San Francisco 49ers: Just How Good Is Jim Harbaugh?

Andy LiuCorrespondent ISeptember 10, 2012

Not the biggest fan of the replacement refs.
Not the biggest fan of the replacement refs.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Niners 30, Packers 22. And it wasn't actually that close. Sure there was a really really really bad missed call on the punt return, but even with that the 49ers absolutely dominated the game from start to finish. Or as close to domination any team can throw out there against the best quarterback in the league and a team that went 15-1 last season.

How much of what the 49ers are doing is a result of Harbaugh and his staff? Sure, there is talent oozing on both sides of the ball, but the same could be said when Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary were here.

Jim Harbaugh signed with the 49ers with much fanfare. He also brought over offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, two key elements to his success at Stanford. Safe to say those were good hires. They have worked seamlessly together to extract the most out of the talent that was already here. 

Just how good of a coach is Jim Harbaugh? 

Granted, players like Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks were here before his time, but the schemes he has been able to draw up have maximized what each player can do.

For example, there were times in yesterday's game when Patrick Willis came off the field on passing downs so they could put out six defensive backs. This isn't some regular linebacker, this is the all-world Patrick Willis. You need guts to do that to your best player. Harbaugh has that and much more.

Let's take a look back at what Harbaugh did to make him such a highly coveted hire for Jed York and the 49ers. He took over a terrible Stanford squad in 2006 and ended up beating a No. 1 USC team later in 2007. One of the all-time greatest upsets ever. 

Showing his trademark fire and passion, he again beat USC in 2009, not only winning the game, but undressing the team with a late two-point conversion that sparked some controversy with Pete Carroll. After that, Harbaugh got Andrew Luck and we all know how that ended. Stanford became a powerhouse and hammered Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Stanford is ranked in the Top 25 this season yet again.


Back to San Francisco, Harbaugh has brought his band of coordinators to the Bay and led a stunning turnaround. With many experts picking the 49ers to regress from their high turnover ratio and decline defensively, and even some picking them to not make the playoffs, the 49ers went out on Sunday afternoon and handed it to the Packers a la 2009 USC game. It was a sight to behold.

There were times when Aaron Rodgers seemed overmatched by the schemes Vic Fangio was throwing out there. That play-action on 3rd-and-1 and the deep pass to Jordy Nelson that was always there last year? Not even close to working with the ball dropping to the ground five feet in front of Nelson.

The offensive formations they threw out there were similarly stunning. Randy Moss essentially only played when the team was in the red zone. With Brandon Jacobs inactive, the Niners were missing a huge piece of their ground-and-pound game. And if the other team wanted to play a shootout, the weapons are there to make it happen. So versatile are the 49ers that speedy back LaMichael James wasn't even active.

So just how good is Jim Harbaugh?

Of course, this is only one game of 16 and injuries can still happen. This could just be a proponent of the Green Bay staff not coming out ready. Of course, other teams can make adjustments to what the 49ers have done and exploit the still-somewhat weak spot of the secondary. What will happen when the Niners fall behind and Alex Smith is forced to make multiple reads against a blitzing team like the NY Giants

Questions still remain in what is a marathon of the season, but the San Francisco 49ers, led by Jim Harbaugh and his staff came out and answered all of them, leaving the the Super Bowl favorites shaking their heads on the sideline. Coaching shouldn't be this easy. A college coach should not be able to just move up from the Pac-12 to the NFL and totally out-coach a Super Bowl-winning leader in Mike McCarthy.

But this is Jim Harbaugh. He might not be the best coach in the league, but he's proving with each progressing week that he's the smartest.