All about family for Georgia’s Tom Crean, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh

March 16, 2018 Athens: Tom Crean, his wife Joani (the former Joani Harbaugh), son Riley, 18, and daughter Ainsley, 12, gather for a family photo after Crean was introduced as the new men's basketball head coach at the University of Georgia on Friday, March 16, 2018, at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

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March 16, 2018 Athens: Tom Crean, his wife Joani (the former Joani Harbaugh), son Riley, 18, and daughter Ainsley, 12, gather for a family photo after Crean was introduced as the new men's basketball head coach at the University of Georgia on Friday, March 16, 2018, at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

ATHENS – Spend a little time around Tom Crean, and you’ll soon learn he knows a lot of about football. It comes quite naturally for Georgia’s basketball coach, as he pretty much married into the sport.

Crean’s wife, Joani, is the daughter of a football coach. She also has a couple of brothers who have made a name for themselves in the sport. You may have heard of Jim and John Harbaugh.

As it turns out, coach Kirby Smart’s No. 3-ranked Georgia Bulldogs will be playing Jim Harbaugh’s No. 2-ranked Michigan Wolverines in a rather significant football game in a few weeks. They’ll meet in the Orange Bowl in the College Football Playoff semifinals Dec. 31.

ExploreScouting report on Michigan Wolverines

Discussing that matchup Sunday, Harbaugh was asked if Crean knew as much about football as he’d have folks believe.

“Tom knows a lot about football,” Harbaugh verified. “He certainly knows more about football than I know about basketball. I thought I knew a lot about basketball; played in high school. But being around Tom’s meetings — and I’ve sat on his bench or in the stands right behind him — I realized I didn’t know that much about basketball. Not as much as he knows about football anyway.”

Crean’s basketball knowledge got him to the Final Four with Marquette and won him Big Ten titles at Indiana. But his time at Georgia mostly has been a struggle — he’s 44-54 in his fourth season in Athens.

Fresh off an upset of then-No. 18 Memphis in the previous outing, Crean’s Bulldogs (3-5) will try to inch ever closer to .500 on Tuesday night when Jacksonville visits Stegeman Coliseum (7 p.m., SEC Network-Plus)

Jim Harbaugh won’t be there for this one, but he has been to “The Steg.”

“Yes, I have physically been in Athens,” Harbaugh said. “I had the pleasure of going to a basketball game there, staying at Tom and Joani’s house, riding around campus.”

Crean said he speaks to both of his brothers-in-law all the time about their respective coaching situations. John Harbaugh coaches the Baltimore Ravens, who lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-19 on Sunday night in a game the Creans watched.

ExploreCrean gets 400th career win as Bulldogs defeat Memphis

Crean said he talked to Jim Harbaugh on Sunday night, but not because his 12-1 Wolverines had drawn the 12-1 Bulldogs in the semifinals.

“We had a guest,” Crean said. “We had (former MLB manager) Tony La Russa. Tony knows Jim, so we tried to call Jim earlier in the day. Jim was calling back to see if he was still here. Long story short, we talk about numerous things that go on inside our own programs. There is always a comparing of notes.”

Harbaugh hasn’t struggled as much at Michigan as Crean has at Georgia, but he has incurred his share of criticism and adversity. The Wolverines hadn’t won a Big Ten championship under Harbaugh and had lost seven consecutive games to Ohio State before breaking both streaks this year.

“He’s dealt with a ton of adversity and negativity and things like that over time,” Crean said of his brother-in-law. “It’s so great to see him and that entire coaching staff and program overcome it and be successful.”

Now that the Wolverines finally have their first shot at a national championship in Harbaugh’s tenure, Crean was asked who he and Joani would be pulling for when Georgia and Michigan meet.

“I don’t watch really close friends in coaching as a fan,” Crean said. “I am usually too stressed. Frankly, the Ohio State game for both of us was really, really tough because you want to see them be successful. It is just so different when it is family and when it is friends. That is just the way that it is.”

Asked again, Crean smiled, “I gave you my best answer.”

Truthfully, Crean is focused on nothing but Georgia basketball at the moment. With 10 newcomers, a challenging non-conference schedule and final exams ongoing, that’s more than enough.

Crean earned his 400th career victory Wednesday when Bulldogs knocked off Memphis in an 82-79 thriller. Georgia played that game without starting point guard Aaron Cook, who was out with the flu. Cook should be back Tuesday night against the Dolphins (4-2), who are in their first season under former Florida Gators assistant Jordan Mincy.

“Jordan Mincy is doing a fantastic job after leaving Florida,” Crean said. “They’re very big. They play a get-it-inside style. They also have some good, quick guards. So, it’s going to be a game where we’re going to have to do our very best to try to get some pace in the game and not get frustrated when we can’t.”

However it turns out, Crean will have his brothers-in-law with which to commiserate.

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