Entries in Jim Harbaugh (53)


S.F. Examiner: Harbaugh talk sounds like sour whine

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

So Jim Harbaugh, who restored the 49ers almost to what they used to be, turns out to be fanatical. Which of course, those who played for him, such as the now-outraged Alex Boone, didn't dare mention while it mattered — meaning while they were playing for him.

Coaching football never has been equated to raising zinnias or marigolds. More like raising Cain. Of the great Vince Lombardi, who led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships, his defensive tackle Henry Jordan once said, "He treats us all the same — like dogs."

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner


Harbaugh’s best was always appreciated

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA — The announcement, lacking explanation, carrying no emotion, was delivered within moments of Jim Harbaugh’s last words to the media. The 49ers and Harbaugh had “agreed to mutually part ways.” 

Just like that? Not if you were tuned in, and the Bay Area, as well as Ann Arbor, where the man supposedly will take up residence, never tuned out.

The story, the agony, the questions, have been bubbling for weeks, printed in the dailies, carried on radio and TV, on Internet sites.

Harbaugh and the Niners were done when the season was done, we were told, and told again, and Sunday, with a 20-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, at last it was done.

Thus, after four seasons, most wildly successful, three trips to the NFC championship, one to a Super Bowl, so was Harbaugh as Niner coach.

We knew it was coming, knew it was inevitable, knew the people at the top didn’t like Harbaugh’s pushy, demanding style — although they did like the victories, of which appropriately there were a total of 49, including playoffs.

And yet in this world of social media and screaming headlines, where there are no secrets, Harbaugh and Niners management, meaning president Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke, attempted to hide it until the last second.

Then on the final day of the regular season of 2014, when it could no longer be ignored, the Niners delivered the news as they might have done about another empty seat at Levi’s Stadium.

Oh, by the way, kids, there will be a new coach next season. Thought you’d like to know.

Here’s the shame of all this: That on what most likely will be the final game for another memorable 49er, Frank Gore, who ran for 144 yards, giving him his eighth season of 1,000 or more and a career total of more than 11,000, the performance becomes a sidebar.

For the Niners, who came in at 8-8, the only non-winning reason of Harbaugh’s four, the main story is Harbaugh and the departure that was forecast for weeks.

Jim is a demanding guy. The way he’s turned teams into winners (at Stanford, he took over after a 1-11 season and, whoosh, coached the Cardinal to 12-1, leading to the Niner job), he can afford to be. But he gets to the egos of those who pay his bills, an independent cuss whose loyalty is to his players rather than the bosses.

When the Niners went to the Super Bowl two seasons back, facing the Baltimore Ravens, coached by brother John Harbaugh, Jim thumbed his nose at protocol. It’s tradition the Friday before the game that each coach shows up at media headquarters in coat and tie for a final press conference. John wore a suit. Jim wore the clothes he wears on the field, black sweatshirt, chinos.

Basically what Jim Harbaugh does is wear on others. Play a few bars of Frank Sinatra singing “My Way.”

Now it’s the highway. Or a private jet to Michigan, where he’s getting an offer worth millions to coach his alma mater. Of course, when Harbaugh became Stanford coach before the 2007 season, he said Michigan admitted “borderline guys” and steered athletes (student-athletes?) toward softer majors than the rest of the kids.

What he said Sunday standing at the podium in the stadium auditorium was he felt great with what he and the team accomplished during his short reign.

“I leave on good terms with Jed York,” said Harbaugh. While there were skeptics among us, York and Harbaugh embraced after Jim walked out of the locker room pregame.

Later, soaked by a Gatorade as a farewell gift from his players, Harbaugh left the turf carrying a game ball, handed to him by safety Craig Dahl, whose interception in the final moments locked up the win.

“It’s like the song ‘Time of My Life,’” said Harbaugh. “That’s what it’s been. The relationships remain along the way. That’s what a team is. As I’ve said all along, it’s been a tremendous four years, my pleasure to work with this organization, this football team.

“This win meant a lot. There have been a lot of great moments.”

Harbaugh thanked the fans — many of whom remained to give him a last hurrah — as well as the media, the team.

“These were signature years in my life.”

As, Frank Gore said, they were in his life.

“He’s a great coach,” Gore said of Harbaugh. “My best years were with him as a team. He was here, and we won. I just wish him the best. I know whatever team he goes to, whether it’s the NFL or college, he’s going to be fine. He’s going to get it done.”

