It’s been going on for weeks, and I saw it again Sunday morning. There was Mike Lupica talking about the 49ers’ GREAT coach, and how sorry they were going to be if they foolishly let him ever leave town. It would surely be the end of the franchise. They might as well move to Vancouver.
Wait, all this nonsense is about Jim Harbaugh? Jim Harbaugh? Now don’t get me wrong. The guy’s a good coach. He’s just not a great, all-world, legendary coach like he’s being made out to be. And I assure you, the 49ers will not sink into the San Andreas fault when he leaves. Nor is it a guarantee that he’ll win at his next NFL destination. Let’s review the evidence.
Harbaugh took over as head coach of the 49ers in 2011. The year before that, the team was a disappointing 6-10. They had some good pieces, like Frank Gore and Patrick Willis, and coach Mike Singletary had finally gotten mush-head TE Vernon Davis to play like the uncoverable weapon he should have been all along, but as a team, the defense, despite talent, was only middle of the pack, perhaps slightly better, while the offense was bottom third. Enter Harbaugh.
The most immediate improvement in the team was the offensive line. Despite the same personnel from a year ago, more or less, the unit went from being a weakness to a strength. Harbaugh should get some credit for that, for coaching them up, although it needs to be pointed out that both Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis, both still part of the line, had been rookies in 2010, so maybe some of that improvement simply came from a year of seasoning. The defense, which Harbaugh basically inherited (remember, Harbaugh is an offensive coach), rose to #4 in the NFL. The offense was still bottom third. The team, however, got all the way to the NFC Championship game and lost to the Giants.
I don’t know how much control Harbaugh has over the Niners’ draft, but it should be noted that their top 2 picks in 2011 were Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick, so the 49ers you see today were being built then. It should be also be noted that the Niners haven’t made any picks in the three drafts since then that were as good as either of those two players. Again, to the extent that this is part of Harbaugh’s record, it ain’t great.
But on to the games. The 2012 49ers were Harbaugh’s best. They were still top 5 in defense and they were just shy of top 10 on offense. They went to the Super Bowl and lost. In 2013, the defense was again top 5, while the offense was back in the bottom third. So what gives?
Well, for one thing, the 49ers offense has been ridiculously easy to game plan for the entire run. 1) Stop Frank Gore. Oversell to stop the run if you have to. 2) Take Vernon Davis away as a target in the passing game. Double team him or bracket him if you have to. Single cover the wideouts on the outside if you have to. Don’t worry, it’ll be OK. 3) Put a spy on or play contain rush against Colin Kaepernick. The Packers always let him run for whatever he wants to get and that usually turns out to be about 170 yards. Don’t be an idiot (like Packers coach Mike McCarthy) and let Colin beat you on the ground. Do those three things and you will effectively shut down the 49ers offense. Check any of their losses this year or pick a few at random going back to 2012 and see if I’m not right. Of course, you have to have the personnel to execute this as well, but if you do, it will work. That’s Harbaugh’s fault. He designed this offense.
Another thing I lay at his feet is that Colin Kaepernick has not progressed one iota since 2012. Kaepernick is bigger, stronger, faster and has a better arm than Russell Wilson, but Wilson is light years ahead of him as a quarterback. Again, Harbaugh.
Only so good, but no better…Colin Kaepernick
So why does the media love this guy so much?
Well, he’s an asshole, but he’s a media friendly asshole.
Unlike prickly Bill Belichick who makes reporters feel stupid for asking their question, Harbaugh usually uses the question as an opportunity to say something that will piss someone off. No wonder his bosses don’t like him. He “rubs people the wrong way,” and they are undoubtedly thinking, “Why are we putting up with this guy.” And maybe finishing that sentence…”it’s not like he’s won a Super Bowl.”
Honestly, if you look at Harbaugh’s record, the coach is most like is not an all time great like Belichick or Tom Landry or Bill Walsh, it’s Andy Reid. Reid went to multiple conference championship games and only won one. He lost his only Super Bowl. By the end of his tenure in Philadelphia, call-in radio types were calling for fans to boycott Eagles games until Reid was fired.
Why? Because he was boring at his press conferences. He was insufferable, giving the same non-answers over and over. That’s no fun. That’s no Harbaugh. No wonder the media thinks San Francisco will fall into the bay if he leaves.
Separated at Birth? Harbaugh & Reid
Well everyone can relax. Andy Reid got another job immediately after he wore out his welcome in Philadelphia, and Jim Harbaugh will too.
Like I said, he’s a good coach. He’s just not a great one.