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SANTA CLARA

There have been rumors Jim Harbaugh has a personality. Until Monday, these rumors never were confirmed. One wondered if someone stole his personality at birth.

Sure, he is developing into quite a good head coach, but at least in his dealings with the media, he seemed like Football Robot. Or as Alex Smith said, "A switch goes off with you guys."

"You guys" is the generic name athletes and coaches use for the media. Smith meant when Harbaugh is not around "you guys," he is a regular person, a human being, someone with, get this, a sense of humor.

Harbaugh, the person, made an appearance at the Monday news conference. It all began with Carlos Rogers hanging out by his locker with a few reporters. Rogers dropped this nugget. On the flight back from Philly, Harbaugh gave up his first-class seat and sat in coach with the players. He gave Jonathan Goodwin his first-class seat.

"When do you see a coach want to give up their first-class seat and come back there and sit with the players throughout a five-hour flight?" Rogers said. "He's just a blue-collar worker. He's not about the fancy stuff. Just come out here and work hard and play football and you'll see the results."

At the news conference, we asked Harbaugh about riding in coach.

"Yeah, I don't feel comfortable up in first class," he said. "I'm a coach guy."

"A coach coach," I said.

"Coach coach, yeah."

"What do you do back there in coach?"

"I watch the tape on the laptop. Walk around, talk to the fellas. Watched a little bit of a movie. It was a long trip."

Rogers also said Harbaugh gives personal talks to the team, little gems with a moral. In one, Harbaugh told how his family — dad, mom, sister, brother — lived in a little house, maybe 1,000 square feet in Iowa City.

"He gave us an example of the house he lived in," Rogers said. "I think they (Jim and John) slept on the floor. You can look at how he grew up and where his family's been to the success he's having right now."

Here is Harbaugh at the presser speaking about the house:

"There was just a little saying around the house my dad would always use: &‘Who's got it better than us?' We'd all respond, &‘Nobody.' We could be driving in the car, just whatever we were doing, he'd say it and we'd respond &‘nobody,' and we really thought that. We didn't think there was anybody who could possibly have it better than us.

"As you get older, you realize people do have it better than you do but in the case of the house, it was a really small house. I had a chance to go back there and look at it when I was scouting players at the University of Iowa. It was like two bedrooms, three kids, a mom and a dad, living room, kitchen. I looked at it and said, &‘This is the smallest house I think I've ever seen.' But we didn't think so as kids.

"My dad would say: &‘Isn't this great, you and your brother get to share the room, you can talk philosophy, you can share each other's dreams. Who could possibly have it better than you two guys?' We thought, nobody. Sometimes you'd walk out of the house and there would be a car there and sometimes there wouldn't. When there wasn't, it was, &‘Hey, we're walking today,' get the basketball and start dribbling it.

"Just realized that, as you look back on it, the message there was not having things handed to you, things not coming easy are really the blessing because you've got to overcome some things. If it's harder, then it makes you better in the long run.

"I really wanted to be a major-league shortstop growing up. I had a glove. I had baseball diamonds to play on. There are kids down in the Dominican Republic who are making gloves out of milk cartons. I didn't stand a chance to be a major-league shortstop. Those guys had to overcome so much more that made them better players in the long run. We just try to find ways to make it harder on ourselves. &‘How can we make things suck more than they do?' We're getting there."

"You tell your players this so they know it's not a bad thing to have to overcome?"

"I think that's the point, yeah."

Later, Harbaugh grew uncomfortable with the jolly tone of the news conference.

"I'm starting to get the feeling like there's too many nice things coming our way here," he said.

"My coach in college said, &‘Whenever people start talking nice about you, kick 'em in the shins.' Let's stop. Let's stop. We got to get back to work here and start concentrating on this football game. I feel exposed when people are saying flowery things about us. We would rather that all that's written is written against us."

"OK, well, then, you suck," I said.

"Thank you. Thank you. Go back to yourselves. Go back to the list of everything that's negative. Play the negative quiz show."

"So, that helps you?"

"Yes."

"You want it, you against the world?"

"We just feel a more certain assurance of success when all that's written is written against us. It's when honey words of praise are flowered upon us that we begin to feel exposed before our enemies."

OK, what did we learn about Harbaugh in this rare give-and-take? He will talk about himself and when he does, he's interesting. He does not feel comfortable with praise and he's suspicious when things go well. He needs to overcome what he perceives as trouble and insults. He needs trouble and insults. He needs an enemy. When he coached at Stanford, the enemy was USC's Pete Carroll. When Carroll famously said, "What's your deal?" he probably meant, "Where is all this hatred coming from?"

Harbaugh even uses the media as the enemy. He lives by an intriguing paradox — his unhappiness with the media makes him happy.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.