He screamed and yelled and mooned his own players at halftime. He wore a big stopwatch around his neck, but could never figure out the subtleties of a two minute drill. He diminished the quarterback position and had a propensity to “look at the film” after every loss, which, near the end, were inevitable.
His predecessor was Mike Nolan. A coach who will be remembered for suits over substance and still water offensive performances that reeked through the city of San Francisco like an open sewer.
This period, which has now infamously become known as the “Nolantary” era, was the final poisoning of a once vaunted and heralded family tree of coaching and championship success that started with “The Genius,” Bill Walsh, in 1979.
The Bill Walsh coaching tree spread its branches across the entire NFL and stamped the 49ers logo as the benchmark for NFL franchises and arguably sports franchises in general.
But one day, suddenly, with little warning or regard, those branches and roots were systematically cut and the franchise melted away to treacherous levels of sub-mediocrity.
It became a period defined not only by losing, but by sheer tomfoolery with Yakety Sax soundtracks constantly playing in loop.
Those days are now over and oddly enough, seem like a distant and ghostly memory. It has been nine years since the San Francisco 49ers have been in the playoffs. The longest period since anyone would ever care to remember in fact.
But it should be noted that it’s not like the 49ers limped into the playoffs with some ragamuffin approach that allowed them to fall backwards into the tournament. No. This team came out with a plan, a passion and with a renewed sense of pride all season, eventually clinching the second seed in the NFC.
The San Francisco 49ers are the proverbial sleeping giant. They have awaken to find themselves in the drivers seat of a big semi truck that boasts a powerful, tactical rushing attack as well as the league’s top ranked defense in a myriad of categories.
They are the archetype of the classic “three phase football team” with eight pro bowlers, including both the kicker and the punter.
This renaissance has been credited to one man: head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh, an old buddy of Bill Walsh’s back at Stanford before Walsh lost his battle with Leukemia in 2007, has restored the Walsh Coaching Tree back to its roots in San Francisco.
Harbaugh called the San Francisco job “the perfect competitive opportunity,” and immediately implemented his version of the famous West Coast Offense -- which is really a collection of organizational principles as much as it is an offensive style.
Where Nolantary attempted to scheme by brute force, Harbaugh schemes with the same elegance and grace as his mentor, Bill Walsh.
Harbaugh took a quarterback in Alex Smith than Nolantary could do nothing with and turned him into a productive “game manager,” utilizing Smith’s strengths rather than weaknesses. It also probably does not hurt that Harbaugh, an ex-quarterback himself, considers the position the most important in all of sports.
The 49ers stormed through the season with wins over the Bengals, Lions, Eagles, Giants and Steelers. They finished 13-3 and clinched the NFC West. Sound familiar? It should because these are the 49ers we know and love and remember.
Now, as the tree is restored, it’s onto the playoffs in pursuit of that sixth Super Bowl win.
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