Shula family can relate to Harbaugh rivalry

jperson@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 29, 2013 

Before there was a Har-Bowl, there was a Shula Bowl – several of them, actually.

And though Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula was not a head coach when he faced his father and brother, he – better than most – can appreciate the emotions John and Jim Harbaugh are experiencing this week on the world’s biggest stage.

The brother-versus-brother storyline threatens to dominate all other Super Bowl angles this week in New Orleans – from Ray Lewis’ retirement to the recovery of post-Katrina New Orleans.

Jack and Jackie Harbaugh participated in a teleconference with reporters last week, and will conduct a press conference Wednesday in New Orleans. Only Beyonce’s media briefing, in advance of her halftime performance Sunday, figures to attract more reporters.

“That’s a great story,” Shula said. “I know that their parents have to be just thrilled.”

Shula said his mother, Dorothy, who died of cancer in 1991, cheered for her sons over her husband, Don, the NFL’s all-time winningest coach with 347 victories.

“It’s neat. My mom always said she was up there. I don’t think she ever rooted for my dad whenever we were playing them,” Shula said. “It’s exciting. Unfortunately, somebody has to lose. But the main thing is that we all are doing the things that we love to do. And that, in the long run, made everybody happy.”

David Shula, the oldest of the five Shula children, was 19-52 in four-plus seasons as Cincinnati’s head coach. His Bengals’ tenure was unremarkable, save for the game against his dad’s Dolphins team in 1994 that was televised nationally.

The Dolphins won 23-7, and Don beat David in their only other meeting the following season.

As an assistant coach, Mike Shula had a 1-1 record against his father, and was 0-1 against big brother.

“I think I had a better record against my dad than I did against my brother,” said Mike Shula, who was the youngest sibling.

Shula, elevated from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator this month after Rob Chudzinski left to become Cleveland’s head coach, knows both Harbaugh brothers. Shula was Chicago’s tight ends coach from 1993-95 when Jim Harbaugh was the Bears’ quarterback.

He’s never worked with John Harbaugh, who was Philadelphia’s special teams coach before being hired in Baltimore in 2008. After Don Shula worked with the Eagles’ staff – in sort of a coaching emeritus role – at a Pro Bowl, he returned raving about the Eagles’ special teams coach.

“I think John was very involved during the course of the week. I remember my dad coming back and saying what a good coach this guy is. How organized, how he’s going to be an up-and-coming coach,” Mike Shula said. “And sure enough, he called it.”

About a month after he was hired as San Francisco’s coach in January 2011, Jim Harbaugh attended the Pittsburgh-Green Bay Super Bowl in Dallas. The day before the game, the brothers visited The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

But they won’t be frequenting the French Quarter this week – at least not together. After exchanging a handful of text messages last week, both say they don’t plan to call each other this week when brotherly love is put on hold.

Mike Shula knows the feeling.

Asked how he would approach a Super Bowl with his brother on the other sideline, Shula laughed.

“I’d be extremely happy for him, but ready to go out there and kick his butt,” Shula said. “Now, he would say that would never happen. That’s what’s fun.

“And there’s something to me that’s more exciting about that game. You’re more motivated to win when you play against people that you have a lot of respect for. Just in general, coaching-wise. And obviously, if it’s your brother it’d be that way.”

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