He’s maniacal, he’s brash, he reacts to losing replay challenges that were fairly obvious like someone got caught filming one of his practices, he holds grudges well past their expected expiration date, he becomes annoyed and enraged during press conferences at repeated questions he deems irrelevant to that specific game, he views you as the enemy if you aren’t convinced you can accomplish anything on his team, is insanely competitive at every aspect of his job, he directs his players on where to stand for the Super Bowl team picture, he tells them to lose the towels for said picture because “we have enough swag already” and prepares his team as if they’re going to into combat. He’s Jim Harbaugh, and he’s a certifiable weirdo.
But that’s the beauty of the coach of the NFC Champion 49ers. Unlike the uncontrollable lunatic that proceeded him, Harbaugh knows exactly what he’s doing. Players gravitate to him and if you don’t believe it, try and figure out why four of the 49ers practice squad members decided to stay with the Niners instead of leaving to join other team’s 53 man roster.
Everything you’ve ever needed to know about Harbaugh came to light during the media frenzy this week. Asked about his dealings and relationship with Bill Walsh, Harbaugh told the media that he got a message from the former Niners coach when he got the Stanford job, but doesn’t still have it because he lost the phone or dropped it in a toilet somewhere.
When Harbaugh took over Stanford, he showed the bravado and toughness that describes him as a player and would soon as a coach. He immediately challenged the big bad USC Trojans and Pete Carroll. Considering Stanford has just finished up their worst five-year stretch in school history, people probably thought he was certifiable for thinking he could turn around a program where kids actually go to class and want to graduate.
That initial press conference in ’07 was when Harbaugh debuted his “an enthusiasm unknown to mankind” line on how he would attack the job. People should have taken him at his word. Stanford beat USC that season as 41-point underdogs and defeated Cal after five consecutive losses. There wasn’t a massive overhaul in personnel on that Cardinal team, they just finally had a coach who could bring it all together.
Harbaugh eventually turned Stanford into a power and Orange Bowl winner, which made Niners GM Trent Baalke’s job fairly easy when he was looking for a coach in early 2011.
Harbaugh has displayed the same sense of personality and competitive drive with the Niners as he did in Palo Alto. Whether he was getting into it with Lions coach Jim Schwartz and beating teams into submission like he did to USC in ’09, Harbaugh transformed the 49ers one sideline tirade at a time. His teams are more physical, they block harder, they focus and perfect the little things, they hit harder, they hit late, they’ll run it up if given the chance, they talk shit and intimidate other teams & study throughout the week like each game is a final exam. Colin Kaepernick has talked about how detailed the Niners are in their preparation.
Harbaugh’s fuck everyone else attitude has both motivated and rejuvenated the Niners. Players like Frank Gore will run through a wall for his head coach. Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner mirror their coach’s personality when they test the limits of playing through the whistle. And guys like Mike Iupati, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks will play through shoulder injuries because of their dedication to their team and because they know their coach would. He’s the main reason this team “competes like maniacs.”
What Harbaugh has also done, is recreate my love for football and this Niners team. He doesn’t know it and most assuredly doesn’t give a shit. However, the Niners rebirth the past two seasons has made me feel like a a kid again watching the genius that was Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and the dynasty 49ers.
It’s not easy for a guy like me to become desensitized to one of my favorite sports teams, but the ’03-’10 Niners disasters pushed the limits. But Harbaugh (and Baalke and CEO Jed York) brought me back with a vision to start winning Super Bowls again. Much like his ’07 Stanford squad and the ’11 49ers, I bought into his program and am again all about “the team, the team, the team.”
His team is fun to watch because they embody everything that he stands for as a coach. The season defining decision to go with Kaepernick over Alex Smith was one I initially doubted (much like the locker room), but the higher ceiling guy opened up new possibilities and has them in this position. There were some that said that the coach was off his rocker to bench a stable known commodity that was two muffed punts away from the Super Bowl a year ago, but he explored an opportunity and went with his gut. And here they are.
The psychotically competitive Harbaugh will exact some revenge on his brother in Super Bowl XLVII from last Thanksgiving night because he’s been waiting for this moment for over a year. My anxiety level is off the charts for this game, but the biggest reason for optimism is that I bought into Harbaugh brand a long time ago. He has a way of galvanizing his team… And an idiot fan who’s basing a Super Bowl pick on a coach that seems destined to hoist the Lombardi.