ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Illinois’ Lovie Smith meet Saturday as college coaches, it will be the first time that two former Super Bowl coaches will meet as college coaches.
But dig a little deeper and the duo has a few more things in common beyond making history this weekend. Here are five more things that bond Harbaugh and Smith:
1. The Super Bowl road less traveled
Harbaugh and Smith are part of a small group of coaches who have coached both in the Super Bowl and at the FBS level, a group that includes Pete Carroll, Dick Vermeil, Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson. But they are part of an even more exclusive group, just two of seven coaches who head coached at the college level after coaching in the Super Bowl. They join:
- Bill Callahan (Oakland Raiders / Nebraska)
- Bobby Ross (San Diego Chargers / Army)
- Bill Walsh (San Francisco 49ers / Stanford)
- George Allen (Washington Redskins / Long Beach State)
- Forrest Gregg (Cincinnati Bengals / SMU)
2. “Da Bears”
Harbaugh and Smith have a direct connection to the Chicago Bears. Harbaugh entered the NFL in 1987 as a rookie quarterback with the Bears and played for seven seasons in Chicago. Smith coached the Bears from 2004-12 and led the Bears to Super Bowl XLI in February 2007. The Indianapolis Colts — another one of Harbaugh’s former teams — defeated the Bears 29-17.
(A Super Bowl that, by the way, featured two fantastic musical acts)
3. Changing the culture
Harbaugh and Smith have been charged with turning around Big Ten football programs.
Illinois’ football team and its athletic department is emerging after more than 15 months of turmoil — the firing of football coaches Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit, a change in athletic directors and allegations of mistreatment of athletes in three sports.
In December of 2014, Harbaugh joined an athletic department facing its own dire issues. In the three months before Harbaugh arrived, Michigan’s athletic department had to defend the handling of quarterback Shane Morris, who sustained a concussion during a game against Minnesota in September and was reinserted into the game; athletic director Dave Brandon resigned in October and Michigan fired Brady Hoke in early December, three days after the end of the Wolverines’ 5-7 season.
Harbaugh has a little more than a year on Smith, who was hired in March, and is on a faster turnaround track. Michigan went 10-3 last season and won the Citrus Bowl in January. This season, the Wolverines are 6-0 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten, and ranked No. 3 in the current AP Poll. Smith’s Illini are 2-4 and 1-2 in the Big Ten.
4. Straight cash
Smith made $5 million a year as Tampa Bay’s coach. That’s Harbaugh’s base salary at Michigan right now. But Harbaugh will get an additional $4 million this year in the form of a life insurance loan from the university.
Smith didn’t leave Tampa Bay empty-handed after he was fired in January, though. He reportedly had a $10 million buyout written into his contract. Smith wasn’t unemployed for long; two months later, he replaced Cubit as Illinois’ coach and will earn a reported $21 million over six years, per the terms of his contract.
5. They both have beaten Rutgers
And they both did it this season. Michigan trounced Rutgers 78-0 on Oct. 8 in Piscataway, N.J. A week later, Illinois defeated the Scarlet Knights 24-7 and earned Smith his first Big Ten Conference win.