A Place To Talk About Giants Baseball

What Makes Jim Harbaugh Such a Good Coach?

Posted in Uncategorized by Flavor on November 14, 2011

I left *football* out of the headline because I think Harbaugh could coach just about any sport he chose to. What is this guy doing that translates into this type of amazing success? He show up at the University of San Diego, a floundering non-football, non-sport program and turns them into a back to back 11-1 team. He turns the Cardinal into a national powerhouse after  Teevens and Harris threatened to turn the program into the football version of The Titanic. And in his first season with the Niners he’s got them to 8-1 after years and years of failed expectations and bad overall records.

Of course, his greatest trick of all has been to turn Alex Smith into an elite quarterback…..

When he’s getting interviewed by the media I think Harbaugh would rather be doing just about anything else. He looks stiff and his answers are vague and often indirect jabs at the media. It almost feels like he’s playing a game with them and he’s the only one playing the game.

When he was coaching Stanford I had an opportunity to be part of a group that ate lunch with him at the Kiwanis Club in Palo Alto. He started off  fairly guarded, choosing every word carefully. He almost seemed nervous. But after 10 minutes or so he loosened up and couldn’t  have been any cooler. He would follow up any questions we had for him with a thoughtful answer and then what appeared to be a genuine question for us. For instance, when I asked him for an example of what he might do differently than Harris (this lunch was right after he was hired to coach Stanford) he answered and then asked me why I thought the program had been failing for so many years. By the end of the lunch I was transfixed on this man, listening to each word carefully. I gave a lot of *knowing dude head nods*. Despite his inexperience with a big time program I was certain he was the right coach for the Cardinal….

I think a lot of what I experienced at that lunch translates into him being a good football coach. He commands respect with his presence. He comes across as completely genuine. And he has a quality that I think a lot of coaches don’t have: an interest in other people’s perspectives. I’m guessing he takes feedback from the players and his assistant coaches and uses that in his coaching and decision making.

A big part of motivation is keeping your interest on a defined goal. Harbaugh has managed to coalesce this group of *mighty men* into a common mindset that seems to be some sort of combination of “believing in them/us vs the world/keeping them focused game-to-game”.  That sounds basic but it can’t be or everyone would be doing it. He’s reacting to the team’s needs on a moment to moment basis. We see that in his “Freddy P Soft” stories. They sound corny but he really believes that stuff and his players obviously buy into it. He doesn’t seem to ever be happy or content with where he is today but rather what he has to do to keep the team focused and motivated for where he wants to be tomorrow. And I think he rolls out of bed every morning with this as the cornerstone of coaching technique.

Whatever it is, I think it’s something that wouldn’t be easy to duplicate. The way he coaches is tied directly to who he is as a man and I think everyone would agree that he’s a unique individual. I feel so fortunate to have had him as the head coach for my two favorite football teams. Being a 49er fan is fun again……

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  1. willieD said, on November 14, 2011 at 7:14 am

    A lot of factors rolled into one pretty amazing guy. I would say you start with his background, going all the way back to his Dad, his experience at Michigan, and those whose programs he was around as a young assistant. That gives you a foundation for what you want to do, how best to do it and how you want to be when you are at practice and at games around the guys. Also what type of assistants you want to have around you, so important as complicated as pro football is these days.
    Think about this: Sings and Raye wanted to be run first team too, but had no real idea how to make that work with what they had. Imo, they were trying to make the players fit their plans, backwards of the way H does it,
    Sure you can be a hardass, but you also have to have fun coaching, and a large part of that is in seeing your players have success at what they are doing. And that success breeds confidence to try and do stuff they might have only dreamed about. by the same token, lack of success is going to chip away at that confidence, and have a very negative affect on individuals and the team. Unless they can see how it is going to work, players aren’t going in 100%.
    Yes, you have to have a plan, but even more important is being able to figure out how you are going to make that plan work, and being able to explain all that so that the players understand it. And that is different at every level, and not very easy to do. You also have to be able to adjust out of your plan and have some imagination once the other team takes away what you like to do. That involves not only preparation for that, but also again getting the team to understand how to read what the opposition is doing and how to attack it in a different way.

