A Plea to Jed York: The Case For Jim Harbaugh

Fooch's Note: Although we created a coach discussion FanPost, this is a perfect example of when it's alright to go outside of that. 49erFanSince1950 put together a well thought out and structured post discussing both the basics and nuanced details about Jim Harbaugh and his Stanford coaching staff. I've moved most of the FanPost after the jump because I wanted to get it up on the front page.

I think that we all agree the Mike Singletary, while a great human being and Hall or Fame player, simply does not have the necessary qualifications and experience to be a successful head coach in the NFL -- he and his staff lack a viable modern offensive system, do a poor job of game planning, play selection and game management, and simply haven't developed the young roster of players.

Charles Robinson at Yahoo Sports:

     "The most troubling thing is the most talented players aren't developing."  And I would add that, with the present coaching staff, the Niners will likely lose free agents that they don't or shouldn't want to lose.

     "Maybe it's all of the QB.  Or maybe the coaching staff just isn't working.  I'd bet on the latter."

Eric Branch's comment about system and strategy says it all:

     "San Francisco wanted to establish the run.  They didn't (25th in NFL in rushing offense).  They wanted to use the run to control the clock and turn their opponents to fourth-quarter mush.  It didn't happen (23rd in time of possession).  Finally,  at the most basic level, they wanted to score points (nope, 31st is scoring) and win games (nice try ...).

It seems to me that many Niners fans have a very short-term viewpoint -- win today's game, make it to the playoffs, win the NFC West division title this year, etc.  I'm certainly not opposed to those goals, but they are NOT NEARLY ENOUGH.  I perceive those goals as one-shot deals; conversely, my goal is for the Niners to be among the teams that enjoy repeated, continuing, long-term success -- like New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Philadelphia.  A few teams have seen the light and hired a system-driven head coach who has turned the team's fortunes around in a short period -- New Orleans and Baltimore, as examples.  Everybody else is either an up-and-down yo-yo (whose fortunes frequently depend upon injuries and/or turnover ratio) or just plain continuously bad.  I want the Niners to be among the elite consistent winners.  The Niners have done it before (see the Walsh/Seifert years) and it can be done again.  To do so, we need to hire the right head coach this time around.

Accordingly, it is time to consider alternatives for a new head coach.  Most fans and talking heads seem to agree that the Niners have been most successful in the past when they have been coached by someone with a strong background in offense and the ability to develop young quarterbacks.  The candidates now most often discussed fall into two groups: (1) offensively-oriented coaches with prior NFL head coaching experience -- Holmgren, Gruden and Billick, and (2) Jim Harbaugh.  Yes, there are other possibilities -- Pat Shurmur, Brian Schottenheimer, Mike Mularkey, Marty Mornhinweg, Scott Linehan, Cam Cameron, Kevin Gilbride -- but they have either no HC experience (and we all know where that leads) or their single NFL HC experience was very ... (be nice!!) lackluster.

If the Niners had a predominately veteran roster I would favor one of the candidates with prior NFL head coaching experience -- probably Holmgren or Gruden -- although IMO Holmgren no longer has the fire to TEACH that he had  in Green Bay and Gruden, lacking patience, seems to be better at tweaking veteran QBs than teaching young ones.  The fact of the matter is that the Niners have a young roster which needs to be taught a viable offensive system and modern strategies, tactics and techniques -- a similar situation to the state of the Niners franchise in 1978 when Bill Walsh arrived on the scene.  In that light, Jim Harbaugh would seem to be the ideal candidate -- a very strong offensive background, the ability to turn programs around, and the ability to develop young players.  But the rap against him is that "he doesn't have any NFL head coaching experience -- so you'd be getting a bunch of college coaches trying to work with professionals."  Let's examine whether that is really the case.