The decision on Harbaugh and by Harbaugh has been made. The decision on Gore, a free agent, is pending. Does he also depart? “I wish we can get things worked out,” said Gore, who cried before the game started, considering past and future. “But I also know it’s a business.”

So does quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who in Harbaugh is losing not only the man who drafted him in 2011 after the two worked out, but the one who as a former NFL quarterback himself nurtured him.

“He has been a huge part,” said Kaepernick, “but I’m playing football nevertheless.

“He helped develop me, not only as a quarterback but as a person. He made sure you took care of your family and your teammates. But he sill pointed out what I needed to do to get better as a player.”

He’ll be advising some other quarterback now on some other team.

“You start something,” Harbaugh said about the grind this year, “you finish it. We battled. You do your best. People may look at it as not enough, but you do your best. If your best isn’t appreciated, then you do your best anyway.”

Jim Harbaugh’s best was always appreciated. If only for too brief a time with the 49ers.


Niners couldn't quell the noise, or the Chargers

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA — This was the 49er year in microcosm. And in memoriam. A season that might have been unwound painfully in a game that should have been. And wasn’t.

After all the chaos, the rumors, the questions, the Niners had a chance to quell the noise, if only for a few days, and no less significantly end their losing streak.

That they could do neither seemed appropriate in their next to last game of a season that will climax for the first time since 2010 without a winning record.

And possibly, since they now are 7-8 and play one more, with a losing record.

The Niners lost Saturday night. Again. Lost on a 40-yard field goal by Nick Novak in overtime. Lost to the San Diego Chargers, 38-35. Lost after leading 21-0 in the second quarter and 35-21 in the fourth quarter.

Lost after setting a team rushing record of 355 yards. Lost when for the 15th time in 15 games they failed to score a touchdown in the final regulation period. Or in overtime.

For a while, it seemed the Niners would have one last hurrah, a shout to echo through the dreadful silence of bewilderment, of wondering where Jim Harbaugh would be coaching, or asking why general manager Trent Baalke and team president Jed York couldn’t patch together the differences that in part turned a Super Bowl franchise into a supreme disappointment.

But a team that had a reason to win, the Chargers, chasing a playoff spot, found a way — or ways — to beat a team that already was eliminated from the postseason, had no particular reason. Except pride.

“We kept fighting,” said Harbaugh. “We did the best we could.”

There’s that one game left for the Niners, here at Levi’s Stadium, the $1.3 billion home for what evolved into a two-bit team, Sunday against Arizona.

After that Harbaugh, whose arrival in 2011 gave San Francisco the lift and the direction to become winners, will depart.

Where, to another NFL team — the Raiders? — or his alma mater, Michigan, only he knows. What everyone knows is the Niners have slipped from the their perch near the summit, and their fall could be a tumultuous one. 

Already below Seattle, they could drop below Arizona and St. Louis, an also-ran with aging linemen and a quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, apparently more qualified to use his legs than his arms.

Kaep rushed for 151 yards, including a spectacular 90-yard touchdown run, the second longest by a quarterback (to Terrelle Pryor’s 93-yarder) in NFL history. Frank Gore, 31, whose time is nearly finished in San Francisco, picked up 158. 

But for a fourth straight game, the Niners couldn’t pick up a win. Even after a great beginning.

“There’s no way to explain it,” said Bruce Miller, the Niners fullback.

To the contrary, there is.

The Niners, because of their numerous problems — only Wednesday, defensive lineman Ray McDonald was terminated because he was being investigated for sexual assault — their frequent injuries and their well-publicized dysfunction, were in survival mode from the start.

And they were unable to survive, whether the game Saturday night where the less-than-capacity crowd was less than effusive, or the full schedule. Losing to the one-win Raiders a couple of weeks back should have been the indication that the Niners were a mess.

Football is a sport of emotion as well as strength. People can say what they wish, but deep down a player must be driven. A bad break here, a tough call there, and everything comes apart. It did for the Niners Thursday night. And in other games.

Gore, who was returning after a concussion, had his finest game of the year. “There’s a man,” said Kaepernick of his main running back. Absolutely, 158 yards on 26 carries, highs for 2014.

Yet, the man wasn’t given a chance in so many other games. And now the end as a Niner is near.

The Niners' strength had been on defense. But NaVorro Bowman had a knee torn up in the NFC Championship a year ago and never played. Aldon Smith was suspended for legal troubles, including firearm violations. Patrick Willis missed the last month with turf toe. The strength became a weakness.

