This was originally posted in January 2013, just prior to Jim Harbaugh and his San Francisco 49ers taking on brother John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl 47.
As you know, Jim Harbaugh is the first former Michigan football player to be Head Coach of a Super Bowl team. Furthermore, there is no former Michigan coach who has been Head Coach of a Super Bowl team. But there is an interesting twist which could lead you to win a bar bet or two.
George Allen was Head Coach of the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII, the team which lost to the Miami Dolphins 14-7, capping the Dolphins’ perfect season. Bob Griese, father of Brian, was of course the quarterback for that Dolphins team. (Former Wolverine Tight End Jim Mandich, starter on the 1969 UM team, was Griese’s tight end for Miami).
A member of Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, George Allen actually spent some time coaching football at Michigan. While earning his Masters Degree from UM, Allen was assistant coach to Cliff Keen for the University of Michigan Lightweights Football team, a squad comprised of players 150 pounds and lighter. According to this article published in 1997 in Michigan Today, there was a lightweights league including UM, OSU, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Michigan had a lightweights team only in 1947 and 1948 before the league disbanded.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame website has a section “colleges” in which the Hall of Famers are listed by college attended. Allen is listed under four different schools – Alma College, Eastern Michigan, Marquette, and the University of Michigan. This press release in 1981 from the office of President Ronald Reagan appointing Allen as Chairman of The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports states that Allen graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in 1947 and an M.A. in 1948. Allen did not play football at Michigan.
So it is correct to say that Jim Harbaugh is the first former Michigan player or coach to be Head Coach of a Super Bowl team. Harbaugh is not, however, the first Michigan degree holder to be Head Coach of a Super Bowl team – that distinction goes to George Allen. As for the rest of the story, Allen was a coach for a University of Michigan football team… it just wasn’t the team that we’ve followed all these years.