Alex Smith The Black Cloud? Or Jim Harbaugh The Ray Of Sunshine?

SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 12: Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers passes against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL game at Candlestick Park on December 12 2010 in San Francisco California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Disclaimer: Before folks start rolling out the beating of dead horse .gif's, stop and take a second to think about quarterback situations across the league. This certainly is not just another Alex Smith post, but will dip in to several other topics that surround the quarterback subject as well.

Alex Smith, since drafted, has been the Rodney Dangerfield of the league receiving NO RESPECT!! Have the results he has put out warranted it? Probably. Has it been totally his fault? Who knows at this point?

High standards from 1979 to 1999 (20 years) set high expectations at the quarterback position for anyone that has followed. Joe Montana and Steve Young are two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, possibly even the two best. From 1999 and thereafter, the talent at the quarterback position has not come close to either one of those two guys for the 49ers. Two decades worth of excellence followed by over a decade of sub-par play is enough for most Forty-Niners fans to walk to their bridge of choice (The Bay Bridge, or the Golden Gate) and bungee jump off without the bungee. It has been a tough road and difficult to be a fan to say the least.

When Bill Walsh handed the keys over to George Seifert, things definitely felt different despite the continuity of winning. It's not a knock on Seifert. In his own light, he did extremely well and went on to win two Superbowls. It just felt different, no other way to explain it, but if you were fan at the time you understand the point. And when Steve Young retired with no real option as a "franchise quarterback" waiting in the wings to take the passing of the torch, things have been spiraling downward in what seems like has been a never-ending dark abyss.

When the hands of ownership changed from Eddie DeBartolo to John and Denise York, the structure and foundation of the franchise has been about as stable as the ground that lays on top of the San Andreas Fault. But in the last year or two, it seems that the York's son Jed, has been trying his best to bring back the tradition of what the older generation of 49ers fans were used to. The bottom line is that every decision made effects the outcome of every decision. January 7th, 2011 the 49ers and Team President Jed York hired former Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh...

For the last five years, 49ers fans have struggled with support of all the ups and downs that Alex Smith has showcased. There are all the arguments of whether or not changing playbooks, offensive coordinators, quarterbacks coaches, etc has had an impact, if any at all on the way Smith approaches and plays the game. On one side you have all the "winner" arguments, and on the other side you have all the "stats" arguments. If the two don't go hand and hand, there is either work to be done, or a player (or team for that matter) is just not that good. But it still raises the question, just how much does coaching impact the results? In the decade before the Walsh era, also partially led by a Nolan, (Dick), the San Francisco 49ers had a 69-82 record. It just goes to show that coaching could very well play a huge factor in a teams success and the turning around of a franchise.

After the jump, three things will be looked at. First, the quarterback position itself with the focus being on Alex Smith. Next, the coaching changes with the focus being on Jim Harbaugh. And last, a summary and brief look at the 49ers potential in the upcoming season. 

THE QUARTERBACK POSITION

Reports on NFL Network yesterday scrolled across the bottom of the screen stating that 49ers new Head Coach, Jim Harbaugh has been in several meetings with the now free agent quarterback Alex Smith which alludes to the possibility of an Alex Smith return. If any of you caught that, especially those who are extremely opposed to Smith as an option next year, you may have felt the burn of bile in the back of your throats. On the other side of that spectrum, there are those who think Jim Harbaugh is going to wave his magic wand and fix everything across the board. Which ever side of the fence you are on, to one extreme or the other, the only thing that is going to matter in the end is the outcome.

Should Harbaugh bring Smith back to mold him in to the player he thinks he can be, should 49ers fans trust that? Or has Smith shown too much on the field to create enough doubt for a complete abandonment? Or is this just simply a lack of options and the 49ers are that desperate?

Quarterbacks are by and large the most important position on the field. Some people may feel that not one player is any less than the other. This is a team sport, but on every team their are leaders and captians. The quarterbacks job is to lead the offense... and in some cases to rally the entire team.

History has shown that sometimes it just takes some guys a bit more time to get things going. Part of the idea of this post was to take a look at some quarterbacks who have struggled early on, but then went on to have incredible success after either their situation changed, they were provided with a new opportunity somewhere else, or came in to their own after they matured. Three out of the six quarterbacks featured here, are now in the Hall of Fame. Alex Smith has played in the league for five years now. He was a young 21-years-old when he was drafted, and will enter his 6th season at 27-years-old. Since Alex Smith has only been in the league for five years, the players first five years will be illustrated for comparison purposes.

 

The first player that will be looked at is one of the Hall of Famer's and in many ways faced a bunch of adversity his first few years as well. 

