Jim Harbaugh is no stranger to quarterback controversies as a head coach. His previous switch at quarterback came years before he joined the 49ers and was more of a strategic preseason swap. When Harbaugh took the reigns of the Stanford University football program in 2007, things didn't look good.
The Stanford Cardinal hadn't won 10 regular-season games since legendary coach Bill Walsh steered the helm. So how did Harbaugh revamp the program? He could have dumped the deficient quarterback he inherited, Tavita Pritchard, but Harbaugh helped him become more of a game manager. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
But after two losings season, Harbaugh decided to make a change at quarterback. He'd recruited one of the top quarterback prospects out of high school with Andrew Luck, and heading into the 2009 college football season, Luck beat out Pritchard for the starting job.
Pritchard, a senior, would go undrafted the following year, while Luck led the Cardinal to three straight winning seasons and three bowl game appearances. Add in the impressive stats that Luck put up at Stanford, and it's easy to see why he was the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Now, the Pritchard/Luck switch isn't exactly the same as Harbaugh's most recent swap at quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers. At Stanford, Harbaugh was losing with Pritchard as his quarterback and needed to upgrade the position to win games.
With the 49ers, Harbaugh was already winning with the veteran quarterback he'd inherited, Alex Smith. As with Pritchard, Harbaugh helped Smith improve as a QB, taking him from a deficient passer to an efficient game manager. Still, Harbaugh promoted Kaepernick over Smith midseason this year for reasons that look obvious in game film.
Kaepernick possesses what Smith lacks in athleticism, as well as an ability to throw deep passes. If that translates into more wins, then Harbaugh's decision to swap QBs looks even smarter than it did a few years ago at Stanford.