When Jim and John Harbaugh meet today in the Super Bowl, Danny and Jerry Wilkins will watch with more than a passing interest.
As brothers who first coached against each other in high school football more than 20 years ago, the Wilkinses understand what the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers coaches will experience as the first siblings to meet in the NFL’s title game.
Conflicted feelings, wanting to win but not at the expense of someone you love, the awkward postgame meeting as you try to mute celebratory instincts with sympathetic thoughts for your brother.
Jerry, coach at Roberson High from 1989-2000, and Danny — at Erwin from ’89-’92 and at Asheville High since 2000 — coached against each other four times.
“It’s very interesting for everybody else, when we went up against each other and now on a much bigger scale with the Harbaughs, but it wasn’t any fun for us,” said Danny, 55, the older brother who has posted an incredible 132-36-1 record over the past 13 seasons at Asheville High.
“I sympathize with what the Harbaughs are going to go through. You always want what’s best for your brother, and you feel for the family — mom, the spouses — because they are struggling with it, as well. I was always glad to get it over with.”
“The Harbaughs are much different than us — they are making millions of dollars,” Jerry, 53, said with a laugh.
“The first year we did it (1989, a 24-8 Roberson win) was exciting, but after that, not so much. You’re playing someone you respect and love, and it was hard. There was a lot of extra pressure in those games.”
The Wilkins brothers and younger sister Vicki grew up in west Buncombe County with parents Betty and John, a Baptist minster who died in 1982.
They were typical brothers two years apart, with all the expected scrapes and athletic battles.
“We were competitive, tore a lot of shirts off each other playing pick-up football games in the backyard with our neighbors,” Danny said.
“One time, we tore up our clothes so bad we buried them so Mom wouldn’t find them,” said Jerry.
The brothers were teammates on the Enka High football team for one season when Danny was a senior and Jerry a sophomore, and both decided to get into coaching and teaching after college.
“Danny was that big brother everybody wants to have, and we always competed,” Jerry said.
“But the reason I played football was because of him, and the reason I went to college was because of him. I could have went in a different direction, but he was such a big influence on me not to go in the wrong direction.”
They met for the first time as coaches when each was in his first season at Buncombe County schools.
In a 1989 interview the week of that game, both talked a little smack.
“I want to beat him bad, in the worst kind of way,” Danny said.
“We have always had sort of a rivalry, and I guess this is the best way to settle it,” Jerry said.
Then and now
Jerry won each of the four meetings against Danny, who struggled to a 5-34-1 record before resigning at Erwin following the ’92 season.
He stayed in football and made a most incredible coaching turnaround, from a career record that was 29 games below. 500 to his current 67 games above .500 (137-70-2 in 17 seasons).
Jerry coached 12 seasons at Roberson, leaving in 2000 with a 49-76 record to go into private business with Kimmel & Associates, where he remains today.
Their last meeting on the same field occurred in 2000, and they are glad the games against each other are over.
And they know the Harbaughs will feel the same way, even with such incredible stakes riding on today’s game.
“Once the game starts, you forget about who’s the other coach and it’s just another game, and it will be that way for the Harbaughs,” Danny said.
“After the game, it’s a no-win situation whether you win or not,” Jerry said. “I think the Harbaughs will realize what we found out. You just wish you were playing somebody else.”