* = Hall of Fame

*STEVE YOUNG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR

TEAM

GAMES

COMP

ATT

PCT

YARDS

AVG

TD

LONG

INT

RATING

1985

TB

5

72

138

52.2

935

6.8

3

59

8

56.9

1986

TB

14

195

363

53.7

2282

6.3

8

46

13

65.5

1987

SF

8

37

69

53.6

570

8.3

10

50

0

120.8

1988

SF

11

54

101

53.5

680

6.7

3

73

3

72.2

1989

SF

10

64

92

69.6

1001

11

8

50

3

120.8

 

 

48

422

763

56.52

5468

7.8

32

73

27

87.24

Summary: Young had a very rocky start. Similar to Smith, he was drafted by one of the worst franchises in the NFL and was never given a fighting chance. His surroundings were not worthy of even being considered real NFL talent. The front office and ownership of the Bucs during the mid-80's were eerily similar to the one that has been in place for San Francisco in the last decade. There was little question that Steve Young was considered to be a very raw quarterback. In 1987, Bill Walsh took a flier on Young and saw the unlimited potential that the quarterback possessed. But there was another obstacle for Young the size of the state of Montana.

Young was very fortunate to sit behind the likes of a Joe Montana. But just about every time he stepped on the field to replace Joe when he was injured the former BYU quarterback was often booed. Sound familiar? In any case, I suppose that we as 49ers fans were just used to excellence. Go figure.

By analyzing Young's first five years and stats above, you would have never guessed that he would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer at the time. It wasn't until Young was in his 7th season (1991) that he really started to blossom. At that time, Young was 30-years old.

 

The next player is also a Hall of Famer. His accomplishments were remarkable, but not until he went through some growing pains. Some pundits and experts at the time speculated that he would be traded the year prior to leading his team to the Superbowl.

*JOHN ELWAY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR

TEAM

GAMES

COMP

ATT

PCT

YARDS

AVG

TD

LONG

INT

RATING

1983

DEN

11

123

259

47.5

1663

6.4

7

49

14

54.9

1984

DEN

15

214

380

56.3

2598

6.8

18

73

15

76.8

1985

DEN

16

327

605

54.1

3891

6.4

22

65

23

70.2

1986

DEN

16

280

504

55.6

3485

6.9

19

53

13

79

1987

DEN

12

224

410

54.6

3198

7.8

19

72

12

83.4

 

 

70

1168

2158

53.62

14835

6.86

85

73

77

72.86

Summary: John Elway was originally drafted by the Baltimore Colts but demanded a trade to the Denver Broncos. Elway was a two sport athlete coming out of Stanford and was drafted out of high school to play for the Kansas City Royals (which he did not). Elway came in to the league slanging the ball around with the accuracy of a Palco Firepower M4A1 (hint: not very accurate), but later on his career leveled out after about 5 years to have the precision of a S-60 Sniper Rifle (hint: extremely accurate). Elway went on to have a phenomenal career leading the Broncos to multiple playoff appearances and a Superbowl win in 1998 over the Green Bay Packers.

He never looked back and always looked forward. He stared adversity in the eye and always believed in himself regardless of what others were saying.

 

Cockiness and arrogance would be two fairly accurate words to describe this next quarterback. His swagger lead to more wins than his natural ability alone. He is also in the Hall of Fame. The nickname "Broadway" couldn't have been anymore fitting.

*JOE NAMATH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR

TEAM

GAMES

COMP

ATT

PCT

YARDS

AVG

TD

LONG

INT

RATING

1965

NYJ

9

164

340

48.2

2220

6.5

18

62

15

68.7

1966

NYJ

14

232

471

49.3

3379

7.2

19

77

27

62.6

1967

NYJ

14

258

491

52.5

4007

8.2

26

75

28

73.8

1968

NYJ

14

187

380

49.2

3147

8.3

15

87

17

72.1

1969

NYJ

14

185

361

51.2

2734

7.6

19

60

17

74.9

 

 

65

1026

2043

50.08

15487

7.56

97

87

104

70.42

Summary: In 1967, Namath seemed to have bucked the concept of him not being able to make it by throwing for over 4000 yards (a record that was held for 12 years after when Dan Fouts broke it). Although he accomplished that feat, he still managed to throw more interceptions than he did touchdowns. In his first five years, he only managed above a 50% completion rate twice. Through his first five years, he 17 more interceptions than he did touchdowns.

Namath was not the best statistical quarterback to ever play the game, nor was he considered to be bad. But he helped his team, after the early on struggles of adapting to he league, to become contenders with his "never-say-die" attitude. He went on to have several achievements which include, but are not limited to a guaranteed victory over the Baltimore Colts in 1969.

