By Jerrell Richardson
When General Manager Trent Baalke and the San Francisco 49ers named Jim Harbaugh as the Head Coach almost two years ago, not even they realized they had struck gold. Since taking over the team, Harbaugh has transformed the 49ers from one of the worst teams in the NFL into a Super Bowl contender. This season has presented a new set of challenges, but Harbaugh continues to press the right buttons at the right time. It took a late season quarterback change, preparation of every player on the roster and his uncanny ability to avoid a losing streak to not only get the 49ers back into the playoffs, but to do so as the #2 seed.
It all started with the concussion to Alex Smith. It gave Colin Kaepernick a chance to show what he can do and the rest is history. Alex Smith was good because he was efficient and smart with the ball. However, Kaepernick, as Harbaugh so eloquently put it, gives the team the best chance to win. The job of the coach is to put his team in a position to win, and not worry about the feelings or the circumstance. Smith complimented the defense and running game and can thank both for most of his success. Kaepernick on the other hand makes the running game better, seems to have more chemistry with wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and by the offense playing well, he makes the defense better. Harbaugh realized this and made the difficult choice of benching Smith in favor of the inexperienced Kaepernick.
Next Man Up
What makes this unfortunate is that it was an injury that resulted in the switch at the position, but that’s football. The team dealt with a variety of injuries down the stretch, losing two key players, (Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams) on the same play, but did not let it get in the way of them winning the NFC West. Harbaugh refers to practice as development as he sees it as a chance for the future stars of the team to develop, and it was his preparation of every member of the team that allowed them to brush off each injury. The biggest find was LaMichael James, who like Kaepernick has taken advantage of an injury to showcase his talents. Football is about preparation and execution, and Harbaugh continues to outwork his opponents from the preseason to the final whistle. He had the 49ers ready for injuries that would have devastated most teams.
All He Does Is Win (After a Loss)
The most telling stat about Harbaugh’s ability to get his team to the playoff’s is that he avoids losing streaks. Under his guidance San Francisco has yet to lose back to back games, and the reason they are resting during the first week of the playoffs. The regular season is about stacking wins, and by following up every defeat with a win they were able to outlast the rest of the division, and most of the NFC. The trap that comes with coaching such a talented team, is that every loss can be viewed as a cause for concern. The reality is that nobody goes undefeated and it’s important not too panic. Throughout this season Harbaugh has yet to lose his cool, and his team has followed suit.
Super Bowl Aspirations
Harbaugh has a chance to add to an already impressive resume. He has a 24-7-1 regular season record, a NFC Championship Game appearance and if able to add a Super Bowl to the list will join the ranks of the coaching elite. He will have a tougher road through the playoffs, but has has proven that he has figured out the formula for regular season success, and must now transfer it to the condensed 3 game schedule he is now faced with. Both he and his team will be ready though on January 12th.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.