49er Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh has been a successful head coach at the University of San Diego and at Stanford University, which is no easy task.
Harbaugh is an offensive-minded coach which has been the Niners' biggest weakness under prior head coaches, Mike Singletary and Mike Nolan. He will install an offense that will be creative and effective.
Of this, I have no doubt.
Unfortunately, the huge expectations for roaring success may have to wait beyond the 2011 season, if there indeed is a 2011 season.
The NFL lockout is not ending anytime soon and the longer it lasts, the worse it is for the 49ers.
No team in the NFL is hurt more by the lockout than the 49ers. Heading into the 2011 season, there are eight new head coaches with new teams in the league.
Seven of those eight were either NFL assistants who moved up within their own organization, moved to another team or were head coaches with another organization.
Only Jim Harbaugh comes to the NFL out of the collegiate ranks.
In addition, new 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio joins Harbaugh directly from Stanford. Fangio has 24 years of NFL coaching experience, but he will also have to refresh himself on the new talent in the NFL, having been at Stanford in 2010.
Nevertheless, I believe Fangio was a great hire by Harbaugh.
The biggest difficulties Harbaugh will face in 2011 are getting his team up to speed with minimal practice time, due to the lockout. Additionally, Harbaugh and his coaches will need to learn the personnel and tendencies of the other teams in the league, having not coached in the NFL in 2010.
The lockout is the biggest issue, however. Whenever you are installing a totally new offensive and defensive system, maximum practice time is essential. The inability of Harbaugh and Fangio to implement their systems with the 49ers is a huge drawback.
Alex Smith is leading offseason workouts with the team and I credit him for doing this. However, he is still learning the system and there is no replacement for not having the man who formulated it there to guide you.
The 49ers, on offense and defense, must learn a totally new set of play calls and nomenclature. In order to perform as a unit, all players must be on the same page and they must be in sync. This cannot happen without practice time.
A player must be 100-percent sure of where he needs to be and also have complete confidence that his teammates will be in the right place, also. If too much thinking occurs and even the slightest bit of hesitation results, it can mean the difference between success and failure.
The lack of organized practice time is more harmful for the Niners because they need to learn everything from square one, whereas other teams are way ahead of them. The first step is just learning the verbiage of the play calls.
Other teams can work on the nuances of a play, while the 49ers will need to learn what the play is in the first place. If even one player misses an assignment, the result can be devastating.
The other concern is that the 49ers players will take longer to learn all of this than the extremely bright young men Harbaugh coached at Stanford. Again, the inability of Harbaugh being able to teach his team due to the lockout is a major problem.
The second issue is coming from the collegiate level, Harbaugh and his staff will need to learn the league and the players. I think this can be down played somewhat as the lack of practice time has meant that Harbaugh and his staff have had more time to review and analyze game films of their opponents.
I fully believe Jim Harbaugh will turn the 49ers around. I just caution those that fully expect him to lead the 49ers to a great record and playoff wins in 2011.
Due to the work stoppage, the 49ers are starting behind every other team in the NFL. Once the dispute is settled, which I believe will occur in mid-to-late August, there will be an abbreviated training camp and the games will start right away.
This lack of preparation time will leave Harbaugh and the 49ers behind the other teams and to expect him to deliver an outstanding season is overly optimistic.
Don't get me wrong. I hope he does it, but 49ers fans need to be realistic and temper their expectations.
Under Harbaugh, I do expect the 49ers to be a perennial playoff team and Super Bowl contender, but it will take two or three years of building for this to occur.
If the 49ers management and their fans are patient, they will be rewarded.