Jim Harbaugh: 'The football gods had a different ending in mind for this ball game'

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh chatted with the media yesterday afternoon and while he was still relatively guarded with some of his comments, there was still a defiance he has often has had with the media this season. He had several great lines throughout the press conference with my favorite having to do with his thoughts moving forward. He was asked whether he had a glass half empty or half full approach coming off such a tough loss:

I'm very proud of the team. I think it was an amazing season. In a lot of ways, beyond description. Incredible. As far as moving forward, it's going to require that we do a lot of the similar things that we did when we started this up this past year. Start from scratch. We started with people not even knowing each other. It's going to take incredible resolve. It'll be easier in some ways, harder in others but we'll be entitled to nothing. It'll be that resolve that we'll start anew.

Up until this press conference, the sting was still pretty rough following the loss. There is still a sting, but after watching Coach Harbaugh's press conference, I found myself feeling a little better. Who knows what exactly will happen this offseason, but the phrase "In Harbaugh We Trust" seems particularly pertinent.

There is plenty of good and bad heading into this offseason, but Harbaugh and Baalke represent two significant reasons I am confident moving forward. The 49ers have numerous free agent issues to handle in the coming months. The team has a full complement of draft picks, but they'll be working with end of the round picks. There are question marks about the team's offensive performance that need to be addressed. Heck, next year's schedule includes some pretty brutal matchups.

And yet, I have a certain level of confidence moving forward thanks to having this "dynamic duo" and their staffs in place. A full offseason left unburdened by a lockout has me quite excited moving forward. The sting remains, but I remain confident the future is bright.

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - January 23, 2012
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

Do you go over the game film after a game like that or do you put it aside for a couple days and get away from football? Or do you get right back into it?

"We're in the process of doing that, going over it. Doing quite a few things. Doing exit physicals today with our team, met with our team. We'll move forward."

What was your message to them in the meetings?

"Several. Basically, as Sir Andrew Barton said, ‘Fight on me men.' Sir Andrew said, ‘Hurt but not slain, lay down and bleed awhile, then we'll rise and fight again.'"

When do you rise and fight again?

"Soon. Soon."

What's on your itinerary for this week? Is it looking back? Is it looking forward to the draft? What's your approach now?

"Several things. Looking forward. There's evaluation of the team, free agency, the coming draft. Scheduling the offseason. Be quite a few things."

Did you give the players a schedule for the offseason yet?

"No."

What do you learn from this?

"I've said so often how proud I was of this team. I thought they played their hearts out. I thought we were a well-coached team. Be very proud of our guys. They stand toe-to-toe and fight every time they go out onto the field. It didn't have the ending that we wanted. The football gods had a different ending in mind for this ball game. Be forever proud of our players and coaches the way they compete."

Each of the players has come out in support of WR Kyle Williams, saying we don't blame him for this game. Does that encourage you? Does that say something about the makeup, the metal of your locker room? What do you think about that?

"It doesn't surprise me. This is a class bunch of guys. It's a class group. A class team. They have never been a finger-pointing group. To a man that I've talked to, everybody looks at themselves in the mirror first. Things sting as it relates to what we could have done better."

Before you came out to talk to us yesterday after the game, you went around the locker room and reminded all the players about the 1:00 pm meeting today. Why did you do that?

"I had failed to do it right after the game."

Is it customary for you after games to remind players of the meetings?

"Yes."

One catch by a wide receiver in this game. Do you have an explanation for that? Is it at all that maybe you need an upgrade at that position?

"I think there's a lot of reasons. I'm not going to turn this press conference into a personnel meeting."

You could.

"I'm not going to though. There are a lot of factors. You look at the Giants, they had 11 series. Their last 11 series they gained 124 yards. Our defense was playing outstanding. There was many factors."

How soon would you like to have a sit down with Alex, or maybe that's already happened. Just to say, "Hey, let's move forward." I know both parties want to make something work. Is that a top priority or do you let things decompress for a week or two and then say let's reconvene and get this deal done?

"I talk to all these guys every day. Pretty much every single day, almost every guy. They know how I feel. I know how they feel. No, we're not scheduling sit-down meetings with anybody on the team, from my standpoint, because I know them, they know me."

So you would expect something to maybe happen soon then?

"What are you referring to?

Re-signing Alex.

"I'm sure there's going to be a process there. I can't give you soon, later."

