BGSU alumni Jack and Jackie Harbaugh cheer and hold a football at Doyt L. Perry Stadium
Jack and Jackie Harbaugh cheer after receiving a signed game ball in 2017 at Doyt L. Perry Stadium. (BGSU photo)

Harbaugh family roots run deep in BGSU history

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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is the son of two Falcon Flames, and his BGSU alumnus father has issued a warning to his son about BGSU heading to Ann Arbor.

By Victoria Dugger

Though he may currently bleed maize and blue, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh’s Falcon family roots run deep – a fact his alumnus father isn’t letting him forget anytime soon as he issued a warning to his son ahead of Saturday’s football game against BGSU, telling him Bowling Green is ready for the challenge.

Indeed, though the younger Harbaugh has taken up residence in The Big House in that city up north, his story started out closely tied to what Zillow declared One of America’s Best College Towns – Bowling Green, Ohio.

Harbaugh’s parents, Jack and Jackie, are Falcon Flames and a deep love of family and football unites the entire Harbaugh clan – and Jack Harbaugh ’61, ’63 says it all started at Bowling Green State University.

“I met my wife at Bowling Green and played for Doyt Perry, one of the best college coaches in history,” Jack said in 2013. “I returned to the University to work with another of the country’s leading coaches, Don Nehlen. These men are just legends in the football community, and I am so honored that they were part of my life.”

BGSU alumni Jack and Jackie Harbaugh speak into microphones while a screen projects a photo of their children, Jim, John and Joani Harbaugh.
Jack Harbaugh '61, '63 and his Falcon Flame, Jackie Harbaugh '61, '63 reminisce about their time together at BGSU, as a projector screen shows a photo of their three children, Jim Harbaugh, John Harbaugh and Joani Harbaugh. (AP photo)

Jack credits Doyt L. Perry for sharing the best piece of advice he ever received. “Marry well!” Perry implored Jack’s freshman football class.

Jack first met Jackie Cipiti ’61, ’63 during their freshman year at BGSU.

“Jackie sat two rows in front of me in our freshman biology class,” Jack said.

With only 3,000 students on campus at the time, they were often classmates, but Jack said he “just stumbled around for two years,” before working up the courage to ask her for a date.

While at BGSU, Jack played football from 1957-60, becoming a three-time letterman who played safety. The Falcons finished the season 9-0 during his junior year and were named the 1959 small college division National Champions.

BGSU football player Jack Harbaugh
Jack Harbaugh was a three-time letterman for the BGSU football team between 1957-60. (BGSU photo)

Jack and Jackie married in 1961, the year they both finished their undergraduate degrees, and then pursued their graduate education at BGSU. Their boys – Jim and John – were born while Jack was an assistant coach at Perrysburg High School, just 14 miles north of Bowling Green.

A former BGSU cheerleader, Jackie shared Jack’s love of football and took sons Jim and John, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, to their father’s football practices at BGSU as soon as they could walk.

“My mom and dad met in an English class at BG; (I) heard all those stories,” Jim said during a press conference on Sept. 11. “There’s a great picture of my dad sitting on the bench, wearing his No. 13, and my mom right behind him as a cheerleader at BG. … My dad has been right there for a couple of weeks telling us: Bowling Green is going to come up here and kick your ass. We got that as well.”

From left to right, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, BGSU alumnus Jack Harbaugh, Joe Sepedi (grandfather of Jim and John Harbaugh), Jackie Harbaugh, and Jim Harbaugh.
In 2013, Jack Harbaugh's sons, John (left) and Jim (right), met in the Super Bowl as the head coaches of the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. Next to Jack Harbaugh is Joe Sepidi, grandfather to John and Jim Harbaugh, and Jack's wife, Jackie Harbaugh. (AP photo)

Jack returned to the BGSU football program as an assistant coach from 1968-70 as part of a coaching career that spans more than 40 years.

Back in the day, Jack’s Falcon team included his boys in football drills while Jackie opened her home to the Falcon players. Jim and John learned the lyrics to “Ay Ziggy Zoomba” the way some children learn nursery rhymes. Jim even taught the song to his players when he was head coach at Stanford and his team sang their own version of the song after Cardinal wins.

BGSU assistant football coach Jack Harbaugh
Jack Harbaugh was an assistant coach at BGSU from 1968-70.

Now, however, Jack joins Jim on the Wolverines sidelines as an assistant head coach, after previously serving as the Wolverines’ defensive backs coach from 1973-79.

Though he’s wearing maize and blue, Jack still fully respects the Falcons' brown and orange – and in pregame press conferences, Jim acknowledged the trash-talking his dad has been doing, with his father telling him BGSU was traveling to Ann Arbor to kick Michigan's rear end, but with a stronger word. The Wolverines head coach told WXYZ Detroit that BGSU head coach Scot Loeffler – himself a University of Michigan graduate who played QB and coached with the Wolverines – has built a “heck of a team” with the Falcons, saying Michigan will see the “very best” of BGSU take the field on Saturday.

If you can’t make it to the Big House to cheer on the Falcons, make sure you tune in at your house, as the game will be televised on the Big Ten Network at 7:30 p.m. As Jack would say – Ay Ziggy Zoomba!

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Updated: 09/20/2023 10:31AM