SJSU's Caragher has Harbaugh's approval
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SAN FRANCISCO -- About 30 minutes after the announcement that Ron Caragher would replace Mike MacIntyre as San Jose State's football coach on Dec. 17, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh took the podium for his weekly day-after-game press conference 10 miles away in Santa Clara.

Harbaugh was only a few hours removed from the cross-country flight following the 49ers' 41-34 win at New England on Sunday Night Football. Obviously jet-lagged, a disheveled Harbaugh got through the Q-and-A, too tired to show much emotion.

Then he was asked if he'd heard the news from down the street. He hadn't.

But as soon as it was relayed to him that Caragher, who replaced him as the coach at the University of San Diego, was the Spartans' new coach, Harbaugh lit up.

“Oh, Ron Caragher. Fantastic. That is great," Harbaugh said. "Wonderful, wonderful. Wonderful guy and coach. Bellarmine graduate. Gotten to know Ron really well."

Needless to say, the hiring got Harbaugh's stamp of approval

“Good coach. Winning coach," Harbaugh said. "He’s done a real nice job with that program (at USD).”

The two coaches didn't know each other before Harbaugh left for Stanford following the 2006 season, but struck up a friendship in the years following -- as did their sons, who attended the same high school.

"Jim was very fond of San Diego having started is career there and he would often come by our coaches office and visit with me in my office while I was down there and I would welcome that," Caragher said. "We've kept in touch whether it's a text message before a big game wishing good luck or congratulations on the win.

"Jim has always been there as someone I respect and I appreciate his friendship."

Like Harbaugh, Caragher's first head coaching job came at San Diego and he reaped the benefits of landing at a program that had lost just two games in the previous two seasons combined. He went 44-22 in his six years guiding the Toreros, including 7-1 marks in Pioneer Football League play the last two seasons.

He enters a similar situation at San Jose State, which finished 11-2 and ranked No. 21 in the final AP Top-25 Poll last year. Dating back to 1939, San Jose State had received votes in the AP Poll in just five other seasons and never finished among the top 25.

A San Jose native, Caragher -- as Harbaugh noted -- is a Bellarmine Prep graduate and grew up attending football camps at San Jose State before his playing career as a quarterback at UCLA. He spent seven years as an assistant coach at UCLA and two more as a graduate assistant before four seasons as an assistant at Kentucky that preceded his time at USD.

Having served on Harbaugh's staff that made the jump from USD to the Bay Area, Stanford coach David Shaw, also a Bay Area native, relates easily to Caragher, but before Monday at Bay Area College Football Media Day, the two had never met.

"We left so many guys (at USD) that I have close relationships with and they speak very highly of him," Shaw said. "I've been hearing about him for probably 10 years, hearing his name a lot, but never meeting him. I still feel like I know him."

Added Caragher: "It's funny. We can probably sit in a room and tell stories about USD for hours."

Caragher wished Shaw luck in "11 of 12 games" this season. The Spartans open the year at home against Sacramento State on Aug. 29 before the Bill Walsh Legacy Game at Stanford on Sept. 7, which serves as the season opener for the Cardinal.

Shaw said the most difficult part of the transition from San Diego to Stanford was in recruiting, but when Caragher arrived, he realized the recruiting game at San Jose State was actually very similar to San Diego, despite his former school's designation as a FCS, non-scholarship program.

"There are about 25 guys on the roster that we recruiting at USD," Caragher said. "I realized Coach Mac focused on character and that's what I'm all about in the locker room."

Throughout his coaching career, Caragher has recruited the Bay Area and noted how important it is for San Jose State to draw on local talent.

"We would be fine recruiting just in California," he said. "There is so much talent here. Obviously they'll be cases when we go outside the state, but we really wouldn't need to."