“I’m going to try and forget it,” defensive tackle Mike Purcell said when someone asked him if he would remember the game.

Niner fans will seek to do the same.

“We just didn’t finish,” said cornerback Parrish Cox. “We want to finish the season strong. But I don’t know what it is.”

Harbaugh may know, but he wasn’t talking.

“It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot to say right now,” he said after his penultimate game as coach.

Except, in a few days, goodbye.


Is there a future for Harbaugh, Kaepernick with Niners?

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — He had the look of a man who had just swallowed a lemon. Or a huge loss. Colin Kaepernick stood at the podium with his headphones and without any meaningful answers.

The 49ers' season has gone down the drain, and it’s not unfair to suggest that Kaepernick’s career has also.

On the first play from scrimmage, Kaepernick threw an interception. On the last, in a finish that was all too symbolic, he was thrown on his backside, sacked.

In between, on this Sunday of tectonic shift, the Oakland Raiders climbed from their embarrassment of a week previous, a 52-0 loss, and stunned the Niners 24-13 at Coliseum.

What a crushing, painful time it’s been for the Niners, battered on Thanksgiving night at their own venue, Levi’s Stadium, 19-3 by the Seattle Seahawks; caught in the constant tumult involving the future of head coach Jim Harbaugh; then getting embarrassed by a team that had won only once in 12 previous games.

And somewhere in the maelstrom was that tweet from team president Jed York, immediately after the defeat by Seattle, apologizing for the performance, or lack of same, against the Seahawks.

These are the conclusions one jumps to after the rapid flow of recent events: Harbaugh will not return for a fifth season as the man in charge of Niner fortunes. Kaepernick has been exposed as a quarterback who sees only his primary receiver.

Kaepernick was and is Harbaugh’s guy, chosen in the second round of the 2011 draft, a brilliant athlete who can throw a baseball more than 90 mph and in football can elude tacklers. Until, admittedly, they surround him in a well-planned pass rush.

When Alex Smith incurred a concussion midway in the ’11 season, Kaepernick took over, and with his speed and arm gained Harbaugh’s endorsement.

The following year, the two of them had the Niners in the Super Bowl, although San Francisco’s defense was the real reason, and in the game itself, the final play, Kaep demonstrated an inability to feather a pass, firing away an incompletion.

Over the last few games this season, Kaepernick and the Niner offense — one and the same — were ineffective.

Defensive coordinators in the NFL are well paid to develop designs that take advantage of every offensive weakness. It certainly appears they’ve figured out how to shut down Kaepernick.

The Raiders are in no way among the better defensive squads — on the contrary, they’re among the worst — but they sacked Kaepernick five times (including that ultimate play), picked him off once and limited him to 18 of 33 passing for 174 yards, a quarterback rating of only 54. Derek Carr, the Raiders' rookie QB, was 22 of 28 for 254 yards and a 140.2 rating.

Unsuprisingly. Kaepernick’s post-game comments offered little explanation of what was wrong and why. He has become notably reticent, almost as if being interrogated by an enemy solider rather than a few harmless journalists.

“We haven’t played well,” said Kaepernick, as if anyone holding a note pad or a microphone was under the impression they had.

Kaepernick did concede on that opening scrimmage play he was trying to find receiver Michael Crabtree, and the safety, Brandian Ross, “came over the top.” But he wouldn’t allow that the interception, so quick and jarring, had effect on the rest of the game.

“You leave that play behind,” said Kaepernick, an ironic choice of words because when Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski kicked a field goal eight plays later the Niners were left behind, 3-0.

Although San Francisco would carve out a brief 7-3 lead, there was a sense the Raiders were in control and the Niners, about to fall to a record of 7-6, were in trouble. Once Donald Penn caught a touchdown pass from Carr on a tackle eligible play, the 49ers were out of the lead.

Harbaugh was hardly more illuminating than Kaepernick as the coach fielded questions equally divided between the game result and his own future.

When asked about Kaepernick, Harbaugh — a former quarterback himself — understandably was not going to toss his man under the bus, particularly on a day when Kaep had been tossed under the defensive line so many times.

“I look at it as a team effort,” a subdued Harbaugh said about Kaepernick’s failing, “and we didn’t get it done.”

Not at all.

Asked if York and general manager Trent Baalke want Harbaugh, under contract, to be coach of the Niners in 2015, Harbaugh responded, “My priorities are: No. 1 winning football games; No. 2, the welfare of our players, coaches and our staff; and lastly what my personal future is.”

