Updated: Dec. 19, 2006, 9:23 PM ET

Harbaugh takes over program that went 1-11

STANFORD, Calif. -- Jim Harbaugh's first summer job was painting Stanford Stadium.

Harbaugh was a student at Palo Alto High School across the street from the Stanford campus, where his father was an assistant coach and John Elway was the star quarterback.

Harbaugh admits he looked down at the field during his breaks imagining what it would be like to play there. He never got that chance.

After a stellar college career at Michigan, 15 years as an NFL quarterback and three years as head coach at University of San Diego, Harbaugh finally got his opportunity on The Farm with a five-year contract to become Cardinal's new head coach.

"I used to stare down at the field when I was stenciling those numbers. I so very badly wanted to go to Stanford and play for the Cardinal," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "That wasn't meant to be. I never played a football game at Stanford. But it's a great honor and privilege to be back here now. This was my number one choice all along."

It won't be an easy job for Harbaugh, who must make the transition from being a successful coach at a non-scholarship Division I-AA program to competing in the Pac-10.

He led the Toreros to a 29-6 record, winning 27 of his final 29 games. But now he takes over a Stanford team that set a school record for losses in a 1-11 season this year that led to the firing of coach Walt Harris. Stanford has won just 16 games in the past five seasons under Harris and Buddy Teevens.

Harbaugh and San Diego Chargers receivers coach James Lofton were the finalists for the job. Athletic director Bob Bowlsby said Harbaugh's decision to leave his job as an assistant with the Oakland Raiders following the 2003 season to take a college job was an important factor.

"He chose to go to a place where he could run his own program and have the experience of standing on the sideline and have the decisions land in his lap," Bowlsby said. "I think that's a terrific experience."

Coaching is in Harbaugh's blood. His father, Jack, is a longtime college assistant and head coach. His brother John is an assistant for the Philadelphia Eagles, and his brother-in-law, Tom Crean, is the basketball coach at Marquette.

Harbaugh played for Bo Schembechler at Michigan and Mike Ditka with the Bears and worked for Al Davis when he was with the Raiders. Harbaugh said he's incorporated aspects of all of those coaches into his style.

"Coaching is something I knew I'd do my entire life," he said. "Back before I can even remember when I was 4 or 5-years old, I knew I'd play as long as I possibly could. I knew I'd then coach and then I'd die."

Harbaugh was a first-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 1987 and played 15 seasons in the NFL, leading the Indianapolis Colts to the 1995 AFC championship game.

Harbaugh worked as a volunteer assistant for his father at Western Kentucky during his NFL career. He was an assistant with the Raiders in 2002-03, going to the Super Bowl his first season.

"The players will flock to his personality," Raiders quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo said. "He's the type of coach they'll want to play for."

Harbaugh is a high-energy coach, unlike Teevens and Harris, and brings a level of excitement to Stanford that had been missing in recent years. He's known to join his players in drills and even pulled a muscle trying to outrun the quarterbacks with the Raiders when he was a coach.

"We like what he does offensively and we like what he does defensively," said Stanford quarterback T.C. Ostrander, who advised Bowlsby during the search. "He's enthusiastic. He loves the game. ... He brings a lot of new things to the table. I can't wait."

The first challenge for Harbaugh will be recruiting players who can meet Stanford's stringent academic requirements. Harris and Teevens both struggled in that aspect of the job and Harbaugh will need to find players who can compete in the Pac-10.

Harbaugh said he welcomed that challenge and said there's no program that can compete with the prestige of a Stanford degree and the opportunity to play in a major conference.

"This is the best of the best," he said. "The academic challenges are what we proclaim from the rooftop. This is an unbelievable ticket to success to have a degree from Stanford."

Harbaugh said he would not rush to put together his coaching staff but said he did plan to bring David Shaw from San Diego to likely become his offensive coordinator. Shaw, a Stanford graduate, coached in the NFL for Philadelphia, Oakland and Baltimore.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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