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2013 Super Bowl Coaches: Handicapping the Harbaugh Brothers
by - 1/25/2013

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San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh

I don’t know if you have heard, but the two coaches in the Super Bowl this year are brothers. I’m kidding, of course. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have not only heard of their shared parentage, but you’ve seen pictures of them as kids, heard countless stories about their families, and so much else. In other words, you are probably as sick of the Harbaugh family as I am.

The brother storyline is getting all the play, but even without that the coaches are a very important handicapping factor — as they are every year in this game. Coaching always matters in the NFL, of course, but given all the distractions in the Super Bowl, coaching is more significant than ever.

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When you are looking to handicap the Super Bowl coaches this year, here are five factors to keep in mind. Before we get there, though, I can boil it down to one concept — these coaches are very good, and very well-matched, so you’ll have to look elsewhere to find a clear advantage for one team or the other:

Family matters don’t matter - It’s a great story that they are brothers, and it surely adds an extra layer of incentive for each of them to win. In terms of handicapping, though, the connection means absolutely nothing. They are reportedly reasonably close, but they haven’t worked together in a significant way, and if they have any insights into the tactics of the other then one doesn’t have an advantage over the other. It’s not like they have some bizarre psychic connection, and even if they did it wouldn’t give one coach an advantage over the other. Enjoy the story for the remarkable tale it is, but don’t let it impact your decision-making.

Experience - Neither of these coaches have been head coach of a Super Bowl team before. It would be a mistake to assume that they will be in totally over their heads, though. In fact, both guys have experienced the realities of a Super Bowl run first hand in the past. When he was an assistant with the Eagles, John went to the Super Bowl in 2004, losing to New England. Jim was an offensive assistant in 2002 in Oakland when they went to the big game but lost to the Bucs. They are both smart coaches with plenty of success in their careers, and they have both seen the Super Bowl spectacle first hand. I see no reason to worry too much about their lack of direct experience.

Adjustments - These two guys are as good as any coach in the league at making key halftime adjustments to get their teams back on track. That was on clear display in the championship round. Both teams were in trouble early, and both squads looked like entirely new teams in the second half as they dominated their opponents to move on. Because the game is so unique and the halftime so long, handicappers can often find a nice advantage in a game by looking at which staff is likely to do a better job of adjusting and adapting. These two guys, with their strong assistants and excellent on-field leadership, are likely to be a good match for each other in this regard.

Boldness - The Super Bowl can be won some years by the coach who is more willing to take a calculated risk that fits a particular situation. Neither guy has an edge here, either. All we need to do to prove this is look at the biggest move that got each team here — Jim’s QB change, and John’s offensive coordinator change. Neither move was conventional, and both were controversial, but they both have paid off. It’s not just in larger scale ways that these guys are bold, either. They aren’t nearly as tentative or risk-adverse as some coaches can be, and Jim in particular can be very aggressive in spots. I would give Jim and the Niners a slight edge on this front, but not by much.

Team buy-in - It doesn’t matter how good a coach is fundamentally if he doesn’t have his team on board. Though they do it in different ways, the Harbaugh brothers both have the full respect and commitment of their teams. Jim is more outwardly intense than John, but both guys are completely supported by their players — in a way that is far rarer in the NFL than it probably should be. When Bill Callahan and Jon Gruden were on opposing sidelines in 2002, it wasn’t hard to tell which one had a firmer grasp on his team — Gruden was a master at it, and Callahan definitely wasn’t. This year, though, there isn’t a clear cut advantage or a particular concern here.

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