Now that your rookie year as a head coach in this league is over, what do you know now that you didn't know six months ago that feeds into your process of being a better coach every day?

"I don't have that list in front of me."

Have you talked to John Harbaugh since your loss and did his loss yesterday make that day even worse for you? Is it a comfort to you, in any way, to have him go through something similar?

"I have not talked to John, but that was another painful thing. Was really pulling for him and the Ravens team to win the game."

Were you able to watch that as it was unfolding?

"Yes, I had that on in the locker room."

Both of those games had pivotal fourth down decisions you had to make. I think you had a 4th and six, you had the 4th and one. How close was it in your mind whether to punt or go for it? What were the factors you were weighing?

"The factors on both of those two fourth downs, one from the 45, the other from the 42, was to punt them down inside there, get them backed up, and stop them. Then get the return punt. We feel like if you can pin a team inside their own 10-yard line to start a drive, the percentages say that's worth three points. The return field position is going to net you three points."

How serious was WR Ted Ginn's injury that kept him out?

"Enough to keep him out."

Does it require surgery though?

"I don't think so."

Kyle Williams' dad said Kyle had an injured shoulder in the third quarter. Were you aware of it and can you give us any update on what they determined that injury was?

"Kyle was evaluated today. There's no separations, but he's very sore. He told me that today. He was soldiering through it. I wasn't aware of it during the game."

Now that the season is over, is your mindset that your team went from 6-10 to overtime in the NFC-Championship game with no offseason. Do you take that glass half-full approach or do you look at it as we fell short of our goal? We lost our last game.

"Like I said, I'm very proud of the team. I think it was an amazing season. In a lot of ways, beyond description. Incredible. As far as moving forward, it's going to require that we do a lot of the similar things that we did when we started this up this past year. Start from scratch. We started with people not even knowing each other. It's going to take incredible resolve. It'll be easier in some ways, harder in others but we'll be entitled to nothing. It'll be that resolve that we'll start anew."

WR Michael Crabtree said after the game that he didn't feel like he was put in a position to make plays, to be a playmaker, didn't get the ball thrown his way. Do you agree with that? You ended the game with four three and outs, at some point should Alex have tried to force the issue to give Crabtree and the other players a chance to make first downs, to make plays to win the game?

"You guys talk to these guys right after the game. Right after a bitter type of a loss. Then you talk to them the next day. I'm sure you could go to every guy and get some raw, emotional feelings. What they're saying, what they're interpreting. Then you're going to come back to me for the comment and I have no comment about that at this time."

There was still a lack of production by the offense at the end of the game.

"It was going that way. Both sides, both offenses were lacking in production at the end of the game. It was that type of a football game."

Did TE Vernon Davis' penalties disappoint you?

"I was disappointed in the call, that that was a penalty. Using a prop. That was a structure. To me, that was no different than Lambeau Field, when they leap up into the stands and stand up in the stands. That's not a prop that Vernon brought out of his uniform somewhere. That was a structure, he stood on it. I was disappointed in that call in this type of game."

Are you looking forward to having the entire offseason with this coaching staff and these players to really sit down with them and everything?

"Yeah, very much looking forward to having an offseason. We were in uncharted waters last season, with no offseason. Ironically, I think the ones that were really affected by it were the players that were first-year players last year. That did not experience an offseason. Guys like the [LB] NaVorro Bowman's class. And I hope our first-year players this year take note of that and just how important that the offseason is and how important it is to train and take advantage of what's here with our strength trainers, our trainers and our coaches."

DT Justin Smith won a lot of your guys' prestigious awards. How pleased were you to see that?

"I was just pleased with Justin Smith and many others. It's like I said at the beginning, really wholeheartedly really pleased with this whole football team."

How many times have you looked at the Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw fumble, or whatever it was? And what have you determined about forward progress when you see it?

"My opinion, that was a fumble. And I'm sure the league will defend it. And the officials will defend it. But to me the play was continuing. There was still struggling going on by Bradshaw. So, I feel like that was a fumble. We had a game against the Giants, the first time we played them, and [S] Donte Whitner stripped the ball where the hit's made at the six and then he rips the ball out at the nine going backwards. Yeah, didn't like that it wasn't a fumble, but felt like that was forward progress, etc. This one, I did not agree with. I felt like is was a fumble. I felt like this is analogous with the ‘Tuck Rule.'"

Alex mentioned that he's reliving some chances that he missed. Overnight he was thinking about them. Did you see several chances that were there, whether whoever was at fault or did you see these plays that were there to be made offensively?

