The two squared off on Sunday, with the 49ers coming out on top and the Jims getting into a little bit of a scuffle after the game.
Both of these coaches have taken loser franchises and turned them around; the Lions began the season 5-0 for the first time since 1956, and the 49ers are already one win away from tying last season's total.
I think both coaches are in for a lot of success, but I think the Schwartz will end up having the better overall career.
Don't get me wrong—what Harbaugh has done at Stanford and now San Francisco is very impressive, but San Francisco is the team that boasts Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice. The 49ers have a winning tradition, even if it has been a little off in the last 10 years.
OK, so why does that make him less likely to succeed? Staying power.
The Lions are used to losing, and their fans are used to losing. They're the only team to ever finish 0-16. What Jim Schwartz has managed to do with a franchise like that is nothing short of a miracle, especially in the tough NFC North.
NFL fans have a short memory, but a losing tradition like the ones that the Lions have gives Schwartz way more leeway than any other coach in the country. That, combined with the long leash he'll have, leads me to conclude two things: First, Schwartz knows what he's doing, and second, he'll have a long career.
Harbaugh has been impressive. He's turned the 49ers into the dominant team in their division. On the other hand, the 49ers play in the worst division in the NFL. Winning in the NFC West is a tad easier than winning in the NFC North.
Furthermore, 49ers fans are not used to losing. They have five Super Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl victories. The most recent was in 1994, but the 49ers are still one of the great franchises. San Francisco fans will not be happy with being merely relevant again. They want it all.
A couple of losing seasons will heat up Harbaugh's seat a lot more than Schwartz's.
Schwartz is passionate about his football team. His confrontational behavior after the San Francisco loss shows that. That passion coupled with a safe job and an already impressive résumé is a recipe for success if ever I've heard one.
The Lions are great this year, but they are probably still a year off from Super Bowl contention. However, if Schwartz can keep up the good work, I wouldn't be surprised if they go deep in the playoffs next year and for many years after that.
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