirt with their name on the front pocket, similar to a shirt a mechanic might wear. The message was bring a blue-collar mentality.
He occasionally will talk about an imaginary character - Freddy P. Soft - who shows up sitting on players’ shoulders. Freddy has a habit of whispering in players’ ears, the coach claims. “If we see or hear any evidence of him being on the premises, we will act quickly and decisively,” Harbaugh says.
Late last season, Harbaugh showed his team a video of a honey badger that had gone viral on YouTube. He spliced the clips of the aggressive animal with 49er highlights. After the Niners beat Pittsburgh in a Monday night game that was delayed because of a power outage, Harbaugh screamed to his team in the locker room: “Honey badger don’t care about no lights!”
Not many coaches are as quirky, brash, energetic ... or effective as Harbaugh.

More Harbaugh

• Harbaugh was asked this week about the belief that he was uninterested in the Bills job when Buddy Nix went searching for a coach after the 2009 season. Said Jim: “I didn’t really think I had really done anything to deserve a head coaching job in the National Football League in 2009. I just didn’t quite feel like I had proven myself worthy of that yet. I felt there was more training to be done. And I’m not speaking about anybody who was interested in me or who wasn’t interested in me. I’m not confirming or denying anything. You asked me how I felt. I just didn’t think I had earned that yet.”
• Meanwhile, Jim Kelly was asked to revisit his 1997 incident with Harbaugh during an interview on WFAN in New York this week. Harbaugh, you’ll recall, was a Chargers QB at the time and broke his hand after throwing a punch at Kelly in a pre-game interview session. Kelly was working for NBC and had previously criticized Harbaugh on-air for overplaying injuries on the field. The funny thing is, Kelly was right. Harbaugh was overly demonstrative on the field, and he’s still over-the-top on the sidelines when he’s reacting to things like officials calls. That’s the way he is. Kelly this week denied there was a scuffle.
“I went on TV the next day, there was not a mark on me,” Kelly said. “To be honest with you, I don’t even know how he broke his hand. ... It was pretty much just a little scrap. He was just mad about something I said. Some of those times, we as reporters say a couple things we probably shouldn’t have said.”
• Harbaugh on his favorite sports uniforms: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings.
• Harbaugh on his favorite athletes as a kid: “I had many heroes: Gates Brown, Bobby Orr, Rick Leach and Johnny Unitas.”
• Harbaugh on his favorite vacation spot; “I don’t vacation.”

Anatomy of INT

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s worst throw vs. the Pats was an interception on a deep ball down the right sideline for T.J. Graham, who was open by three steps. Fitz lined up under center on a second-and-8 play from the Bills’ 4. Here’s Bills QB coach David Lee explaining what happened:
“The underthrow was a situation where we rarely ever turn our back to the line of scrimmage and do play action and throw deep. Plus we’re talking about T.J. Graham is exceptionally fast. And to be honest with you, that look never happened in practice. We never got the one on one look where we were gonna throw the go. So it was a combination of he caught a different look — but he was smart enough to realize it and go one on one. And we turned our back and had play action. What he’s learned if that happens again is I’ve got to really hustle my footwork and get the ball in the air in a hurry. It’s got to come off his hands at 10 yards, and it came off at 15 yards.”

Ngata bit bigger

In honor of Donte Whitner, we offer an update on Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who the Bills passed over in the 2006 draft in order to take the Niners’ safety. Ngata spent the offseason working on adding 20 pounds of beef to his already massive frame. He’s now listed at 350, but he’s probably north of that. He’s off to another strong start to the season, and he thinks added bulk is a big help. He wore down at the end of last season after suffering a thigh bruise.
“Armor of fat?” Ngata told the Baltimore Sun with a laugh this week. “Yeah, people were definitely surprised at how big I looked. It’s a totally different workout that I did. I definitely felt good last year, but I think I wasn’t that strong because I didn’t have as much weight. So, I decided to put the weight back on and I feel much better.”

Onside kicks

• The Jaguars removed a section of tarp covering some seats in the upper deck for today’s game due to demand for tickets. Capacity will go up a few thousand above the normal 67,000.
• The Giants (2-2) catch what they hope is a breather at home today vs. Cleveland. Watch out after that, Big Blue fans. Check out the final 11 games of New York’s schedule: at Niners, Redskins, at Cowboys, Steelers, at Bengals, Packers, at Redskins, Saints, at Falcons, at Ravens, Eagles. Good thing the Bills aren’t in the NFC East.
• Houston’s Andre Johnson has 9,924 receiving yards. He should become the sixth fastest receiver to 10,000 yards.
• Denver’s Peyton Manning is 6-9 in his career against Bill Belichick but has won five of his last seven vs. the Pats, when he was the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com