  2. willieD said, on November 14, 2011 at 9:00 am

    I also firmly believe in the Zen concept of forgetting the Self. It can’t be about you, it’s about your players who make the plays that result in success. Maybe that’s why H appears uncomfortable and chippy sometimes in front of the media, because he doesn’t want it to be about him.
    It’s about doing what is best for your team and individual players, and how and when to do that. I cringe every time I hear this BS from football coaches like the ATL guy yesterday, “If we can’t make 6 inches, then…” No, your team is not a bunch of pussies, you ran the wrong play, idiot. How many times have you seen naked bootlegs be successful, or the pass to the TE at the goal line, because D was geared up to stop the dive up the middle play, and a fake set up what you wanted to do?
    Take your macho BS ego out of the equation and your concentration, and make a good decision, with a clear mind and strong purpose.

    • Flavor said, on November 14, 2011 at 9:14 am

      that’s the main reason I don’t like Rex Ryan. Everything is about him. Newflash dipshit: you’re not that important…..

  3. twinfan1 said, on November 14, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Well, it’s impossible to discuss Harbaugh as a coach without discussing Alex Smith. Jim didn’t *make* Alex, he simply recognized a talented QB who had been mishandled and whose confidence had been nearly destroyed. When he initially wooed Alex, it was thought to be out of neccessity but it’s clear that the men have developed a bond, which began with what I think of as Harbaugh’s test- he gave Smith the playbook before Smith was even signed. Alex went one better by organizing Camp Alex ( mocked by most local writers). By the first day of camp he was showing plays from the WCO to the other players… remember, this was supposed to be one of the teams hurt the most by the lockout, instead it’s been one of the most mistake free teams in the league- credit goes first of course to Harbaugh, but Smith’s camp is a huge part as well. But this gets down to way more than X’s and 0’s, it’s about a coach who instills confidence in his men and the QB who benefitted the most from it.

    • twinfan1 said, on November 14, 2011 at 9:51 am

      Craig has talked about this as well, saying that Harbaugh saved Smith’s career. Sadly, that’s true. Smith’s ‘brand’ was pretty much destroyed, he may never have gotten another starting gig except through injury to another QB. This “game manager” label even took a huge hit yesterday as the national and local media really seemed to finally take notice that Alex was not being hidden but was winning games for the Niners…

    • Flavor said, on November 14, 2011 at 9:52 am

      be careful how much credit you’re giving to Smith. And don’t forget, I had complete confidence that H would get the best out of Smith. I didn’t think it would be this good, I now consider him to be a top 5 NFC QB. But Harbaugh has done this at all three stops so there appears to be something he is DOING to create and foster this type of success…..

      • twinfan1 said, on November 14, 2011 at 10:04 am

        I give Harbaugh more credit than you seem to grasp- but he can’t and no one can “coach up” a lousy QB into a “top 5 NFC QB”. He gave Smith confidence and a compatible system, and something that we hadn’t here- a top defense. That’s been huge.

      • twinfan1 said, on November 14, 2011 at 10:19 am

        Harbaugh knew he had a talented QB who had been (in Harbaugh’s words) “thrown under the bus” by the organization. Jim gets all the credit for recognizing it, risking a huge outcry if he was wrong about Smith, restoring Smith’s confidence, trusting him, and installing, at last, a system compatible with Smith’s assets. That’s no small laundry list of what Jim did for Smith. But Alex had to perform-and HE deserves credit for that.

    • Nipper said, on November 14, 2011 at 10:39 am

      Alex for Mayor!

  4. St said, on November 14, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Harbaugh also spent a lot of time with Bill Walsh, who understood the psychological aspects as well as anyone.
    I had questioned whether Harbaugh could be successful at this level. Seems to have it all under control. Even the handshakes have improved.

    Hard not to think back to 81.

  5. ewisco said, on November 14, 2011 at 9:51 am

    The 49ers: Back from the dead and ready to party!

  6. twinfan1 said, on November 14, 2011 at 9:56 am

    OK- how would a Super Bowl victory with this team rank with the first one, with the Giants’ WS win, the Warriors championship in 1974? I’d say it would have to be right up there considering the low expectations even with Harbaugh at the helm, and especialy with “Alice” Smith directing…

    • Nipper said, on November 14, 2011 at 10:40 am


  7. Big flavor said, on November 14, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Nothing can compare with the first one. It would be huge but ’81 Niners and ’10 giants are on another level

    • Nipper said, on November 14, 2011 at 10:41 am

      Niners! Damn we all love a winner!

  8. Sarge said, on November 14, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Well it would be really huge for me. I was four years old in 81, so I was pretty young during the 80’s. The totality of just how good those teams were was lost on me as an elementary school student. The last championship in 94 was big for me. No, this wouldn’t be a collective climax, like was experienced with the G’s in ’10. But, there would be a pretty stout release of 17 years of frustration (wow, 17 years?!)

