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Parsing "the 49er way"

I take a look at Jim Harbaugh's new favorite expression.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Recently Jim Harbaugh had some comments about his contract, noting that it is refreshing that the team has decided to shelve talks until after the season. David had some thoughts about the comments, which you can read here.

In the course of the discussion, Harbaugh used a favorite phrase of his: the 49er way. He said, "That's the 49er way that I subscribe to," referring to the "refreshing" decision to stop the contract talks until after the season. This phrase has been rattling around in my head recently - mainly due to the Alex Boone (and Vernon Davis) situation. You can see here that Harbaugh has used the same phrase to express his displeasure with the holdout tactic.

I've wondered what this phrase actually means for a little while now. It seems like the type of coach-speak that most sports produce. And not just professional sports either; I remember phrases like this that my own high school football coaches used as ways to structure practice. They had phrases that they said when we started drills, phrases when we ended drills, phrases when somebody made a nice play, and phrases when somebody made a mistake.

And, in my experience, these phrases were repeated so often that they became mere platitudes, devoid of any meaning - indistinct phonemes floating through the air. This isn't a criticism, though, of their usage. I enjoyed hearing them, and I miss hearing them. They brought structure and order to practice and were like landmarks on a long drive home, comfortable and familiar.

This makes Harbaugh's use in the media curious. Perhaps my high school coaches would have used these phrases in the media had there, well, been a media larger than the local sports channel (like, local sports channel). But, Harbaugh has a national audience for his comments, even in press conferences populated by CA beat writers. So, his usage here is curious. He never actually defines what the phrase means, nor does he indicate that it has any particular usage beyond a reiteration of team-oriented platitudes.

Thus, I think we can draw a conclusion from this usage of "the 49er way:" Jim Harbaugh isn't really talking to the media when he answer questions; he's talking to his team. He is such a team-first guy (which is surely part of what "the 49er way" is) that when has to have a media session, he continues to coach. He organizes his approach to answering questions around team phrases. By talking to his players through the media, Harbaugh contributes to the culture he seeks to create on the practice field even when in an air-conditioned room.

This isn't necessarily a striking revelation; Harbaugh has a tendency to compliment players come hell or high water in press conferences. I think immediately of his comments about Alex Smith a few years ago. But, I'm not sure how common this is with coaches. I, admittedly, don't watch a ton of press conferences that other coaches give. But, even with previous 49er coaches, I don't remember them using the same tactic. The closest example might be Mike Singletary's "I want winners" rant, but that was exactly that: a rant. If anything, it felt more like an extended job interview via publicity stunt than anything else.