If Harbaugh was hired by the Niners to be their new head coach it is certainly possible that he would, after interviewing members of the existing coaching staff, retain at least some of the present position coaches.  More likely, however, he would bring much of his staff at Stanford to the Niners -- especially the coordinators.  College coaches?  I don't think so.  Let's look at their experience:

Defensive Coordinator:  Vic Fangio

24 years of NFL coaching experience --

Offensive Coordinator:  David Shaw

Father, Willie Shaw, was a football coach for 33 years, 15 years in the NFL

Played wide receiver for 4 years at Stanford; graduated in 1995; played for Denny Green (8-4) and Bill Walsh (10-3)

  • 1997  Philadelphia Eagles  Quality Control
  • 1998-2000  Oakland Raiders  Quality Control
  • 2001  Oakland Raiders  Quarterbacks
  • 2002-2004  Baltimore Ravens  Quarterbacks / Wide Receivers
  • 2005  Baltimore Ravens  Wide Receivers
  • 2006  University of San Diego  Wide Receivers / Passing Game Coordinator
  • 2007-2009  Stanford University  Offensive Coordinator / Wide Receivers
  • 2010  Stanford University  Offensive Coordinator / Running Backs

Special Teams Coordinator:  Brian Polian

Father, Bill Polian, is President of the Indianapolis Colts

One brother is VP of Football Operations / GM of the Indianapolis Colts; other brother is Assistant to the Head Coach of the Minnesota Vikings

Has written book entitled "A Complete Guide to Special Teams"

3-year all-conference linebacker at John Carroll University (Division III)

  • 2004  University of Central Florida  Running Backs / Recruiting Coordinator
  • 2005  University of Notre Dame  Special Teams Coordinator / Defensive Backs
  • 2006-2007  University of Notre Dame  Special Teams Coordinator / Linebackers
  • 2008-2009  University of Notre Dame  Special Teams Coordinator
  • 2010  Stanford University  Special Teams Coordinator

So, it would seem that with Harbaugh you would actually get some coaches with BOTH college and NFL experience.  The question, then, is what else does Harbaugh bring to the table?  Let's start with his head coaching record and the ability to turn bad programs around.

Head Coaching Experience:  Jim Harbaugh

University of San Diego

  • 2004 / first half:  2-4
  • 2004 / second half:  5-0
  • 2005:  11-1
  • 2006:  11-1

Stanford University

  • 2006 (before Harbaugh):  1-11
  • 2007:  4-8
  • 2008:  5-7
  • 2009:  8-5
  • 2010:  11-1

Combined Record as Head Coach:  57-27   .679    (For comparison:  Walsh/Seifert  .681;  Mariucci  .594;  Erickson  .281;  Nolan  .327;  Singletary  .457)


And, here are some other points to  consider concerning Jim Harbaugh:

1.  He knows what a head coaches job is -- he was born into a football-coaching family; his father Jack was a successful head coach during a 38-year coaching career; brother John is the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens; brother-in-law Tom Crean is a collegiate head basketball coach (can you imagine the discussions that go on amongst the Harbaughs at holiday get-togethers?)

2.  3-year starter at quarterback at Michigan -- 21-3 in last two years; led nation in passing efficiency; Big-10 Player of the Year; Big-10 All-Academic Team; All-American; 3rd in Heisman voting

3.  14-year NFL careet -- 177 games and 140 starts; Pro-Bowler; AFC Player of the Year; NFL Comeback Player of the Year

4.  Assistant coach at collegiate level (for his father) during last 8 years of pro career

5.  Assistant coach (quarterbacks) at professional level

6.  Has developed and refined a sophisticated and creative offensive football system -- a derivative of Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense

7.  As a collegiate head coach he has a remarkable record of turning football programs around

8.  Has demonstrated his ability to develop his coaching staffs

9.  Has demonstrated his ability to develop and mentor young quarterbacks

10.  Harbaugh is a winner -- and has been at every level at which he has ever participated, as a player and as a coach

11.  I love his philosophy:  "If you're not getting better, you're going backward."


Stanford's AD is now in the process of offering Harbaugh a contract extension.  Further, Harbaugh is the #1 candidate to become the new head coach at Michigan if RichRod is fired.  And, no doubt other NFL teams will give Harbaugh serious consideration (as the Jets did before choosing Ryan) as their new head coach.

The Niners have not had a viable offensive system or a competent head coach in nearly a decade.  Isn't it time that we did?  It seems to me that if there was ever the absolutely right guy for this team at this point in time, Harbaugh is it.  Make no mistake.  Jim Harbaugh will be a head coach in the National Football League ... soon.  I would like it to be for the San Francisco 49ers and not somebody else.  To make that happen Jed and friends should be making an aggressive run at Haubaugh, beginning RIGHT NOW!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.

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