Namath finished his career with a 63-69 and 4 record. Most of those losses came in the early portion of Namath's career. He was still inducted in to the Hall of Fame.

 

Highly touted out of college with a surplus of hype, this next quarterback took his team all the way to the Superbowl in 2000 just to fall a yard and a half short of winning the big game. There's no denying that he wound up having a very above par career. But it started off with rough road and a lot of adjustments. He never had any coaching changes and he had the same quarterbacks coach for the first five years, yet people still believed in him after a bumpy first few years.

STEVE MCNAIR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR

TEAM

GAMES

COMP

ATT

PCT

YARDS

AVG

TD

LONG

INT

RATING

1995

TEN

4

41

80

51.3

569

7.1

3

53

1

81.7

1996

TEN

9

88

143

61.5

1197

8.4

6

83

4

90.6

1997

TEN

16

216

415

52

2665

6.4

14

55

13

70.4

1998

TEN

16

289

492

58.7

3228

6.6

15

47

10

80.1

1999

TEN

11

187

331

56.5

2179

6.6

12

65

8

78.6

 

 

56

821

1461

56

9838

7.02

50

83

36

80.28

Summary: It was a shame in what happened to Steve McNair in his personal life post-football. But on the field, he was a natural born player (not punny). He was originally drafted as a Houston Oiler, but the team during his tenure moved to Tennessee. In his 6th year, he finally went over the 60% completion percentage mark. From that year on, his completion rate continued to go up. Little by little he showed progress throughout his career.

McNair may never make it to the Hall of Fame, but he was a very good quarterback in the league. He appeared in three pro bowls (2000, 2003, and 2005). He was selected as an all-pro in 2003 and also earned AP MVP honors. In 1994, McNair was nominated and was named the Walter Payton Award winner.

It goes to show that persistence will help a player overcome just about any struggle.

 

Arizona State has not produced too many quarterbacks that have done well in the pro's. This quarterback is definitely the exception. His struggles were well documented early on though. Even if he had the ability to slither his way out of trouble like a snake, his passing ability didn't come around like most thought it would until he had a change of scenery.

JAKE PLUMMER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR

TEAM

GAMES

COMP

ATT

PCT

YARDS

AVG

TD

LONG

INT

RATING

1997

ARI

10

157

296

53

2203

7.4

15

70

15

73.1

1998

ARI

16

324

547

59.2

3737

6.8

17

57

20

75

1999

ARI

12

201

381

52.8

2111

5.5

9

63

24

50.8

2000

ARI

14

270

475

56.8

2946

6.2

13

70

21

66

2001

ARI

16

304

525

57.9

3653

7

18

68

14

79.6

 

 

68

1256

2224

55.94

14650

6.58

72

70

94

68.9

Summary: The snake never made it to a Superbowl, and he will never be considered a Hall of Fame quarterback. Not even close. But he was definitely a good quarterback that got a bad wrap because of his bad surroundings in Arizona. He wasn't traded until his 7th season. But the last 4 years of his career were perhaps his best. 

Plummer made it as an alternate to the pro bowl in 1998 and 2005. Had he been groomed correctly, and had a better supporting cast, who knows what would have been?

 

The very last quarterback we will take a look at recently was given a head coaching job in the NFL. He did not have the most illustrious career, but wound up having a fairly successful career. He played a role as a back up here and there throughout his career. Toward the end, this quarterback was a starter. A very good starter. He played for five teams and finished his career with 26,288 yards and 129 touchdown passes.

JIM HARBAUGH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR

TEAM

GAMES

COMP

ATT

PCT

YARDS

AVG

TD

LONG

INT

RATING

1987

CHI

6

8

11

72.7

62

5.6

0

21

0

86.2

1988

CHI

10

47

97

48.5

514

5.3

0

56

2

55.9

1989

CHI

12

111

178

62.4

1204

6.8

5

49

9

70.5

1990

CHI

14

180

312

57.7

2178

7

10

80

6

81.9

1991

CHI

16

275

478

57.5

3121

6.5

15

84

16

73.7

 

 

58

621

1076

59.76

7079

6.24

30

84

33

73.64

Summary: As you can see, the first five years were not pretty. The first three he spent in a back up role. Harbaugh's career twisted like a raging roller coaster. He understood the game very well, yet he still never could get the respect he could have potentially had. 

He now is the 49ers head coach and has the opportunity to work with a guy that resembles a career he is very familiar with in his own. Could it be possible that Harbaugh looks at smith and feels this way about him? Does he feel like he has a great opportunity to be the savior of Alex's career? The most important question is, in looking at the film and talking to Alex, does he feel like he is the 49ers franchise quarterback? Or just a stop gap?