When a journalist wanted to know if he had coached well the last month, Harbaugh said, “You have to take responsibility so it falls on me if we don’t win these games. That’s my No. 1 priority, winning football games.”

The Niners, who next face Seattle — all hope will be gone with what seems a certain defeat at the Seahawks’ place — are in a very tenuous spot. Maybe so is Harbaugh.

Asked if he wanted to be with the Niners next year, Harbaugh repeated a previous remark, “My priorities are winning games.”

Something that has become very, very difficult of late.


Niners' Harbaugh takes on critics and doubters

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Jim Harbaugh was having his way a few minutes after his team had its way. There’s no direct line from A to Z with Harbaugh, whose very existence seems designed to keep everybody off balance.

With Jim you buckle your seat belt, button your lip and go for a ride that is never unexciting. Or unenlightening.

Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers were 22-17 winners over Kansas City on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, and the story could even stop right there, since coaches invariably say the only thing that matters is the final score.

If the coach isn’t Jim Harbaugh.

A couple weeks back, former defensive star Deion Sanders, now employed by the NFL Network, said publicly there are people on the Niners, in uniform, in executive positions, unhappy with Harbaugh. To which the immediate response is, “So?’’

Except every time Colin Kaepernick throws an interception or Frank Gore fails on third-and-one, the issue is tossed out there again. The idea is to get attention, right? And what gets more attention than another tale about the non-conformist leader of arguably the most popular team in Northern Cal?

Even if we’re told there’s no basis for the reports.

“All this noise, I don’t understand the whole thing,” said kicker Phil Dawson. “It’s certainly not consistent with the noise you hear outside the locker room. There is zero problem in the locker room. We believe in our coach and love playing for him.”

Dawson is in his second year as the Niners’ placekicker after a long career in Cleveland. Against the Chiefs on Sunday, he made field goals of, in ascending but not chronological order, 27, 30, 31, 52 and 55 yards, 15 points of the team’s 22.

Harbaugh, who sees his athletes as semi-mythical, pointed out that Dawson and others who contributed to the victory — Kaepernick, Gore, defensive back Eric Reid — should be so satisfied with their performance they can look at themselves in the mirror and say, "I’m a football player.’"

Of course they’re football players, or they wouldn’t be in the NFL, but Dawson, his nearly bald head shaved clean, isn’t certain he needs such self-congratulatory methods.

“At 39 years old,” Dawson said, “I don’t enjoy looking in the mirror very much. I’ll pretend to be a football player without looking in the mirror.”

The Harbaugh advice, of course, is figurative. He’s big on machismo, on individual success evolving into team success. Beat the guy across the line, and the team beats the opponent. Grrr.

The Niners are 3-2 now, and while expectations may have been for better, against the Chiefs they played effective defense and competent offense. And they’re still without two of the NFL’s best defenders, NaVorro Bowman, recovering from that knee injury, and Aldon Smith, on a nine-week suspension. If and when those two return, San Francisco might be pretty good.

Harbaugh knows what he has and what he doesn’t have. What Harbaugh himself has is an overwhelming desire to prove his capabilities. Just when you think you know the man, he’ll get you. Or his team will.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Niners, trailing 17-16, had the ball four-and-one on their own 29. They lined up to punt, naturally, but, sneaky devils, called a running play up the middle. The first down eventually led to Dawson’s fourth field goal and a 19-16 lead.

“Yeah,” said Harbaugh, tempering a boast. “Thought it was an important call, important play in the game. Strong important win for our team. Thought it was a great team win.”

It was a grind-out, we’re-stronger-physically-and-mentally kind of win that Harbaugh relishes, the sort of victory that registers not only on the scoreboard but the opponents’ psyches.

Harbaugh certainly was questioned again about the Deion Sanders contention that will live as long as the season does.

“The team doesn’t have to respond,” said Harbaugh in his own response. “The team has to do their job and play football. It’s my job to love them — those players, those coaches, everybody in our organization.

“It’s their job to love each other. They don’t need to respond in any other way than their job. The football team has done good. And the better you do, the more you do, then people try to trip you up. Whether you’re getting praised, whether you’re getting criticized or whether you’re having silence, all three have their obstacles. But also all three, any of the three, can add to the competitiveness, the determination. And our football is very determined and very competitive.”

Exactly like the head coach.