FanPost

Why Alex Smith is "Harbaugh's Guy" (and Kaepernick gets the clipboard again in 2012)

As a followup to my post of a few days ago entitled "I'll Take Two Of Whatever Kaepernick Is On" (which was popular with readers, but contained some language that was not appreciated by management), I'd like to elaborate on why I think Harbaugh is so loyal to Alex Smith, and why Kaepernick won't get a shot at the starting job unless Smith goes down.

Way back when the 49ers were perennial Super Bowl contenders, the internet was a dubious hair product sold on late night infomercials, and the words "Vanilla Ice" could be said in public without inducing hysterical laughter (although not in my house), Jim Harbaugh used to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Like Smith, Harbaugh was highly touted coming out of college, and was drafted with the 26th overall pick in the 1987 Draft by the Chicago Bears. And like Smith, Harbaugh struggled early in his career, posting his highest QB rating with Chicago (81.9) in 1990, his only year with the Bears in which he threw significantly more touchdowns than interceptions (10-6).

Harbaugh was benched repeatedly during his stay in Chicago, and famously (like Smith) was involved in a televised sideline altercation with his coach. (Interestingly, Mike Ditka, the coach with whom Harbaugh had the altercation in 1992, was one of Harbaugh's strongest endorsers last year when the 49ers signed him to fill their head coaching vacancy.) Harbaugh's years in Chicago were trying, as, in addition to his turbulent relationship with Ditka, he also endured constant criticism from the fans and the media (sound familiar?)

Harbaugh joined the Indianapolis Colts in 1994 as a backup, and quickly became the starter. With the Colts, in a new offense and under the guidance of head coach Ted Marchibroda, Harbaugh completely revitalized his career. He led Indianapolis, prevously a laughingstock, to the playoffs in 1995, and came within a dropped pass of facing the Evil Empire, uh, I mean Dallas Cowboys, in Super Bowl XXX. In that year Harbaugh was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time, and was runner up for the NFL MVP award. Harbaugh's TD-interception ratio that season, like Smith's in 2011, was 17-5.

The reason Harbaugh is so supportive of Smith is because, in addition to Smith's indisputable toughness and his willingness to buy in completely to what Harbaugh is selling, Harbaugh doesn't see a first round bust, or a quarterback who has been beaten down by injuries, repeated coaching changes and criticism when he looks at Smith. When Harbaugh looks at Smith, what he sees is... Jim Harbaugh.

A comment by fellow early riser mrg80, below, made me think to add this paragraph to the post. It seems like a lot of fans, myself included, feel like Smith much of the time doesn't have the intense, win-at-all-costs attitude we'd like to see. It may be that the nonchalant, low-key demeanor that makes Smith so likable in his interactions with the media make it seem as if he does not have that competitiveness and pure will to win for which Harbaugh has been so renowned, both as a coach and as a player. If anything, this is what Harbaugh's role must be this season: to make sure that he instills as much of that as he can in Smith. We all saw Harbaugh talking intensely to Smith on the sideline before the Giants game in January, while staring him down and pounding on his shoulder pads - trying to hype him up. I believe more of that is exactly what Smith needs to become the player we all hope he can be.

While the comparisons between Smith and Harbaugh are numerous, the statistical similarities are striking. Below is a statistical comparison, showing the many parallels between the two quarterbacks through the first seven years of their NFL careers. Harbaugh's stats are extended through year eight to show his improvement in his second year in Marchibroda's offense, and his first year in Chicago is not included as he was only active for six games that season and was never the starter. At the bottom, I have included Smith's college stats because of something Urban Meyer, Smith's coach at Utah, said about him a few hours after the 49ers drafted him in 2005: "he is a guy that, until he understands it, he is nonfunctional."

If that's the case, what can we expect out of Smith this year, after a full season in Harbaugh's offense and the probable additions of some new wide receivers? Is Harbaugh wrong to put his faith in Smith? Take the poll to weigh in on what you think the 49ers should do at the quarterback position in 2012.

Harbaugh

Year

Comp

Att

Pct

Yards

TD

INT

Rating

1988

47

97

48.5

514

0

2

55.9

1989

111

178

62.4

1204

5

9

70.5

1990

180

312

57.7

2178

10

6

81.9

1991

275

478

57.5

3121

15

16

73.7

1992

202

358

56.4

2486

13

12

76.2

1993

200

325

61.5

2002

7

11

72.1

1994*

125

202

61.9

1440

9

6

85.8

1995 **

200

314

63.7

2575

17

5

100.7

* Harbaugh's first year with the Colts

** Selected to Pro Bowl; runner-up for NFL MVP

Smith

Year

Comp

Att

Pct

Yards

TD

INT

Rating

2005

84

165

50.9

875

1

11

40.8

2006

257

442

58.1

2890

16

16

74.8

2007

94

193

48.7

914

2

4

57.2

2008

-----

-----

-----

-----

-----

-----

-----

2009

225

372

60.5

2350

18

12

81.5

2010

204

342

59.6

2370

14

10

82.1

2011*

273

445

61.3

3144

17

5

90.7

* The "Harbaugh Effect"

Smith (as a starter at Utah)

Year

Comp

Att

Pct

Yards

TD

INT

2003

173

266

65.0

2247

15

3

2004

214

317

67.5

2952

32

4

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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