Hartman: Vikings' consultant Wiggin close to Harbaugh family

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 30, 2013 - 11:07 PM

As Stanford coach, Paul Wiggin had Jack Harbaugh as an assistant and tried to land Jim to replace John Elway.

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Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, parents of Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Photo: Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

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Paul Wiggin, a former Vikings assistant coach now serving as their personnel consultant, was the coach at Stanford in 1980 and 1981 when Jack Harbaugh was one of his assistants.

Back then, Jack's son Jim was a great quarterback at Palo Alto High School and was being recruited by colleges all over the country. As a result, Wiggin became close to the Harbaugh family, including Jack's other son, John, who will coach the Ravens against Jim's 49ers in Sunday's Super Bowl in New Orleans.

Wiggin recalled how upset Jack Harbaugh was with then-Stanford quarterback coach Jim Fassel when Fassel persuaded Wiggin not to recruit Jim, who ended up to Michigan, where he had a great career playing under Bo Schembechler. Jack had served as a Wolverines assistant from 1973 to '79.

John Harbaugh, the older brother, wasn't the athlete Jim was. As a defensive back, he wound up going to Miami (Ohio) and didn't play in the NFL.

As for Jim Harbaugh, the conclusion of the Stanford offensive staff at the time was that he was more of an athlete than a quarterback and would likely play a different position in college. At Michigan, Harbaugh was able to run the football along with having every necessary component of being a big-time college quarterback, which made his father all the more upset that he didn't get a chance to coach him at Stanford, according to Wiggin.

Wiggin said that when considering Jim, Stanford coaches underestimated what a competitor he was, and how adept he was as an analytical mind.

"I didn't do a lot of the research on quarterbacks as I wasn't the quarterback guy. Jim Fassel didn't feel that [Jim] was a guy that could be another [John] Elway, who was our quarterback at the time. We were coming off of the Elway era at that time, Elway was part of our package."

Wiggin said there was a lot of debate between his assistant coaches on whether to bring Jim to Stanford.

"I think Jack was right," Wiggin said of his assistant coach, who left Stanford in 1982 to become the coach at Western Michigan. "He knew the kid was going to be a great player, and he was. He was a great player. He was a great player as a pro."

Found way to win

Wiggin saw a different part of Jim when, as a Vikings defensive line coach, he had to coach against him and always marveled how he found a way to win.

Wiggin said the last time he saw Jim, he was at Stanford for his wife's class reunion, during Andrew Luck's junior season -- Harbaugh's last coaching the Cardinal before joining the 49ers.

"I went over to watch practice. I was out on the field and I saw Jimmy and we were talking and he said, 'Would you talk to the team afterwards a little bit, just talk about your experiences at Stanford or something.'

"I did that, and it was no big deal, and then I turned and he wanted to make a couple of points related to what I was talking about. I turned and I looked at him and he was out in front of that football team, and every eye of those players, the minute he said he wanted to talk to them, they were glued on him. They were stuck on him.

"That said to me, 'That's command.' It's like Bud Grant. When Bud Grant talked to a football team, everybody's eyes were on Bud. One of the most impressive things I've been around is when I came here and coached with [Grant]. Same thing with Harbaugh. I said to myself, 'This guy is a football coach.' "

Gophers land walk-ons

Unfortunately for the Gophers, interest in Fairhope, Ala., cornerback Nate Andrews started to intensify after his outstanding performance in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic, so the Gophers suffered their only decommitment to date when Andrews wound up saying he would play for Florida State instead.

Furthermore regarding recruiting, the Gophers could have their highest number of walk-ons under Jerry Kill this fall, providing they are admitted to school.

So far, already there are seven offensive players who plan to join the team without scholarships: Jeff Borchardt, a wide receiver from Wayzata; Michael Conway, a quarterback from La Crosse (Wis.) Aquinas; Chad Fanning, a lineman from DeLaSalle; Nick Hart, a tight end from Prior Lake; Connor Rhoda, a quarterback from Cretin-Derham Hall; Matt Leidner, a lineman from Lakeville South; and Chandler Wright, a lineman from Wayzata.

Wright was first-team all-state; Leidner, the brother of Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner, was second-team; Borchardt made the second team as a returner; and Hart was an honorable mention.

Jottings

• It might surprise people to learn that according to Rivals.com, the Gophers men's basketball team was ranked 12th in the Ratings Percentage Index, which helps determine NCAA tournament seeding. The Gophers, at 16-5 after beating Nebraska on Tuesday, were the second-highest Big Ten team behind only Michigan, which was at No. 5 before its victory over Northwestern on Wednesday. Though the Gophers are only 4-4 in Big Ten play, they rank No. 4 in strength of schedule, with 16 of their 21 games against teams in the top 100 in RPI.

• Saturday, Gophers football is having one of its junior days, and to give a good indication how Kill and his staff are thought of by athletes all over the country, 120 junior high school players from 10 states, including Florida and California, will spend three hours with Kill and then with their respective position coaches. The athletes pay their own way here to take part in the program.

• The recent death of former Minneapolis South and Gophers running back Glenn Pullens at age 85 brought back memories of how strong an eight-team high school football league there was in Minneapolis during those days, with a Friday night feature game that consistently drew more than 15,000 at Parade Stadium. It also made me think of how the city high school football program has deteriorated.

• According to a Green Bay TV station, the Vikings are interested in signing Packers veteran wide receiver Donald Driver, who is a free agent. Driver turns 38 Saturday.

• One of the assistant basketball coaches sitting on the Nebraska bench Tuesday night at Williams Arena was Ben Johnson, a former DeLaSalle and Gophers basketball player.

• Former Gophers standout Thomas Vanek is off to a good start with the Buffalo Sabers, leading the NHL in scoring with three goals and seven assists in five games.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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