49ers Leadership And Creating An Environment For Success

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh chatted with the media today (transcript after the jump) and after that Carlos Rogers chatted at his locker. It was interesting to note a couple of comments in regards to some player awards the team hands out. The team gives out game balls every week, but apparently Carlos Rogers made the suggestion to hand out an award for scout team player of the week.

While this isn't exactly the biggest thing in the world, this strikes me as one more example of quality leadership from the veterans, as well as the great environment that is being developed within the team. While the team does have to prepare and execute the game plan week in and week out to have success, these types of additional things would seem to create an environment where it is easier to find success.

The 49ers offense has stayed fairly constant this season, but the defense had a good deal of turnover in the roster and specifically in the starting lineup. Nonetheless, the coaching staff appears to have created an environment conducive to success. Rogers discussed it at his locker in the final answer of the transcript linked above. He pointed out some questions that secondary coach Ed Donatell has asked during practice.

What is interesting is that they are not yes/no questions, but rather require a level of discussion and player engagement. Some of the questions include "What did you think on this route?" and "How should we play this?" These kinds of questions force the player to think about what he is doing and better understand both the play being called and the reasons for calling that play. I consider myself a fairly analytical person and this kind of coaching fascinates me in how it can breed success.

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - November 2, 2011
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center 

The reason for moving WR Michael Crabtree from X to Z (receiver) is...?

"It's what was best for our team. If you look back before that move, we had Michael as an X, [WR] Braylon [Edwards] was an X, [WR] Teddy [Ginn] was really originally trained as an X when we first started here. [WR] Joshua Morgan and [WR] Kyle Williams were the Z's, so we were short of Zs. We needed another Z." 

For us who don't know and for fans who don't know, what's the biggest difference between the X and the Z?

"The biggest difference is the X is sometimes called the split end, he's out there by himself usually. The flanker, also known as the Z, is usually with a tight end, so he's usually to the two-receiver side, the strength of the formation." 

Is he the better blocker typically?

"No, we expect them both to be the better blockers. They're interchangeable in a lot of their assignments. They're pretty interchangeable but that's the biggest difference." 

The X is on the line of scrimmage?

"Yes, usually." 

So does that mean he has to be stronger to get through?

"There's really no height requirements or size requirements that differ from the X and the Z." 

Back in the olden days, the Z was sort of the feature guy. Is that still the case or is it, again, more of an interchangeable matchup type thing?

"Interchangeable." 

The team you're playing, they're coming off a shutout on the road. Do you have any kind of preference, would you rather be playing a team that's hot or would you rather be playing a team that's had a really bad week?

"This is going to be old fashioned football in a lot of ways. 50-degree weather on grass. Strong, physical people that we're going to be going up against this week in all phases: offensively, defensively, special teams. Offensive linemen, they're going to have to keep their hand on the breast plate and up under the ribcage and they're going to have to run. These guys are strong, physical men that want to two-gap you and see how far up the field they can knock you back. It's the kind of game that should get our guys' blood pumping. It's going to be a real test." 

Is this the kind of team that your team is built for?

"We'd like to be. We would strive to be that. We'll find out because this would be a test to that strength." 

Would CB Carlos Rogers blood be pumping anyway? To go back to his old stomping grounds?

"Whose?" 

Carlos Rogers, would you imagine?

"I would guess yes, but I haven't talked to him about that. I've talked to different players about that at different times. I think individually they look at it differently playing their old team." 

What did you like about him when you guys explored the idea of signing him?

"First, I liked him. Just the conversation that we first had on the telephone and then in person. Just liked what he was saying. Liked where he was coming from and liked his attitude. Liked his ability, as well. That's the first thing I liked." 

What did he say to you that you liked?

"He wanted to be part of a team. He wanted to be where it was about football. He wanted to compete, didn't want anything handed to him. Those were the general things." 

When you talk to players that face former teams, what do you say to them? Do you have to caution them? I would think it can also be a good sense of motivation to do well against a former team. What would you say to Carlos when you talk to him about that?

"I don't know what I'll say, if I even say anything about it. There's plenty of motivation for this football game. You might be talking about a degree percentage of motivation, it's not that much. What are we talking about?" 

Can you see it being distracting for a player though?

"I don't think it's that big of a deal." 

We like Carlos in the media because he's a good talker and seems to enjoy talking to us. Can you talk about other aspects of his personality that shine through to you off the field? He just seems to be an engaging guy.

"You like being around him. I like the way he practices. I like the way he listens. I like the way he gives input. I like how engaged he is in meetings. I like that he's just on top of things. His mind doesn't wander when he's in meetings or on the practice field. He's locked in. He's a technician in all facets of being a good football player." 

Has he said certain things in terms of input that have really struck you?

"There have been a few things. I think the latest one was he suggested that we give a scout team player of the week, along with game balls to the offense, defense, and special teams player. I thought that was good and we implemented it right away." 

Who got game balls before?

"Pardon?"

Who got game balls before? Was there an addition to that?

"Before what?" 

You said he suggested offense, defense, and special teams game balls, right?

"We had been giving out game balls." 

So the scout team was the addition?

"Correct. A demonstration player of the week recommendation. Offense, defense and special teams player." 

Did T Joe Staley get a game ball from last game?

"He did. He did." 

When you look at Joe, does he sort of serve as the spokesman for that offensive line and what do you like about Joe's play this year?

"I don't know anything about being the spokesman. I wouldn't say that." 

Why not? He seems like, to us at least, he represents the offensive line really well.