  9. Kevin said, on November 14, 2011 at 11:22 am

    ESPN writer giving the Niners some respect


    • snarkk said, on November 14, 2011 at 12:02 pm

      ESPN giving any West Coast team in any pro sport some attention and respect, outside of LA, is just not going to happen. It doesn’t consider the West Coast important enough in numbers to merit much attention. Hence, one year later, it’s as if the Giants didn’t win the World Series. Niners outplay NY yesterday, and ESPN gives SF some lip service love as if all of a sudden the Niners just started playing well, then go into long-winded analysis of how great Eli was and the NY comeback in the 4th against adversity. ESPN Radio spoke about the pre-game 7-1 record actually saying SF had loaded up on NFC West division wins, when there was only one so far vs. Seattle. FAIL. It’s more important to ESPN sponsors to spend more time analyzing how the Jets lost, Brady won, and why the Eagles with 3 wins are circling the drain. I’ve lived back there near DC some years ago, and to most folks back in the highly populated mid-Atlantic corridor, the West Coast might as well be Pluto. They know Disneyland is in LA and the GG Bridge is in SF. Otherwise, pffft. So, ESPN knows it’s market, and serves it…

      • St said, on November 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm

        Dan Graziano, who covers the NFC east, did refer to SF as the “superior” team yesterday.

        And there was this story the other day from ESPN. http://tinyurl.com/7awyqnt

  10. Kevin said, on November 14, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Yeah the 81 Niners and the 2010 Giants are one of a kind celebration. But I would love for the Niners to win the SB this year and have Alex be named MVP. Of course I would need a pic of Dennis’ face when they annouced Alex as the MVP.
    The media could use it as a “Priceless” commercial

  11. twinfan1 said, on November 14, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    People do persist in forgetting that Smith played at a very comparable level to this year after Raye left in 2010. It’s amazing what an improved OL, better special teams, and a stout defense will do.. the QB is the most important player on the team but also the one most dependent on the performance of the other players. Harbaugh understands this, Singletary didn’t..

  12. unca_chuck said, on November 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    94 was a looong time ago. This would be more surprising to me than the 2010 Giants were, if they were to go all the way. Mainly because of all the issues around the lockout, the limited practice time, and the sea change that has occurred. I knew this team had talent, but I was worn down by the complete lack of coaching over the past 6 seasons. It had me doubting the players. Especially Alex Smith. I didn’t think at this late a point in his career that he could BE anything more than a stop-gap. Well, he’s proven me wrong. Harbaugh certainly has maximized the talent on the team. They made unfavorable moves (AF for me), and not delving into the back up QB FA thing.

    But this has all worked out so far, and it is quite the ride . . .

  13. St said, on November 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Of course, a key with any successful Head Coach is hiring excellent ass’ts. Fangio, Roman and Seely are doing a helluva job.

  14. St said, on November 14, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Also from ESPN http://tinyurl.com/6m8kvub

  15. Sierra Nevada said, on November 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Where’s the freaking countdown to spring training‽

    Apropos of nothing, I have always loved the above punctuation symbol, a combination of the exclamation point and the question mark. Mostly I just love the name, it sounds like something cool that I hope would happen if I were ever captured and questioned by a beautiful KGB agent – the INTERROBANG.

    • James said, on November 14, 2011 at 2:24 pm

      A portmanteau combining “interrog” and “bang,” terms I remember from my legal copy reading days. In many ways, the best job I ever had: 3 nights a week, full benes, a great hourly wage. The faster you read the ridiculous lawyers’ scrawl and cleaned up the copy, the more time to read or watch sports on the 12 inch BW TV.

      • Sierra Nevada said, on November 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm

        A portmanteau‽


      • James said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm

        Surely, Pawlie or Stix have established prior usage. Really, by all rights it should be a German word, not French.

      • xootsuit said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:34 pm

        When I started practicing, I worked a firm in SF that had 24/7 word processing crews and proof readers. The woman who proofread by day wrote and published Lesbian murder mysteries. She need some extra dough and health insurance, I guess. I liked her. I recall one particularly helpful comment she made on a brief about Colombian death squads slaughtering los desechables (the “disposable ones”) in the big cities. My clients were a doctor and his family from Barranquilla. The death squads were after the Dr. because he volunteered part time at free clinics that treated los desechables. After we won political asylum for the family, the daytime proofreader was pleased to hear about it. The night time proofreader said he was a poet. I didn’t know a single lawyer who bothered to seek his help.

