When San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh took over the Niners in 2011, the team was consistently under-achieving. A squad loaded with Pro-Bowl talent was somehow barely mustering a .500 record under then head coach Mike Singletary. Despite this hardship, Harbaugh decided to sign with San Francisco anyways and within three years time, has turned the franchise into a perennial powerhouse.
Managing a team desperate for leadership, direction, and cultural identity, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke cut ties with Singletary after two seasons in favor of yet another former NFL player, Harbaugh.
A coach known for his outlandish attitude, Harbaugh also brought a certain “swagger” to the team that quickly spread like a Miley Cyrus youtube video. His influential, “Who’s got it better than us?,” speech and blue-collar working shirts are now both staples of the franchise. Simply put, Harbaugh is the epitome of a coach getting the most out of his players. The prototypical player’s coach.
For starters, Harbaugh is a master of breeding competition and that seems to be a part of a recipe that makes the 49ers so good. In his introductory press conference three seasons ago, he was asked why he left Stanford, and he said:
“I view it as a perfect opportunity, the perfect competitive platform…the chance to be a part of a team, that goes after the highest award in all of sports, and that’s the Lombardi trophy.”
It’s that competitive drive that makes the 49ers the team they are today. Just ask ILB NaVorro Bowman. A fourth-year veteran, Bowman did not get his break until his sophomore season as Singletary’s favorite Takeo Spikes held the job. Now entering his fourth season as the full-time starter, Bowman has been nothing short of spectacular evident by being selected to three consecutive All-Pro teams. Everyone from the players to the coaching staff knew Bowman was better, but Singletary stuck to his favorites, and never wavered, hence competition was a non-factor to say the least.
Not with Harbaugh; he will bring in players to ensure the team is performing at the highest level. Pro Bowlers or not, Harbaugh loves to stir the pot when necessary. And the NFL draft best exemplifies Harbaugh’s take no prisoner’s attitude as the Harbaalke regime has no problems targeting certain players when the opportunity presents itself.
A prime example is when the Niners drafted both RB LaMichael James and RB Marcus Lattimore, when the team already had Pro Bowl RB Frank Gore and solid backup RB Kendall Hunter. And that’s what makes him such a great coach.
But what makes him a true player’s coach?
It’s his charismatic approach in adapting to player’s needs. His innate ability to motivate players is a thing of beauty. His coaching style varies from player to player using either positive reinforcement or an old-fashioned scolding. Aside from being the ultimate teacher of the game, Harbaugh also puts his team in the best possible position to be successful.
Unlike former Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, Harbaugh devise’s a game-plan tailored to his player’s strengths. It wasn’t until QB Colin Kaepernick was named the starter that Harbaugh installed the renowned pistol offense. The offense favoring a mobile quarterback has proved beneficial to both Kaepernick and the team, and as a result now find themselves as a bona fide Super Bowl contender.
However, it’s his passion for the game that makes him the ultimate player’s coach. As a player you can’t coach heart, and as a coach you can’t fake passion. Harbaugh is often seen on the sidelines working the officials and debating calls. He will use any type of body language necessary to get the officials attention. Whether it’s jumping violently up and down or screaming at the top of his lungs, Harbaugh will do whatever it takes to ensure his team is getting fair treatment. How many coaches do you see in the NFL taking this extra step? Not very many. And although some coaching styles vary from team to team, like the great Bill Belichick, Harbaugh’s passion is unquestioned. A characteristic in which the players can feed off, Harbaugh is the ultimate competitor and leader.
In an era where the NFL head coaching job description entails a game of musical chairs, the Niners should count their blessings as they clearly found a coach that will not only bring passion, competitiveness, and heart to his team, but a coach that will never give up until the Lombardi Trophy is theirs. The Forty Niner Way!