"There's no title in football for spokesman. I've just never heard of that before. But he's a tremendous football player. As athletic as they come and takes a lot of pride in that unit, that's for sure. He played really well in that game, that's why I gave him the game ball." 

Is he the leader of your line? In terms of captain of your line?

"Again, we don't have that title of captain of the offensive line, but if we did, he would probably be that guy." 

I want to introduce you to Phil Barber. He writes for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, a colleague of mine. He's doing a piece for the NFL publication and he has some questions not about game balls and stuff.

"You guys look like you could be brothers." 

Well, we're colleagues. 

I do have a couple of annoying big picture questions. If you were to chart your coaching career, San Diego, Stanford, here, what would you hope that people would say about a Jim Harbaugh football team that could be transferred to all those places?

"I wouldn't have an answer to that. Too busy asking questions about who we are as a football team right now to give you a good answer." 

Xs and Os aside, your approach to the game, your philosophy of building a team and how football should be played, are you the same coach now that you were when you got to San Diego in the early stages there?

"Again, I didn't have time to think about that or talk about it. Peel the onion back, get into your soul. I don't know how much is there. Pretty much transparent as a baggy. What I'm thinking about is this game and preparing for this team. Very superficial that way. I'm thinking about this and this alone. It consumes us." 

I have a question along those lines about your transparency. I read that in the National Football League, you're only friend is your brother. Do you have friends outside of the National Football League or are you sort of a loner?

"In the context, they're not your friends, you're trying to beat them." 

I understand but outside of football. Put that aside, if you can, for a moment.

"A few. I have a few, Lowell." 

You do?

"Yeah." 

Do they go back to your childhood or are they recent? Do you speak on the phone, do you see them often? Matt Maiocco and I are friends. He's coming over to drink wine at my house in a week or so. The crib that my grandson sleeps in is a Maiocco crib. We're friends. Do you have friends like that.

"I have a few, yeah." 

Uh huh. Close?

"Close, yeah." 

Do you tell them what's on your mind? Look how embarrassed you are.

"I don't like talking about myself." 

Who helped you make the decision to take this job rather than stay at Stanford or did you seek guidance from anybody?

"My wife. I did talk to my dad and brother but they, like my dad said ‘it's a decision you have to make'." 

Nobody else outside that little group?

"No, not too much. It got to the point where they were all good options and I kind of just, would have loved to coach them all but I thought this was the best opportunity." 

I have a question about last game. Did QB Alex Smith slide too late on that one play?

"Yes. Are you asking if it's a penalty or not? From Alex's technique, yes Yes, Alex, his technique, the way he should be doing that, he shouldn't be sliding that late, feet first. If you're going to go feet first, that's an early thing before you get into traffic. If it's going to be a late slide, it really needs to be head first or dropped to get as horizontal to the ground as possible." 

You had no problem with the non-call?

"It's getting to the point where you don't know exactly what they're able to see, what the rule really is, the clarity of it all." 

Did you seek clarification?

"Yes, we're seeking it. Always want to be on top of that so you know what to tell the players." 

Did he make it through that okay?

"Alex?" 

Yeah, physically?

"Yes." 

Do you consider yourself an innovative play caller? People now look and see that you threw to a couple big guys for long gains last week and say this guy is an innovative play caller. Would you consider yourself?

"No. [Offensive Coordinator] Greg Roman is an innovative play caller. This is a Greg Roman offense. A lot of times people say ‘Jim Harbaugh offense' or something. We contribute. Myself, [Wide Receivers Coach] Johnnie Morton, [Quarterbacks Coach] Geep Chryst, [Offensive Line Coach] Mike Solari, [Offensive Line Coach] Tim Drevno, [Tight Ends Coach] Reggie Davis, we were contributors but Greg is the majority of this offense as the play caller and the schematics. That's the way it's been this year and that's the way it's been the last couple of years when we were back at Stanford, too. The greatest share is Greg Roman." 

Did you give him a thumbs-up both time he said ‘I want to throw to Isaac' and ‘I want to throw to Staley'. Is that an automatic go for it?

"Yes. The Joe play... that was in our openers. We had talked about that one as a staff. The play to Isaac ... that was called by Greg on the spot. Thumbs up on that." 

Can I ask you real quick question about Stanford? I know you went over there during bye weekend. From what you've seen from them, specifically coach [David] Shaw, what have you seen from him how he's put his own stamp on the program? I know you were busy with the 49ers, but from what you've seen have you seen the offense evolve or things change with Coach Shaw?

"Well, not in their day-to-day knowing how much has changed, but they're definitely doing a great job keeping the teams they have played off balance and making it look easy, and it's not easy. They are all doing a tremendous, tremendous job over there." 

Coach Shaw, he was on your staff. What made you hire him on your staff?

"Got a great recommendation from Johnnie Morton who worked with David when they were at the Raiders and then, Dave and I worked together at San Diego and then it wasn't a recommendation anymore. Hired him at Stanford." 

What did they say about him to make you want to hire him?

"All the right things." 

Anything new on DT Ray McDonald?

"No, no hopefully we'll have more information for you as the week goes on here."

You seem to be a lover of all things manly and macho about football. What was your reaction when LB Ahmad Brooks gets that sack without his helmet on and comes off the field? Blood coming out his mouth, out of his nose, all of that stuff.

"Loved it, loved it. Wished he would have come wiped some off on my cheek.  We have a great picture of it in our team room now, him making the sack without the helmet. Doesn't even have his eyes closed either. A lot of guys would have probably closed the eyes when making that tackle without a helmet, but not Ahmad Brooks. Loved it, loved it."

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