Harbaugh joins Marquette as associate AD

Josh Buckman

Eight months ago, Jack Harbaugh coached Western’s football team to a surprise victory over McNeese State in the I-AA Championship game.

Almost as surprising was Harbaugh unexpectedly resigning as head coach three months later.

Since leaving the Hill, he has started a new life as associate athletic director at Marquette. Instead of preparing for the upcoming football season, he’s working in public relations to promote college athletics.

“It’s totally different,” Harbaugh said. “But we have so many different things here. The challenges of learning a new job have been a tremendous help for me overcoming the lack of football.”

Harbaugh’s 14-year coaching stint at Western can be compared to a Hollywood film. After a 6-5 record in 1989, his first season, the Hilltoppers went a combined 5-16 over the next two years, which caused some administrators to consider terminating the program.

Football survived a 5-4 Board of Regents vote to stay on the Hill. Harbaugh was there when the program was on the ropes, and he helped raise enough money to make it competitive again.

In 2002, the efforts to preserve Western football paid off when the Hilltoppers overcame a 2-3 start and won the I-AA National Championship game Dec. 20. For the first time in school history, a Western athletic team brought home a national championship.

As Western’s status as a school that never won a national championship ended, so did Harbaugh’s tenure as head coach. Last February, he made public his decision to resign. David Elson was named his replacement shortly after.

Although Harbaugh refuses to go into specifics, he said a disagreement with administration played a part in his resignation.

“I had gone through a contract dispute two years ago that was really a difficult situation for me and my family,” he said. “It was something that should have never transpired, but it did.

“I realized that had taken its toll, and it was time for me – if I was going to do something different – to do it. About two or three months after the season ended it was time for me to look into some other options.”

On June 1 Marquette announced it had hired Harbaugh.

Even though some believe Harbaugh got the job because his son-in-law, Tom Crean, is Marquette’s head basketball coach, Athletic Director Bill Cord said he had his eye on Harbaugh for years.

“A year ago we tried to hire him because I think he brings a lot of things to college athletics,” Cord said. “He’s a really good football coach, but he’s also a really good spokesman and believer in college athletics.”

When asked his opinion on Elson, Harbaugh said the hire was a good choice. Elson was the longest tenured assistant under Harbaugh. And Harbaugh respects Elson for keeping the majority of the staff.

“There is tremendous talent on this team,” he said. “I know they’re going to be competitive.”

Harbaugh said he misses Bowling Green and the people he left behind. He said that all his friends in Warren County have been very supportive.

“The 14 years we spent in Bowling Green was the longest we ever spent in the same place,” he said. “When you pack that truck up, you realize how much you’ll miss it.

Although he’s not coaching anymore, he hasn’t put his whistle away for good.

“I would certainly not rule it out,” he said. “I’ve been around for 40 years … I think sports are a part of the learning process.”

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