San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has been getting a lot of flak—and a lot of media attention—lately for his my-way-or-the-highway approach to coaching. On Thursday Harbaugh was the focus of an ESPN profile where the fiery coach says he is comfortable in the chaos.
But before Harbaugh, a retired NFL quarterback who once played for the Indianapolis Colts, made a name for himself as a coach, he was part-owner of Panther Racing, an IndyCar Series team.
For a profile in IBJ’s special Interview Issue, I recently had a chance to ask Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who was one of the Panther Racing founders, about Harbaugh’s legendary intensity. That immediately brought a smile to Boles’ face and an incident to mind when Harbaugh got in a brawl though he didn’t even know what he was fighting about. Above all, Boles recalled, that Harbaugh was always “the ultimate team player.”
Following is the unabridged version of that portion of our question and answer. In the interview I asked Boles to compare his current boss, Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles to his former boss, then Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith.
IBJ: Are either one of those guys [Miles or Goldsmith] as intense as Jim Harbaugh?
Boles: Jim used the race team as an escape. We didn’t deal with the intensity with Jim that you see when he’s coaching. Now race morning, when he’d get a fire suit on and get out on pit lane he was intense. But for the most part, there was always a laugh following Jim around.
IBJ: Did you see in Jim Harbaugh a deep desire to win?
Boles: Dover in 1998 or 99 … We had a yellow flag come out and we had our driver, Scott Goodyear get run over by another driver that didn’t realize the yellow had come out. After the race … our crew chief was really irritated so he went and found this driver’s motor home and ends up getting in a fight in the motor home. Harbaugh is walking by and he gets in the fight in the motor home and ends up pulling a hamstring and it ends up becoming a big issue. That’s where you saw the intensity. Jim didn’t know what had happened or what was going on, he just saw one of his guys in a yellow Pennzoil shirt in a fight and Jim was going to help him out. We did have one other issue like that. Jim was always quick to stand up next to his guys and support them.