Jim Harbaugh is not your average below-average dresser.
When it comes to having a sense of style, he is a pre-teenager. At public occasions when he is representing the 49ers, he often looks like he crawled out of the hamper.
But this is not a Harbaugh-bashing column. I myself am no Beau Brummell when it comes to dressing up. I believe Harbaugh has reasons for presenting himself the way he does. Before analyzing them, let's define the Jim Harbaugh Look.
His outfit of choice involves these garments: Sneakers. White ankle socks. Khakis. Black sweatshirt highly rumpled, pulled over T-shirt highly rumpled. Black 49ers cap pulled tight over head, partially obscuring eyes. He looks like a 13-year-old who played pickup hoops all day and didn't wash before dinner.
At the Super Bowl he and his brother John conducted a press conference for the national media. John, who always conveys savoir faire, wore a jacket and tie, and looked like a grownup representing a great football organization — the Ravens. Jim wore his usual getup but, because he was sitting down, his pants rose over his white ankle socks and you could see ankle skin. Jim also was representing a great football organization, although in his own way.
Some thought he might have dressed a little snappier. The 49ers are the organization made relevant by Bill Walsh, who had class and kept a hairbrush on his desk and combed those silver locks, making sure every follicle was in place before he went public.
Some thought Jim had let down the image of the Niners in that Super Bowl press conference, especially in light of his demeanor, stricken in the presence of the older sibling, maybe resentful at the way John reached out his left paw toward the Lombardi Trophy as if he owned it, while Jim, kid brother in baseball cap, stared at him.
And let's be clear. Jim Harbaugh is the biggest slob — in a clothes sense — of any 49ers head coach since the Walsh Era. It's not like Harbaugh doesn't know how to dress. I once participated in a group interview with him at Stanford, and he wore a tan sports jacket and a tie and he didn't wear his goofball cap and he combed his hair and he looked — well, gee — handsome, sophisticated, downright spiffy.
So we know Jim Harbaugh can deliver spiff when he wants to. Which leads to the big question: Why is he un-spiffy most of the time? The answer to that question delivers the key to Harbaugh the coach and Harbaugh the man.
Here's a bit of context. Mike Nolan, as you recall, got a dispensation from the NFL to wear a suit and tie on the sidelines during 49ers games. It was an homage to his father, Dick, also a former 49ers coach, who dressed fancy for games.
Mike Nolan didn't look like a football coach on game day. He looked like a lawyer or an accountant. Well, he looked like Don Draper. He also didn't coach very well. Harbaugh is rejecting the Mike Nolan look, although he may not have Nolan in mind when he puts on his clothes.
Harbaugh graduated from Palo Alto High School, right there on El Camino across the street from Stanford. But Harbaugh, as he likes to inform us, is not California. Harbaugh is Midwest — rock-hard, basic, no-frills Midwest. And he's proud of it.