is the Amazon link to the book, which has yet to receive
anything but a perfect five-star rating from a customer. Here is a link to
David Lombardi’s Bootleg Radio podcast with the three authors,
Joseph Beyda, George Chen, and Sam Fisher. Thanks to Sam Fisher for
his permission to excerpt from the book and his advice.
Spoiler alert! Save this article for later if you want to
learn of these revelations for the first time in the book.
1. Walt Harris’ bear crawls
We knew that Walt Harris had lost the team, especially during the
1-11 campaign of 2006, but we didn’t know it was this bad.
The authors quoted Alex Fletcher, then a junior center:
“’Walt couldn’t hold the team together, so what he would do is he
would make us do bear crawls. … It got to a point where we were so
bad, that we were thinking about how you would not do bear crawls.
[You wouldn’t] play to win the game; you’d play to not do bear
As the authors explain, “[a] bear crawl, done properly, is one of
the most grueling conditioning exercises for a football player.
Players get down in pushup position and crawl down the length of
the field. They aren’t allowed to arch their backs. They aren’t
allowed to let their knees touch the ground. And with the massive
size of some of the players combined with the unforgiving nature
of the artificial turf field, the toll on the players’ bodies was
Per Fisher, offensive linemen beat by a rusher would let their
man through with a free shot at Trent Edwards, rather than hold,
the right play in that circumstance. Edwards was on his own, as
the players couldn’t draw a penalty, lest they incur an additional
100 yards of crawls. (Maybe Edwards, famously battered in his
years on the Farm, would have held up better if Harris mandated
crawls every time he got hit. A “he hurts, you hurt” type of
To add insult to injury, the team would have to do its crawls on
Sunday, with no rest day after Saturday games. And at least one
member of the coaching staff gave up on the 2006 season midway
through the year.
2. Players met with Bob Bowlsby to demand he fire Walt Harris
Before the 2006 season-ending Big Game, Alex Fletcher organized a
meeting at Bowlsby’s house with Chris Marinelli and about 10 other
teammates present, and the support of most of the team. The
“Though Bowlsby didn’t give the players a promise that Harris
would be fired, everyone was confident that he got the message
when the group of players left the meeting.
“’At the end of the day,’ Fletcher says, ‘[Bowlsby] knew there
was a breaking point in the team — that if he brought Walt back
for another year, it would’ve been a massive problem. … If we
hadn’t stood up and said something, Walt Harris would’ve had
That timing would prove important in short order.
3. Jim Harbaugh nearly took the Rice job
Stanford wasn’t the only school that interviewed Jim Harbaugh, as
the authors report he interviewed with Rice and Central
and had an interview scheduled with Idaho State. Crucially,
Harbaugh had an offer in hand from Rice with the Stanford
interview process still ongoing. Rice told him they needed a
decision, forcing Harbaugh to choose between a definite head
coaching job at Rice and the chance of landing that job at
Stanford. A little risk, of course, never scared Jim Harbaugh.
“’The decision there was I’ll wait for Stanford,’” Harbaugh told
the authors. “’I’ll take the risk.’”
4. Jim Harbaugh’ PowerPoint
Fisher told me that one of his biggest regrets is that the book
let Harbaugh off too easy. As is, Harbaugh comes across as overly
competitive to the point of borderline psychosis, with an
all-consuming need to win crowding out what many would view as
basic human decency.
The most damning moment came when Harbaugh delivered a team-wide
“On the PowerPoint was a list of categories. The best categories
were ‘warrior’, ‘make me a warrior’ and ‘count on me’. Next were
descriptions like ‘average’. The worst labels ranged from ‘nobody’
to ‘bus-rider/steak-eater,' insults for players who make no
contributions to the team and basically steal scholarships. In
front of the whole team, Harbaugh went down the roster and placed
every player in a category.
“But most of the players didn’t make the ‘warrior’ or ‘count on
me’ cut. Showing no mercy, Harbaugh completely destroyed some of
his players. …
“Harbaugh next went over to where Marinelli and fifth-year senior
offensive tackle Ben Muth were sitting. ‘I know you guys will come
in ... [and] you’ll get the job done. But you’ll never impress me
on tape,’ Harbaugh told them. ‘You’ll probably get beat a lot and
you’ll probably be responsible for a lot of the team’s problems,
but I feel like I can trust you in there.’”
The ploy paid off, as players in the lesser categories gunned for
the coach’s favorites in practice, the top-rated players felt
added pressure to prove themselves, and everyone’s practice
intensity increased dramatically.
As Marinelli told the authors: “’’That meeting was brutal. I
almost lost it, but it worked all right.’”
5. Harbaugh has a racquet
It wasn’t just football that got Jim Harbaugh’s competitive
juices flowing. One time, the coaches were one short in their
doubles racquetball game, so Harbaugh asked James McGillicuddy to
fill in as his partner. McGillicuddy remembers what happened next:
“’Harbaugh is, like, mad at some call that Wis [strength and
conditioning intern Steve Wisniewski] and Chester [McGlockton]
made, and just smashes the ball in the back of Wis’ back. He’s
like, ‘Oh sorry, got in the way.’ Just whatever. So the next play
he hits Chester in the back. And I’m just like in this — it feels
like a pressure cooker of emotions — and it’s like, ‘Oh my god.’
That’s how intense Jim Harbaugh was.’”
Stay tuned for five more stories from “Rags to Roses”!
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