Bill Quinby, a former NFL official and one of my favorite people, called this week to remind us that San Francisco 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh visited Eastern Iowa while a quarterback with the Chicago Bears.
Quinby was in the twilight of his refereeing career and spotted Harbaugh as he was jogging around the Coe College track.
“I said ‘Quarterback, what are you doing here,” Quinby said, recalling the moment.
“He said ‘Ref what the hell are you doing here.”
Quinby told Harbaugh he lived in Cedar Rapids and Harbaugh explained his relationship with sisters Agnes Giblin and Jean Marie Brady when he went to school in Iowa City while his dad, Jack, was a member of the Iowa football coaching staff.
I remember that day, too, and here is the story I wrote. Please remember this was almost 20 years ago (May 22, 1993 paper):
Jim Harbaugh is saying things all Chicago Bears fans want to hear.
“I think we have a chance to return to the playoffs right away,” the Bears quarterback said Friday morning during a visit to Cedar Rapids.
Harbaugh made three stops in Cedar Rapids Friday – at Regis and LaSalle high schools and Coe College to kick off a parochial school track meet – and also visited Iowa City Regina.
He was visiting old friends, including sisters Agnes Giblin and Jean Marie Brady. Giblin, now pastoral associate at St. Mary’s in Iowa City, was Harbaugh’s third grade teacher.
Brady, metropolitan coordinator for Catholic schools in Cedar Rapids, was principal at now-closed St. Patrick’s, where Harbaugh attended first, second and third grade while his father, Jack, was on the Iowa football staff under Frank Lauterbur.
Giblin said she wrote Harbaugh a letter two years ago asking if he’d like to return to Iowa City and talk to students at Regina.
“He called (Thursday) at 2 p.m. and said, ‘How about this weekend?”‘ Giblin said.
“I keep telling him he’s my claim to fame,” she added. “I feel like a proud grandmother.”
In between shaking a lot of hands and signing autographs at the Coe track Friday morning, Harbaugh talked about the “new Bears.” Chicago has a new head coach in Dave Wannstedt and nine new assistants on the 12-man coaching staff.
“It’s definitely going to be better; we can’t help but be better,” said Harbaugh, who started 13 games during the Bears’ 5-11 campaign last season. “Wannstedt’s got a heck of a terrific plan.
“I anticipate terrific things.”
Harbaugh expects things to happen this fall.
“I don’t think you can accomplish anything unless you believe,” he said.
Harbaugh definitely is a believer in Wannstedt, who joined the Bears staff after helping the Dallas Cowboys win last season’s Super Bowl.
“I think everybody is going to be impressed with the type of man Dave Wannstedt is,” Harbaugh said. “He has a mission and he’s very enthusiastic.
“He has everything it takes.”
Harbaugh said he’s not the only believer.
“The attitude is much improved,” he said. “Everybody is much more comfortable now. A lot of guys think this is a new start.”
Harbaugh said to expect a speedier team this fall, both offensively and defensively.
“From a technical standpoint and from an attitude standpoint things are improved,” Harbaugh said.
That new, speedier look may mean personnel changes. Richard Dent already has asked to be traded and other veterans may have a hard time fitting into the new system.
“There are going to be changes made,” Harbaugh said. “(But) sometimes change is good; a fresh start.
“Some guys are going to fit into (Wannstedt’s) style and some won’t. There will be a lot of new faces next year and I think that’s all for the good.”
Harbaugh, who enters his eighth season in Chicago with a 28-22 record as a starter and is the third-highest rated quarterback (74.6) in Bears history, could have been among those familiar faces leaving the Bears camp.
A free-agent at the end of last season, Harbaugh signed a four-year, $13 million contract in March.
“One of the big reasons I stayed was because of Wannstedt and the offensive coaches we have,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Harbaugh didn’t sound like a man who is going to miss Mike Ditka, who was fired at the end of last season. To some, Ditka is the epitome of Bear football.
“There were some good times with him and there were some bad times with him,” Harbaugh said. “I played hard for Mike Ditka.”
Harbaugh also is working hard for the new staff. He has been through three mini-camps already. He will report to another next week, then head to Platteville, Wis., for the start of training camp July 15.