      • James said, on November 14, 2011 at 4:18 pm

        Beat ’em, Phlog ’em and Harass ’em? Not a typical case, the one you describe, but the night crew I was on did have a few folks from the Bay Area’s poetry scene.

      • James said, on November 14, 2011 at 4:20 pm

        I think that might have been “Browbeat ’em . . . .” 🙂

  16. macdog said, on November 14, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    I wish Harbaugh had been as daring against the Cowboys, when he took a field goal and a 24-14 lead instead of taking 1st-and-10 at the Dallas 22, as he was against the Giants (onside kick). This is strictly in hindsight; it’s tough to argue against ever taking points off the board. I’m just saying he took a gamble vs. the Giants that he didn’t take vs. Dallas. And shame on the Giants for getting burned again by Akers, the first one last year being much more costly.

    Some Giants fans are upset over the final play in which Ballard was mugged by Willis. I dunno, it’s football, and Smith made a game-saving play. I actually laughed at this quote from a Jersey paper: “Smith said part of the reason he didn’t rush was because he was tired. ‘It was just blind luck,’ he said.”

    My biggest issue was the offside call on the Giants that should’ve been a false start on the Niners, turning 3rd-and-7 into 1st-and-10, followed by the Davis TD. But hey, the Giants likely got away with a fumble on their first field goal. In the end, the Niners were a little bit better. And it was a heckuva game.

    • unca_chuck said, on November 14, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      Plus, on a tipped ball, you can tackle the would-be WR with no penalty.

    • snarkk said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:29 pm

      IMO, the replay from behind Eli on that final play showed that there was virtually no way any NY receiver was going to catch that ball, they were blanketed, plus the ball looked like it was going to be behind the closest receiver anyway. Justin’s bat down was a nice play, but I doubt without it the outcome would have been different…

      • twinfan1 said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:47 pm

        Two receivers ended up next to each other, and as you say, they were blanketed. But weirder things have happened than one catching it or drawing a penalty. Very happy to see Justin take the intrigue out of it..

  17. unca_chuck said, on November 14, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Mac, the Niners have been using that play a little bit on 3rd and short. It worked in the Detroit game and this one. It was called against them in the Washington game.

    What they do is move the TE off the line, and then a WR lined up wide steps up to the line to cover him. It is supposed to get the defense to jump offsides. Twice it worked. They got the D to jump into the neutral zone and/or initiate contact with the offense. Once, it was called (wrongly) a false start. The TE can move off the line. One guy in motion. BTW, it was 3rd and 3 and the Niners got a 1st down out of it. It worked as designed.

    • macdog said, on November 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm

      I know it’s supposed to be a shift, but sorry, it’s not, it’s a blatant attempt to get an offside call. To their credit, it worked. And Willis’ grabbing of Ballard came right after the snap and well before the ball was thrown.

      • unca_chuck said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:21 pm

        “We’re not here to fool anybody.”

      • unca_chuck said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm

        I think it was inside 5 yards of the line of scrimmage then.

        The thing is, Eli threw the pass behind both the receivers in the route, and it would have been incomplete anyway.

      • macdog said, on November 14, 2011 at 4:04 pm

        I had no issue with it, I wish the refs would let ’em play more often. Cornerbacks, especially, have it rough in this league.

  18. twinfan1 said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Well, defenses make blatant attempts to instigate penalties on the offense, QB’s use hard counts to encourage offsides.. actually you sound more miffed than happy that that the Niners got the penalty called on NY..
    “My biggest issue was the offside call on the Giants…” little bit of NY fan hiding in there, Mac ? 😉

    • macdog said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:23 pm

      The Giants got a big offside call on the Eagles on a FG-attempt when the center squeezed the ball. If that’s the second time the Niners have done this, then it’s up to other teams to be ready for it. Like being ready for an onside kick, too.

  19. twinfan1 said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Anyway that’s a judgement call- the offensive player(s) who move must not simulate the beginning of a play. The shift is totally legal if it meets certain criteria, that being one one of them..

  20. unca_chuck said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Kemp to get an 8 year/$160 million deal from the Dodgers?

    Rubber checks?

    • Nipper said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:29 pm

      BLEEP the Dodgers!

  21. snarkk said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Peter O’Malley wants to own the Dodgers again, or at least be a lead figure in a new owner group. That would add some history back into the rivalvry, I wouldn’t be averse to it. As long as they don’t bring back onto the field new, improved versions of Cey, Russell, Lopes and Garvey…

    • Nipper said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      Snarkk is not “averse to it.” News at Eleven!

