OXFORD, Ohio — With a blinding sun and a mostly empty Yager Stadium at his back, Ravens coach John Harbaugh peered into a crowd that contained so many people he wanted to thank.
To his right were his parents, wife and daughter, along with other members of his extended family. To his left were about 30 of his former teammates at Miami University (Ohio). Straight ahead were a couple of rows of football fans, many either wearing Miami red or Ravens purple.
It was exactly how Harbaugh wanted to commemorate a memorable and rewarding weekend. The culmination was Saturday's official unveiling of his bronze statue at the Cradle of Coaches Plaza, Harbaugh's likeness going up in the same area where statutes of legendary coaches and former Miami (Ohio) graduates like Bo Schembechler, Paul Brown, Weeb Ewbank and Ara Parseghian already stood.
"This Cradle is the greatest honor in coaching," said Harbaugh, who was depicted by Delaware-based sculptor Kristen Visbal with his fist in the air, presumably celebrating a Ravens touchdown. "You just think, man, these are the men that played and went to school at Miami University and we're playing and walking that same path that they walked. It's an incredible, incredible thing."
Though the purpose of the gathering was to chronicle Harbaugh's coaching achievements, the crowning one being the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers in February 2013, the guest of honor wanted the weekend to be a celebration of so many other things: his family, his former teammates and the university and its football program, which is rebuilding under first-year head coach Chuck Martin.
Harbaugh, his father, Jack, and his brother Jim — the coach of the 49ers — spoke to the Redhawks' players Friday. When it came time Saturday to pull off the red cloth and reveal his statue, Harbaugh made sure that the current Miami players gathered closely behind.
"The things that prepared me best for my future in coaching were the tough times and the challenges that you faced," said Harbaugh, who graduated from the southwestern Ohio school in 1984 after what he described as a "mediocre" college career as a defensive back. "Sometimes guys will say, 'Football is not fun anymore.' And our answer was always, "When was it ever fun?' Football is not fun. Football is a struggle. Football is a battle, but the fun comes when you are victorious. That's what I learned here at Miami, and that's what it's all about."
It certainly was a full and fulfilling weekend for Harbaugh. On Friday, he had a private induction ceremony and was surprised to learn that his brother, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and several of his current assistant coaches would be in attendance. After an on-campus reception, Harbaugh and many of his former Miami teammates went to a local Oxford establishment, where they stayed late into the night reconnecting and telling stories.
Harbaugh, 51, jokingly congratulated several of his former teammates for being able to bounce back quickly enough to attend the morning unveiling. After the unveiling, Jay Peterson, a teammate of Harbaugh's for all four years at Miami, knelt down next to the Ravens coach in front of the statue as part of a team picture taken about 30 years since they all had last played together.
"We truly are the Miami family," Peterson said. "We came in together, and our graduating class went through some tough times, some good times. Going through our years, we knew there was something special about John. … Whatever he chose to do in life, we knew he was going to be great at it."
This morning, Harbaugh, wearing a white hard hat, took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for a new on-campus indoor facility, which Miami athletic director David Sayler said has been in the works since the late 1990s. Harbaugh contributed money and time to the project.
"John actually said no the first two times I asked him to do the statue. That's the kind of man that he is," Sayler said. "He just [said], 'Well, I don't know if I deserve it.' [I said], 'Of course you do, look at that ring on your finger.' To get him here and to have him do this and be honored this way, it's just awesome for me. It's beyond my wildest dreams as far as how the weekend has gone."
Harbaugh was pleased how the statue came out. He lingered in front of it for about 45 minutes after the unveiling, talking and taking pictures with former teammates, saying goodbye to family members and signing autographs for fans.
Among those in attendance were longtime Ravens season-ticket holders Jim and Cindi Rice, who live in New Jersey but were born in Howard County. Their son, Ben, is a freshman at Miami University, so the weekend gave them an opportunity to spend time together as a family while also celebrating Harbaugh's achievements. They spoke briefly to the coach and also got the chance to talk to Newsome at Friday night's reception.
"As a Ravens fan, [it] was absolutely heaven," said Ben Rice, sporting a purple jersey.
The patriarch of the Harbaugh family was caught up in the moment as well. As his son was in the middle of the plaza, Jack Harbaugh was in the background, taking it all in and telling stories of his own. It was Jack, then the coach at Western Michigan, who gave John his first coaching job as a graduate assistant.
John had just graduated from Miami University with a degree in political science. He initially planned on going to law school, but the allure of following in his father's footsteps proved too difficult for him to ignore. Three decades later, Harbaugh has a Super Bowl ring on his finger and a statue in his honor, prompting him to joke, "It was a wise decision." He would get no argument from his father.
"I never imagined what it would be like, so it really hasn't sunk in yet. It's got to be one of those memories that's going to stick with the family for all time," Jack Harbaugh said. "He's still not done. There are still games to be won. This is just part of the journey."
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