Jim Harbaugh loves Iowa City, except for a broken leg and a big loss in 1985

Michigan head coach's father was Iowa assistant

Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh is surrounded by reporters at Big Ten Media Days on July 25, 2016 in Chicago. (The Gazette)
Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh is surrounded by reporters at Big Ten Media Days on July 25, 2016 in Chicago. (The Gazette)

CHICAGO — Jim Harbaugh’s memories of Iowa City were glorious and grand, outside of two incidents that took place long ago.

Harbaugh, Michigan’s head football coach, lived in Iowa City during the early 1970s when his father, Jack, was an Iowa assistant. In late winter of 1971, Harbaugh had a painful introduction to his then-new community.

“I broke my leg in Iowa City, the first day we moved to Iowa City,” Harbaugh said. “I was (7) years old chasing my brother after the first day of school and across the street and didn’t look both ways, and I got hit by a mail truck.”

The accident was reported in The Gazette on March 14, 1971, about two weeks after the incident. His father took an assistant’s job at Michigan after the 1973 season.


“I loved growing up in Iowa City.” Harbaugh said. “I loved my teachers at St. Patrick’s. Sister Agnes, my third-grade teacher, my favorite teacher, along with Mrs. Hiller. She was really good, too, my fifth-grade teacher in Ann Arbor. I had wonderful memories of Iowa City.”

Fast forward to 1985 when Harbaugh quarterbacked the No. 2-ranked and unbeaten Michigan Wolverines into Kinnick Stadium for a battle with top-ranked Iowa. In perhaps the most high-profile game in the stadium’s 87-year history, the Hawkeyes beat Harbaugh’s Wolverines 12-10 on a last-second Rob Houghtlin field goal. The Hawkeyes won the Big Ten title outright that year, while Michigan finished one-half game behind Iowa.

“That particular game was 1 vs. 2, highly competitive,” Harbaugh recalled from Big Ten Media Days on Monday. “It was a game that we came up on short, but it was a heck of a football game. A very healthy game. That’s what I remember of it. Great competition.”


A footnote to the game’s result was Harbaugh’s role in trying to hush the hometown crowd at a pivotal moment in the second quarter. With the Wolverines inside Iowa’s 10-yard line, the crowd was so loud Harbaugh stepped away from center and complained his teammates couldn’t hear him. Fans then booed both Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler and the officials when the referee asked for quiet. Eventually Iowa’s fans lightened up, and Harbaugh tossed a 6-yard shovel pass to Gerald White for the game’s only touchdown.

Schembechler remained incensed at Iowa fans well after the game. At that time, quarterbacks were allowed to stop play if their teammates couldn’t hear the signals.

“Iowa fans should never criticize Wisconsin people,” Schembechler remarked in his postgame news conference. “Never!

“That’s just something fundamental in football,” Schembechler continued. “It’s just that Iowa people haven’t heard about it.”

Although it worked to his advantage in 1985, Harbaugh doesn’t see a reason to allow quarterbacks a chance to ask for quiet.

“I think everybody has gotten used to the way it is now,” Harbaugh said. “Just let it be raucous and let the fans have at it.”

Harbaugh now is in his second season as Michigan’s coach. He brings the Wolverines back to Kinnick Stadium on Nov. 12 for a nationally broadcast night game. The Hawkeyes are the Big Ten West Division favorite while Michigan is considered the league’s second-best team. The squads combined for 22 wins last year.

“Ultimately it’s 11-on-11 at all times with the officials being the only other people on the field,” Harbaugh said. “So that’s fair, that’s healthy.


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“(I’m) hard pressed to think of anything better than to go into another team’s stadium to compete against their team and their fans and if you could throw in the elements, too. If you could throw in cold or rain or some kind of weather that you had to beat as well and then come out a victor, there’s nothing better in life that I’ve found.”

Outside of a leg fracture and a loss, Harbaugh recalls his Iowa City days just as fondly.

“So those were the two bad memories of Iowa City,” Harbaugh said. “The rest was really good.”

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