Panther Racing Owner Jim Harbaugh Named San Francisco 49ers Head Coach
It was announced today that Panther Racing co-owner and founding partner Jim Harbaugh has signed a five-year agreement to become the head football coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Harbaugh, who was one of six original ownership members of Panther when it was formed in 1997, just led the Stanford Cardinal to the most wins in school history with a 12-1 record and a dominant Orange Bowl victory over VirginiaTech.
Panther's primary IZOD IndyCar Series entry has always been No. 4 because it was Harbaugh's jersey number during a majority of his football career. Now Harbaugh's new driver of the National Guard entry, IndyCar Series rookie -- and lifelong 49ers fan - JR Hildebrand, was born and raised just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito.
"I've come to the Indianapolis 500 since 1994 and only missed one year," Harbaugh said. "For me it's great to be a part of this with John Barnes, who's the heart and sole of Panther Racing. If anybody can get that car into victory lane it's John and for all of us this is all about that dream of someday seeing Panther Racing win the Indy 500. Hopefully this is the year."
Harbaugh was quoted at a recent team sponsor dinner as saying, "I love the Indianapolis 500. It's better than Christmas."
It was during Harbaugh's time playing for the Indianapolis Colts that he developed a passion for open-wheel racing and joined the team's original ownership group of John Barnes, Mike Griffin, Gary Pedigo, Doug Boles and Terry Lingner to form Panther Racing.
"We couldn't be happier for him," Panther owner John Barnes said. "He was a great NFL player, spent 15 years in the NFL, and ultimately he wanted to get back into that arena and we're happy to see he's joined the 49ers. I've been asked many times how Jim would react to NFL players, but I'm more interested in how they're going to react to him. Jim has an unbelievable amount of integrity, he's a leader, he's a winner, and the San Francisco 49ers just hired the best coach in the country."
For Hildebrand, who is preparing for his first full-time ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series, having one of his bosses coach his hometown NFL team is especially exciting.
"It's awesome, I grew up in the Steve Young and Jerry Rice era and we were all 49ers fans," Hildebrand said. "I always loved the 49ers and now it's great to have that tie-in. The feeling for Bay Area sports fans is that the 49ers are talented enough to be in the playoffs, and if they find a QB, good enough to advance in the playoffs. It was already cool when Jim was at Stanford, but now he's truly the coach of my hometown team."
Harbaugh was named head coach of Stanford prior to the 2007 season and it didn't take him long to make an impression on his new program. In his first season Harbaugh's Cardinal defeated No. 1 nationally-ranked USC in a dramatic come-from-behind 24-23 victory, after Stanford had been a 41-point underdog, statistically making it the biggest upset in the history of college football. Following his NFL playing career he was an offensive assistant coach for the Oakland Raiders before becoming the head coach of University of San Diego in 2004, where he compiled a 29-6 overall record and won two Pioneer League titles in three years.
"Jim has taught our team a lot about professionalism and work ethic, and the way he goes about the preparation for his sport is phenomenal," Barnes continued. "He's a 'Harbaugh' and by that I mean his father Jack set the standards for those kids and he set it very high. Their entire family has done incredible things in their careers because of how they prepare and how they were raised. We're glad he's part of our family." Panther Racing PR