A collection of sports stadiums feature clever street signs that play to the history of their franchise, but 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is more about the future.
Known for his motivational devices, Harbaugh most recently had a street sign erected that displays, in all caps, "Forty Niner Way." The sign was appropriately placed between the team locker room and practice fields, thus ensuring players see it before and after workouts.
Obviously it comes with a double meaning.
Under the new regime, there seems to be a 49er way of doing things. The central idea and to keep it as simple as possible, the 49ers are built on fundamentals like tackling, ball security and a physical brand of hit-you-in-the-mouth football.
But more than that, this most recent motivational tool is Jim Harbaugh keeping this team in constant forward motion.
He's got the entire organization buying into his many philosophies and particular way of doing things. Not since Bill Walsh has a 49ers head coach had such control and a concrete idea for the future. He knows what has to be done, and seems to know how to execute his vision. But aside from the personnel decisions, game-planning and such, Harbaugh at his core is a constant motivator.
He seems to have this endless supply of innovative and creative schemes to keep his players focused and engaged at all times.
But will Harbaugh's well of motivational ploys ever dry up?
Taking a Look at Coach Harbaugh
On more than one occasion during the NFL season, Harbaugh gave up his first-class seat to players on flights to join the majority in economy-class. He would then hop from seat-to-seat, interacting and talking with all sorts of players.
Harbaugh donated something very special to his heart and home when he bestowed the now famous “Who’s got it better than us?” victory chant upon his team. The players took to it like a moth to a flame, and they know where it came from—when he was growing up, it was a Harbaugh family motto.
In 2011, Harbaugh introduced the infamous and explicit honey badger video, enforcing a take-no-prisoners mentality in his players. It loosely related to his blue-collar philosophy, which made it a relevant and effective motivational tool.
The 49ers coach will also narrow his motivational schemes to individual players, to give them the extra fuel they need to take a step forward. Heading into the 2012 season, Harbaugh was caught saying this offseason that Michael Crabtree has the best hands of any receiver he’s ever seen.
At the end of his first preseason with the 49ers, Harbaugh distributed light blue, collared work shirts to all the coaches and players, with personal first-name inscriptions on a patch on the front. Certainly a clever way of Harbaugh making one of his more preached messages something tangible in gift form.
He also does a lot of little things, like interacting with every player, which makes each member of the team feel equally appreciated and that goes a long way. Harbaugh's methods don't end off the field either; he has a presence on game day and in the locker room.
Before the first offensive possession of every game, Harbaugh ritually pumps up Alex Smith by hitting his shoulder and chest pads.
Harbaugh is a player’s coach, and it’s documented that he has an “open-door policy” for any of his players, including but not exclusive to non-football related issues.
One could say the pursuit of Peyton Manning was an unconventional but potentially great motivational ploy engaged by Jim Harbaugh. Its purpose of course to make Alex Smith aware that last year was last year and the 49ers were exploring all available options because they want to win a Super Bowl now. Given how Smith came back and performed in 2011 with a chip on his shoulder, he might respond positively to this sort of tactic.
The verbiage Harbaugh uses has alpha qualities—when he says things like "competitive challenge" and "mighty men," it gets the players fired up. He does not shy from emoting his passion for the game, and it serves as a constant inspiration to the rest of the organization.
He is also vocal on game days and very protective of his players. He will never throw one of his players under the bus. Even though players like Braylon Edwards and Chilo Rachal did not work out and were shown the door, there was never a bad word spoken about either of them, nor anyone else who is no longer with the 49ers.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com provided faithful with a glimpse of the new Forty Niner Way sign, as well as some input by a few players.
Coach gives us some good motivational speeches. He tries to keep everybody up. He’s really good at having something new for you every time. He’s not repetitive about his speeches; he’s real creative about every meeting. That’s a good thing. It keeps your eyes and ears open.
I think capturing your attention, capturing your imagination, narrowing your focus is one of the jobs of a leader. I think Harbaugh has a very unique way of doing it and a very effective way of doing it. I really appreciate it and I think it works.
Every time you turn the corner you have something exciting and new to get everybody fired up.
Donte Whitner, courtesy of Santa Rosa Press Democrat:
I can honestly say that Coach Harbaugh is one of the most interesting coaches I’ve ever played for. You never know what you’re going to get from him. You never know what he’s going to say out of his mouth—some things we can share, some things we can’t. But he’s always going to shoot it straight to you, and he’s always going to make sure that the players are ready to play. Everything in this organization revolves around the players, and everybody else after that, so that’s how you know you have a good football coach—when he revolves everything around the players.”
After wins or losses, on the way back on home on the plane he’ll skip seats and go sit with different guys and talk to them and just talk about whatever they want to talk about. There’s not too many head coaches who do that in college or the National Football League, and I think that’s why he’s won this locker room over the way he has.
Coach Harbaugh is like, he's the man. He shows that he wants to be where he is. He talks about more than just football. Coach Harbaugh is not coach Harbaugh; coach Harbaugh is my teammate.
And Harbaugh's relationship with 49ers starting quarterback Alex Smith is well-documented, where any placed quotes by him would just be redundant.
But to answer the question posed above: I do not believe he does run out of motivational tactics. The 2011 NFL Coach of the Year, in general, has particular nuances and personality traits that make him a constantly positive influence. He wins players over instantly. Jacobs has only been on board for a matter of months and hasn't played a down for the team, but you'd think he'd known Harbaugh for 10 years.
With Randy Moss, he's seemed to inspire the un-inspirable.
As a motivator alone, Harbaugh has so much value, but on top of that prevailing skill set, he is a smart, smart football coach. He has the balance between motivator and strategist that makes him a threat as a coach, and a potential great someday. While the 49ers are known to have plenty of talent on the field, they have just as much on the sideline.