The Bills travel to San Francisco this Sunday to face one of the best teams—if not the best—in the NFL. Coming off the loss to New England last week, this matchup doesn’t look like it gives the Bills much of a chance of coming away with a win. There’s a belief in the NFL that there are no upsets, but if Buffalo does defeat the 49ers, that surely would be an upset.
If the Bills need extra motivation for this weekend’s game, they can look at the leader of the 49ers. When the Bills were looking for a head coach in 2010, they wanted to interview Jim Harbaugh for the position. Harbaugh turned down the opportunity and chose to stay at Stanford another year before being hired by the 49ers.
2010 was one of the lowest points for the Buffalo Bills franchise. Only 32 men can call themselves an NFL head coach, and the Bills had one of those 32 jobs open. However, the problem was not picking a coach, it was finding a coach who would take the job.
The Bills job looked so bad, coaches didn’t want to even give the Bills time for an interview. Bill Cowher chose to stay at CBS instead of returning to the sidelines, Mike Shanahan passed on the opportunity before landing with Washington, and Russ Grimm stayed in Arizona as the offensive line coach.
Grimm was the worst. A position coach didn’t want to consider the opportunity to become a head coach in the NFL. The Bills will see Grimm in Arizona next week.
When Buffalo started its head coaching search, Harbaugh was one of the first coaches the Bills wanted to interview. They saw how fast he turned around Stanford’s program, and they wanted him to do the same thing in Buffalo. He didn’t have the label of a college coach leaping in over his head into the NFL since he played in the league.
Instead, he went to San Francisco and led them to the NFC Championship Game in his first year. And worse, he had the best defense in the NFL with Donte Whitner starting at safety.
In a lot of ways, the 49ers are what the Bills aspire to be. The 49ers run the ball with a ton of success, they have the best defense in the league, and they let Alex Smith throw when they want to and take care of the ball. The way the Bills are constructed, they are going to win games running the ball, playing great defense and having Ryan Fitzpatrick not turn the ball over.
When Chan Gailey took the Bills job, the players were behind him from the start because they felt as if he was the only one who wanted to be there. Judging by how many coaches turned down an interview, they were probably right.
If you’ve seen any 49ers locker room footage, Harbaugh’s passion and enthusiasm fuels the rest of the team. He would have been a good fit in Buffalo because of how passionate and intense he is. He fits the identity of Buffalo, much like Lindy Ruff fits the identity of Buffalo for the Sabres.
How would the Bills look with Harbaugh as head coach? I’m not going to say they would have been in the AFC Championship Game last year, but I can be sure the collapse against New England never would have happened.
The Bills are a mediocre 2-2, while the 49ers are 3-1 and looking like one of the NFL’s best teams. We can only wonder if those fortunes would have been switched if Harbaugh had taken the Bills job.