 

Alex Smith has similarities with all of the quarterbacks listed above. Whether you dislike him as a player, he has always maintained a positive attitude and dealt with a truck load of adversity. What is done is done and cannot be undone. To sit here and speculate what would've happened had he been drafted to a stable franchise cannot be anything more than speculation. Wherever he goes from here is also speculation. He can follow the road to failure, and he can follow the road to success. But one thing is for sure, Harbaugh may be the best coaching candidate this franchise has seen since Walsh and Seifert left.

ALEX SMITH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR

TEAM

GAMES

COMP

ATT

PCT

YARDS

AVG

TD

LONG

INT

RATING

2005

SF

9

84

165

50.9

875

5.3

1

47

11

40.8

2006

SF

16

257

442

58.1

2890

6.5

16

75

16

74.8

2007

SF

7

94

193

48.7

914

4.7

2

45

4

57.2

2009

SF

11

225

372

60.5

2350

6.3

18

73

12

81.5

2010

SF

11

204

342

59.6

2370

6.9

14

62

10

82.1

 

 

54

864

1514

55.56

9399

5.94

51

75

53

67.28

Final Summary:

Coach Harbaugh recently had very positive things to say about Alex Smith, "So excited, yeah, I'm going to say it, I've been studying Alex Smith and watching him and I believe that Alex Smith can be a winning quarterback in the National Football League," Harbaugh said on Sports 1140 AM in Sacramento via Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. "I'm excited to work with him, get to know him."

http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/01/30/jim-harbaugh-on-alex-smith-im-excited-to-work-with-him/

Sometimes it is hard to seperate fluff from truth. The public comments could be driven by a lack of options, as well as the CBA negotiations (or lack there of an agreement yet). Whether the 49ers are going to bring him back is still up in the air. More importantly, Alex Smith would need to be sold on reasons to come back. If Harbaugh can sell Smith on the idea, and it is the best situation for both parties, I would imagine that we see #11 in red and gold once again as the starter in the upcoming season... should there be one.

By looking at Smith's stats above, and taking ALL things in to consideration, is it safe to assume that his career has just been a black cloud over San Francisco, or will Jim Harbaugh be the ray of sunshine that comes in to Alex Smith's life and gives birth to Smith's career finally?

 

BILL WALSH VS. JIM HARBAUGH

Really the only comparison's that should be drawn at this point are that they both coached at Stanford, they both run/ ran a version of the west-coast-offense, and that they were both 47-years old when they took over as the 49ers head coach.

Today's version of the west-coast-offense will be much more complex than they one Walsh installed in 1979 with the 49ers. Today's league has evolved, therefore some of the same things that were used back then, aren't going to be today. The Tampa 2 defense was made specifically to shut that down. However, the general concepts will be installed by Harbaugh. 

There are a bunch of differences in Bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh. Walsh's resume was a bit deeper when he took over the franchise. Walsh was a boxer, while Harbaugh played 13 years in the NFL as a quarterback. Walsh had experience in the NFL before taking over the 49ers. But their understanding of the game is very similar despite the different back grounds that they came from.

Jim Harbaugh comes from strong coaching bloodlines. His father (Jack), and brother (John) are both head football coaches. John has lead the Baltimore Ravens to a few playoff appearances, yet has still been able to get over the hump in the playoffs. Although he does not come from the same bloodline, Harbaugh's brother-in-law (Tom Crean), is the head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers basketball team. I am sure that the conversations sitting around the dinner table during the holiday's would be nothing short of intriguing.

In essence, yes, there are some similarities between Walsh and Harbaugh. But there is not enough of them for folks go out and start calling him the second coming of Bill Walsh. Note: There will never be another Bill Walsh. He died in 2007. If people can put aside the comparison's and look at things in a first coming of Jim Harbaugh sort of way, then expectations will not be let down, much like they have been with the quarterback position.

Ultimately, Jim Harbaugh will have to make a call on who he wants to lead the 2011-'12 San Francisco 49ers. It is going to take a very intelligent quarterback to grasp this new offense. We all know that Smith was a film rat and is considered to be one of the more intellectual quarterbacks in the league. That certainly won't hurt matters should the 49ers stick with Smith.

As fans, you will be faced with two decisions should Smith return. The first one is to wipe the slate clean and trust the new head coach. Or continue the negative outlook that has resonated throughout the fan base in regards to Alex Smith. That's it. Plain and simple.

 

THE UPCOMING SEASON

Vince Lombardi said it best, "Some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will be judged by only one thing - the result". 

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