Are Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers Changing the NFL Landscape?

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Are Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers Changing the NFL Landscape?
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
In no time at all, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has evoked a culture change in San Francisco.

To anyone that has ever regaled the idea of a player-led football team, the San Francisco 49ers are the closest thing since a Jon Gruden-led Buccaneers team in the early 2000-decade.

Grounded on fundamentals, grit, bravado and a winning attitude, this is the archetypal Sandlot team in pro sports.

Despite their wild, nothing-to-lose style of play, the 49ers easily flaunt, pound-for-pound, one of the best rosters in the league. They are also just as exemplary, if not better on the sidelines, boasting an incomparable coaching staff and personnel department.

At the end of the day, it is all led by Jim Harbaugh—otherwise known as the spark that ignited the fire.

A bit of an eccentric with a flair for the theatrics, Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated describes Harbaugh as “half coach and half mascot” in this profile bit for SI.com. His gung-ho, team-first mentality was refreshing for a squad that was told to win but never taught how.

He instilled an unrelenting, diehard identity in this team that was reflective of his own character.

Before he arrived from Stanford, the 49ers were a team of despair, rotting away in the underbelly of the NFL ranks. They were a frequent punch line in the league, ostracized for their repeated shortcomings.

Hopelessly drawn to the challenge like a moth to a flame, Harbaugh would mosey into a situation where there was already a lot of talent, but a considerable restoration project nevertheless. 

As an outcome of a decade of losing, the 49ers continued to stockpile high first-round picks on their roster. Though, until Harbaugh claimed an office at 4949 Centennial Boulevard in Santa Clara, it was nothing more than unrealized potential.

According to the Pro Football Focus Top-101 series from Khaled Elsayed, the 49ers tout 13 elite-level starters as of 2012. This was a league-high, with the Broncos and Seahawks finishing at Nos. 2 and 3 with six players apiece.

Harbaugh inherited 11 of those players, contributing only LB Aldon Smith and QB Colin Kaepernick to group via the 2011 NFL draft.

However, this fact should not dissuade one from trusting that what Harbaugh has done was anything short of remarkable. He not only thrived, but exceeded expectations where a horde of accomplished coaches preceding him failed.

On the field, in the front office and in life, Harbaugh preached values and taught these men how to finish what they started. In the following slides, we’ll discuss how a man changed the culture in one of the most storied franchises in sports history and the ripple effect it has had throughout the league. 

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