San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh is quick to defend his players.
Nobody ever said Jim Harbaugh wasn't passionate.
On Thursday, New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride made headlines when discussing (per ESPN.com) the play of the San Francisco 49ers' front seven, and more specifically, defensive end Justin Smith.
They're tremendous, they're tough. They have great speed on the outside, (Justin) Smith is a beast on the inside. He's strong, he does as good a job (as anybody) of grabbing a hold of offensive linemen and allowing those twists to take place. He never gets called for it, so he gets away with murder.
The next day, Harbaugh, Smith's head coach, took the opportunity to address Gilbride's comments, saying in a statement released by the organization (via ESPN):
Kevin Gilbride's outrageous, irrational statement regarding Justin Smith's play is, first, an absurd analogy.Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Second, it is an incendiary comment targeting one of the truly exemplary players in this league. It's obvious that the Giants coaching staff's sole purpose is to use their high visibility to both criticize and influence officiating.
What started as a statement about how much Gilbride respected Smith and the 49ers' front seven turned into a controversial sound bite because of the analogy the Giants offensive coordinator used. Harbaugh had every right to stand up for his player, and he would have been wrong not to.
If there's one thing that's been evident about Harbaugh as a head coach, it's that he will fight tooth and nail for his players, provided they do the same for him on the field.
That's been a big factor behind Harbaugh's ability to seemingly single-handedly transform a franchise that had been toiling near the bottom of the NFL standings into a legitimate Super Bowl contender, potentially even a favorite.
It's why Alex Smith suddenly became a viable franchise quarterback since Harbaugh's arrival in the Bay Area, and it's why the former Stanford head coach has quickly become one of the most respected teachers in the game.
Harbaugh's players exemplify the same passion their head coach does, which is why he was so quick to stand up for Justin Smith.
In Gilbride's defense, his comments were almost assuredly blown out of proportion, but the analogy was an inappropriate one to make, and that's why Harbaugh called him out.
If you're a 49ers fan, though, you have to be happy about how Harbaugh handled the situation, because he not only gave his team more bulletin board material, but he also demonstrated to his players that he's willing to stand up for them when needed.