Uncommon Lessons From an Uncommon Coach – Part 2

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Today’s piece, Uncommon Lessons From an Uncommon Coach – Part 2, is the third installment in the Lessons From the Gridiron Series. It follows the first installment, Uncommon Lessons From an Uncommon Coach – Part 1, which presented lessons from the the life of University of Michigan Football Coach Jim Harbaugh, and the second installment, The Truth About Money and Happiness, which chronicled lessons on the link between money and happiness from the life of O.J. Simpson.

Uncommon financial lessons

Discipline and Routine

Each morning, Jim Harbaugh takes an uncommon and disciplined approach to getting dressed. He pulls on a pair of khakis and a long-sleeved shirt featuring the maize block M, and he is ready to begin his day.

For as long as his wife, Sarah, can remember, Harbaugh has maintained this simple wardrobe. When she attempts to throw away his $8 khakis, he visits Wal-Mart and buys more.

Say what you will about this practice, but Harbaugh is a man of routine and discipline. He wisely spends little time on trivial matters like choosing clothing. He is focused on football.

In 2014, the San Francisco 49ers senior manager of digital and social media experienced Harbaugh’s disciplined routine for himself. Consider the following noteworthy bullet points from a day with Harbaugh:

*Harbaugh was already awake, dressed (in khakis), and at work before sun rise.

*Before heading to meetings with assistant coaches, he took out the trash, watched Judge Judy, brought his kids to school, and played with his young son. He still arrived to the practice facility very early.

*Harbaugh drove a used Chevy Silverardo.

*During lunch, Harbaugh sits with his players. Discussions are rarely football-related.



What if the average person applied similar discipline and routine in managing his personal finances?

Learning From Failure

As quarterback for the Chicago Bears in the 1990s, Jim Harbaugh had his share of run-ins with then coach Mike Ditka. In 1992, the two engaged in a famous fight after Harbaugh called an audible to a pass play and promptly threw an interception which was returned for a touchdown. Ditka berated Harbaugh on the sidelines, and the Bears lost the game, 21-20.

One year later, Harbaugh’s stint with the Bears was over and his confidence was crushed. Yet, Harbaugh would go on to earn the nickname Captain Comeback with the Indianapolis Colts after leading the team to an unexpected trip to the AFC Championship Game.

uncommon financial lessons
Harbaugh with a Mike Ditka jersey at 2015 Big Ten Media Days (Credit: Freep/Paul Beatty/AP)

Many people in Harbaugh’s position would prefer to forget about the fallout in Chicago and focus upon his success with the Colts. Not Harbaugh. He still keeps a framed note from Ditka in his office. The note reads,

“I am still — believe it or not — your greatest fan.”

At Big Ten Media Days in July 2015, Harbaugh brought — you guessed it — a Mike Ditka jersey. The scar from 1992 has clearly healed. Deep in his soul, Harbaugh knows that his hardships with his former coach have led to his successes. He prefers to embrace his previous failures rather than seek to erase them.

In fact, it is quite possible that Harbaugh does not believe in the existence of failure. After his 49ers lost the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game, he famously quoted Hemingway, “A man can be destroyed, but he can’t be defeated.”

What if the average person applied similar resolve and learned from his financial failures?

1% Mindset

“Who’s got it better than us? Nobody!”

This has been Jim Harbaugh’s mantra for years.

In a February 2016 Player’s Tribune article, Harbaugh explained that the mantra started with his father back when Jim and his brother John were kids.

When I was growing up, there was a local car dealer in Ann Arbor that had a program where the coaches got to drive the extra dealer cars. We didn’t have much money, and we didn’t have a car of our own, so my parents shared the dealer car. Sometimes my dad, brother and I would walk outside and the car would be in the driveway. Other ties, if my mom was out, it wasn’t.

“Hey Dad, where’s the car?”

“No car today, guys. We’re walking … Grab a basketball: 100 with the right, 100 with the left. Let’s go!”

So we’d dribble down the sidewalk, dad leading the way, yelling: “Who’s got it better than us?!”

Me and my brother trailing behind, chanting: “No-body!”

For a boy who moved almost constantly, Harbaugh has never once failed to appreciate his position in life. In his mind, the answer to his father’s question wasn’t just senseless parroting; he meant it.

What if the average person understood and appreciated his many blessings?

Wisdom in Stealthiness

Last fall, Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines embarked on a journey. Harbaugh informed the media in typical fashion:

Just to let you know, we’re into a submarine, and you won’t see us for a while. You won’t hear from us. You won’t see us. We’ll be working. We’ll be in a bunker . . . until we decide we’re not.

During the days which followed during the team’s fall camp, Harbaugh did not give a single media interview. Practices were closed to the media and public. Players lived in dorms and spent their time strictly with their coaches.

One can easily surmise that talk is cheap to a man like Harbaugh. He would rather let his team’s performance on the field speak for itself than praise his players for the media.

As an added benefit, the stealthiness of the team’s “submarine mode” provides every possible advantage on the playing field. No lineups, formations, starters, or plays are divulged until the last possible moment.

What if the average person embraced stealthiness and opted to live a modest life of anonymity and simplicity?

In all likelihood, volumes could be written about lessons learned from the life of Jim Harbaugh. Which themes resonated most with you?


14 thoughts on “Uncommon Lessons From an Uncommon Coach – Part 2

  1. Even on our worst days, I’d like to think my family has a sense of Harbaugh’s 1% mindset – “Who’s got it better than us? Nobody!” I’m not sure we ever come right out and say things like that, but we have always tried to live a modest life (and stealing from Paula P. over at AffordAnything.com) – we have anything we want, just not everything.

  2. This is a great collection of lessons. I am finding that embracing failure is a trait that a lot of the most successful people have, while most average folks do not. Definitely something I need to work on getting better at.

  3. Again, awesome stuff about coach Harbaugh! I’m not sure many people can live up to the man’s constant drive and intensity, but if we get close I’m sure it would help us succeed in any aspect of life. Thanks for the great post FS and I’m hoping we’ll be seeing more from your Lessons From the Gridiron Series!

  4. Not believing in failure will get you many places. I tried to learn a language that was too hard for me with all else I had going on in my life. Instead of concluding that I was bad at languages, I found one that fit in with the time I had. That one I mastered and it is far more unique and distinguishes me in the work environment. I could have failed to learn a language, instead I figured out what was not working and adjusted only that.

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