"Well, I think we're all going through that right now, to where we look at ourselves. Look at yourself in the mirror. What could you have done differently? Wishing you had done the other because you know the way the decision worked out. And we're going through that pretty much man for man on the football team and the coaches."

Did this team overachieve, underachieve? Get exactly what it deserved? How do you feel about that?

"Like I said, I think it was an incredible season."

But you don't look at it in terms of maximum potential versus...

"It was an amazing season. I think the team did a tremendous job, incredible."

Jim, do you plan to keep your coaching staff intact? If you had your way would this group of coaches all stick together?

"Absolutely. I think this is, like I said, it's a well-coached team. And a team that plays their hearts out. So, very pleased on both of those foundations of our team and want to keep the band together. Want to keep this together going forward."

You've talked throughout the year you like this team. Obviously there's going to be turnover. How difficult is that going to be when that process comes to see some of the guys who were contributors on this team go other places?

"Well, I think a couple things there. If a player could just make significantly more money going to another team than we would be willing or able to pay them, then I would be happy for those players. But, we're going to compete. We're going to compete for the guys that played 16 games, who were consummate team guys. That's what I've told them and that's what we'll do. The grass isn't always greener. And our players have built up a lot of equity here. With me, with our coaches, with our organization and then people, they're going to make the best decisions for their family, themselves, and that'll be life happening. But, hopefully they've enjoyed their season here and being a part of this team, and we'll see how it shakes out."

Is part of the selling point that they're going to have to make sacrifices to be part of, potentially, something special here?

"No. No."

How important, just for continuity, would it be to keep QB Alex Smith with the 49ers next year?

"Important. It's well documented on the record as saying that."

Has anyone contacted you about your assistant coaches, hoping to talk to them about promotions or jobs?

"I'll never get into that. I never do. I never talk about other people's jobs other than my own. I don't like speaking for somebody else, for anybody else's job that's out there."

You couldn't tell us if somebody's called you without saying who it was they called about?

"I'll just leave it at that. I don't talk about other people's jobs other than my own. I can't take it much further than that."

Jim, you've also talked a lot in the past about - everybody has to earn their position. If Alex comes back, is it just his job or does QB Colin Kaepernick get a chance to show you over the entire offseason, and in training camp, what he can do?

"Well, I think you pretty much know how we go about that. Everything is earned. Everything is competed for. That was the beauty of Alex Smith in this past offseason. Many people have written how we told him the job was his, we never said that. We said that we would get the best quarterbacks in here and throw out the balls and that's a position that's earned. That's never an anointed position. I've always been very exact in the way we've said that. Not just the way we say it, but the way we do it."

Will GM Trent Baalke be in on the player evaluations with you, or do you take your own evaluations to him when it comes to free agents. Do you guys work it out with who stays, who goes, that type of thing?

"Again, this isn't a personnel meeting, even about how we do things. There'll be evaluations as an organization and really get different opinions, you get a diversity of opinions, and you bat those around. But, we were pleased with the way our players played. So, they'll be good evaluations."

Do you expect most of your Pro Bowlers to participate?

"I don't know. I know of one that said he wasn't. So, I couldn't tell you exactly."

Who's that? Are you willing to share?

"No."

Are there any medical surgeries that you would share too?

"Anybody getting surgery that I know of? I don't think so. I don't know of any right now that are getting surgeries."

How much better positioned are you this offseason to evaluate your team based on that you coached them all year, as opposed to last year, you came in and probably had to study the tape. How much more confident do you feel knowing the team?

"Significantly, and that's obvious. Do I know them? Yeah, I'm around them every day. Significantly more. There's equity built up in that."

Can you talk a little bit about how difficult it really is to go from 6-10 to an NFC-Championship game? That's kind of an aberration in this league. It happens, but it doesn't happen very often. Even historically when you look at it.

"Hard. It's hard to get there. Hard to get to that game. It doesn't just happen. It's a credit to everybody. It'll be hard again next year."

How did yesterday compare for you as a coach, compared to you as a quarterback 15 years previously.

"It didn't really compare. They were two different things."

How'd you spend your time after the game? What did you do last night?

"Is it just California that everybody just wants to know how you feel? Care about what you thought, what you did, how you felt, how your pinky feels. Is that just a California thing? Back where I come from, nobody really cares. In my opinion, it is a California thing."

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