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Smith and new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Before the 2011 season began, there was a lot of speculation as to what would come for the 49ers. Smith had finished his contract, the team needed a new head coach and the fans, who had been clamoring for a winning season since 2002, were looking for a change.
Jed York and newly promoted GM Trent Baalke set out to find a new head coach. Everyone in the league had their eyes set on Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh, and it was the team's number one priority to get him.
They succeeded in landing the highly effective college head coach two days after Baalke’s signing as GM. Harbaugh’s first mission was to find a QB.
He offered Smith the opportunity to return, although things were still up in the air as the lockout loomed. During this time, Smith organized player workouts. As the lockout ended, Smith signed on for one year.
This drew a lot of ire from the fans, but neither Harbaugh nor Smith were deterred. Harbaugh is a quarterbacks guru, and he had a willing and able quarterback in Smith. It was up to them to prove Smith's capability. They held their cards tightly over the abbreviated preseason.
Under the tutelage of Harbaugh, considered by many to be a quarterbacks-minded coach, the Niners reinstituted the West Coast Offense, with the Harbaugh twist.
With a former pro QB in his ear, Smith is developing his confidence. The Niners have started the first portion of this season with a 4-1 record.
Part of the Harbaugh Era is this new attitude and culture the new coach has brought into the team. In the week between the Bengals and the Eagles games, the team spent the week practicing in Youngstown, Ohio. Harbaugh called the trip Camp II.
It gave the team the chance to get to know each other better, with the coach telling the players to introduce themselves to two players they did not know well. This team cultivation has been extremely fruitful for this team on the brink.
The new outlook and coaching style, the team attitude of knowing your role and being able to rely on your teammates, the growing confidence of the ever dumped upon quarterback in Smith had made the Niners into the team worth watching again.
Fans that once gave up on Alex Smith have now become his cheerleader, seemingly willing their quarterback to succeed. And his development into that first round first pick overall we so desired back in 2005 is now, finally, coming to fruition...maybe not as fast as we would have wanted it to happen, but it looks like it's finally happening.
After the amazing victory over a great team in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Smith is currently first in interceptions allowed (1). His QB rating is at 104.1, third behind Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. That is right where a first overall pick should be.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have been quite disappointed by Smith, but I was never one to give up on him. Maybe I like the underdog. Maybe I reserved judgement on him because football is a team sport and while the QB is the leader of the team, a team is only as good as the sum of all of it's parts, players, coaching and front office included. Maybe it's because I'm just a die-hard 49er fan.
Whatever it is, I'm happy for the turn around in the team and the QB.
The effect, from the front office on down to the 53rd man on the roster has been astounding.
I’m glad he’s finally reaching his potential this year and hope that if this season ends the way I think it will, the Niners reward him with a contract worthy of all of his sacrifice and contribution.
In the '80s we had Eddie DeBartolo, Bill Walsh and Joe Montana. In the 2010's could the prospects of Jed York, Jim Harbaugh and Alex Smith be the right recipe for Dynasty II?
Only time will tell. But, I certainly hope we're headed somewhere in that direction.