Motor City Showdown: Who’s At Fault Between Harbaugh and Schwartz?

There is no love lost between Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz after the Detroit Lions battled the San Francisco 49ers this past Sunday at Ford Field.  The game was extremely physical and featured a lot of bad blood between both teams until the 49ers won it on a fourth-and-goal touchdown catch by Delanie Walker.

But the bigger skirmish actually happened after the game, between the teams’ respective head coaches.  Overwhelmed with excitement, a jumping Harbaugh gave Schwartz a firm handshake followed by an aggressive pat on the back and continued celebrating.  This enraged Schwartz, who chased Harbaugh 40 yards down the field, ensuing a scuffle between both teams.

Harbaugh is extremely emotional and leads with a boyhood enthusiasm that commands the respect of his players.  He is a former quarterback who coaches as if he is still on the field playing.  But sometimes his emotions have gotten the best of him.  Just ask Seattle Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll, who once had a heated face- to-face confrontation with Harbaugh when Carroll was coaching USC and Harbaugh was coaching Stanford.  In the 49ers post-game press conference, Harbaugh admitted he was too fired up and shook Schwartz’s hand harder than necessary.

Schwartz is every bit as intense and competitive as Harbaugh.  His aggressive behavior toward Harbaugh only confirms why his players love battling for him – his relentless passion to win.  Like Harbaugh, he has also shown an inability to keep his emotions in check.  During a game against the Dallas Cowboys, he taunted Cowboys wide receiver, Dez Bryant after his catch was overturned by instant replay.  While Schwartz initially accused Harbaugh of breaking a coaching protocol, he later acknowledged that the competitiveness should be left to the players on the field. 

Both coaches deserve blame for Sunday’s ugly incident.  Harbaugh failed to separate the distinction between acting like a coach instead of a player.  Beating an undefeated team on the road is certainly a reason to celebrate.  But regardless of the magnitude of victory, he broke an unwritten rule by failing to properly greet Schwartz and shake his hand.   At that point Schwartz could have taken the high road toward the rookie NFL coach.  Instead, he only magnified the situation by running after Harbaugh like a raging animal, thereby putting both teams in harm’s way.

Although Sunday’s events left both coaches regretting their actions, don’t expect them to change their emotional styles.  They may have had their differences, but Harbaugh and Schwartz are linked by one common goal: to change the culture of their beaten down franchises.