      • snarkk said, on November 14, 2011 at 3:53 pm

        Let’s just say O’Malley hasn’t call me yet for my position on him taking over again. If I have the time, I’ll take his call. Like most, Sabes never returns mine…

  22. Big flavor said, on November 14, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    The gambling sites who advertise on knbr are hilarious. There are 3 different guys selling their picks and all 3 say they are “10-0 on Monday nights.” hey, those guys are pretty good, lol. Of course they all said they were 10-0 LAST week. What happened to last week? Did all 3 not play or do they only count wins???? 🙂

  23. PawlieKokonuts said, on November 14, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    First regular season NFL game I watched in years, maybe since Steve Young. Keep in mind I’m on the East Coast. In 1981, I figured, what the heck, I love the Giants, why not the Niners too? This was after being urged on by a former student of mine, Giants fan, who did the same years before me. Good timing! The Montana years. For the first time in my life I was rooting for a winner! I’m not an avid football fan, but yesterday was fun. Fun to watch them beat the other Giants, whose coach is from Waterloo, NY, where my former in-laws are from, maybe 45 miles away.

  24. PawlieKokonuts said, on November 14, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Chone Figgins being dangled to Giants? I’ll pass.

    • twinfan1 said, on November 14, 2011 at 5:57 pm

      He was a favorite here a couple years ago, coming off some great OBP years for the Angels. Maybe he doesn’t like that Seattle weather.He sure sucked there.

      • James said, on November 14, 2011 at 9:38 pm

        His BABIP was pretty low in 2010 at 314, incredibly unlucky at 215 last year. Assuming the park also robbed him of some of his SP, combined with the fact that he had *17* SH, his 2010 doesn’t look that different from 09. He might a good gamble as a utility player.

  25. zumie said, on November 14, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Being headcoach in the NFL in sometimes hard to figure. I thought Singletary had a chance to do OK, but we saw how it turned out. I remember there came a moment in a pre-season practice when Singletary got mad at Alex Smith and made him go stand on a small hill. The “hill of shame” or something like that. What was up with that? And then that time when he was screaming at Smith on the sideline, during a game that John Madden was broadcasting, and Madden said: “That’s not coaching.” No, it isn’t.
    Another baffler to me is Norv Turner, as headcoach. His teams find a way to lose a lot of close games. For whatever reason, his teams under-achieve. He will always have opportunities to be an offensive coordinator, but I think this is his final season as an NFL headcoach. I think SD is going to fire him, and I can’t imagine another NFL team giving him a chance at headcoach.

    • snarkk said, on November 14, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      Harbaugh’s steep $5Mill a year looks like a good investment for Jed. The positive vibe cannot help but assist in the stadium push in Santa Clara. I’ve seen the artist’s renderings of the stadium. I think the small site has required them to make some weird adjustments, with one side looking like a version of the Petco warehouse wall thing, for the corp, suites, I guess. IMO, it looks weird…

      • St said, on November 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm

        Hiring Baalke, who was not a real popular choice, looking pretty good.

  26. snarkk said, on November 14, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    The judge who gave Sandusky a low bail and no tracking bracelet had been a volunteer for his charity

    • Nipper said, on November 14, 2011 at 6:38 pm

      Sandusky said he never did a thing except liked to shower with boys! He just touched their legs and liked to fool around with them! He admitted it was mistake to shower with boys.

      • PawlieKokonuts said, on November 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm

        yeah, guess he wasn’t gonna admit to anything on NBC; call it a lame charm offensive. And it is offensive.

    • PawlieKokonuts said, on November 14, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      just read this blog post on similarities and differences of Penn State and Catholic Church:


      • Sierra Nevada said, on November 14, 2011 at 10:13 pm

        Great article Pawlie, not the usual facile blog-speculation, but a thoughtful summary by someone who has done some real thinking on the subject. My favorite quote from the end:

        “But anyone who seeks to combat abuse in an institution should be aware of a hidden trap: Be vigilant not only about safeguarding against sexual abuse, not only about holding perpetrators accountable, not only about turning over credible accusations to civil authorities, but also about resisting the powerful draw into feeling too sorry for the wrong people.”

  27. Alleykat said, on November 14, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Hey Nipper; You can bet Sandusky was the guy that told the kids to pick up the dropped soap bar though.

    • Nipper said, on November 14, 2011 at 7:19 pm

      Yeah I bet that bar of soap hit the deck a few times. Ouch!

  28. zumie said, on November 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Kimbrel wins NL Rookie of the Year.

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