Is Jim Harbaugh Getting Too Much Recognition for San Francisco 49ers' Success?
Good feelings and accolades are plentiful around the 49ers. The defense has played well and is developing into one of the top units in the league. Offensively, the 49ers have done enough to pull out some close victories.
The 49ers endured some tough years under former coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. Now at 5-1, the 49ers finally seem like they are on the right track and have the inside track to the playoffs in the NFC West.
Immediately following the 49ers' 25-19 victory over the Lions, head coach Jim Harbaugh met Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz for the traditional post-game handshake. Harbaugh was extremely excited after the 49ers' win and grabbed the hand of Schwartz and gave him an emphatic slap on the back.
Schwartz took offense and was extremely upset. He went after Harbaugh and the two had some tough words. As Harbaugh tried to walk away, Schwartz went after Harbaugh and had to be restrained.
Although Harbaugh was admittedly over excited when he met with Schwartz, this should never have escalated into the confrontation it became. Harbaugh was overly amped up, but Schwartz should have simply walked away.
This entire situation will be way overblown by the media. They will have a field day with this for the coming week. Harbaugh undoubtedly won't care, as the main thing he's concerned with is that the 49ers are 5-1.
This brings us to the next point. Is Jim Harbaugh getting too much recognition for the 49ers' success?
I would like to answer this with a vehement "no." Let's take a look at five key factors why Harbaugh is not getting too much recognition.
Jim Harbaugh Has the 49ers Prepared to Play Every Game
I have been very impressed with how Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers well prepared for every game. The 49ers have been a downtrodden franchise for nearly a decade. Their last playoff appearance was in 2002.
Harbaugh and his staff have crafted excellent game plans that take advantage of any weaknesses of the opposition. He and his coaching staff have also done a masterful job making adjustments on the fly. The ability to be nimble on offense and defense with their play calls and strategies have led the 49ers to success.
In prior years, the 49ers were routinely out-coached and rarely made any positive adjustments during the game. This has all changed under Harbaugh and his staff, and it is a refreshing and welcome change. The 49ers will not be out-coached, which is a major benefit for the team.
The 49ers Combine Toughness with Productivity
Head coach Jim Harbaugh has instilled a level of productive toughness with the 49ers. Former head coach Mike Singletary preached toughness and smash-mouth football. However, the 49ers lost way more games than they won under Singletary.
Harbaugh has increased the level of toughness on both sides of the football. Defensively, the 49ers are playing fast and aggressive football. Offensively, Harbaugh is building strength and productivity.
Under Harbaugh, the 49ers now have the schemes in place to fully benefit from that toughness. This is a mind set, and the 49ers now know how to use this aggressive approach to their advantage.
Under Singletary, his approach was to "hit people in the mouth." However, once the Niners did this, they could not follow it up with productive plays. That has changed with Harbaugh, as the toughness is combined with strategy and execution to make plays.
Jim Harbaugh Has Taught Alex Smith How to Manage the Game
Following the 2010 season, nobody in their right mind would have expected Alex Smith to return to the 49ers. In addition, looking forward to 2011, nobody would have expected the 49ers to have a 5-1 record and Smith being cheered in San Francisco.
When Harbaugh took over the 49ers, he saw promise in Alex Smith and convinced him to sign a one-year contract to play for him. Truth be told, Harbaugh had few other options, but still, this was a huge risk for both Harbaugh and Smith.
Harbaugh has taught Smith how to effectively manage a game and stay away from making critical mistakes at the most inopportune time. The implementation of the West Coast offense also has given Smith multiple options and outlets to get rid of the ball when he's under pressure.
The biggest thing Harbaugh has done for Smith is to understand his strengths and weaknesses. He then puts Smith into the best positions to maximize the things Smith does well and stay away from those areas where Smith struggles.
As a former NFL quarterback, Harbaugh is also able to teach Smith how to take advantage of how a defense is playing the 49er offense. Instead of forcing the ball, Smith is given multiple options to make productive plays when the first or second look is not open.
One thing that cannot be disputed about Smith is his toughness and his intelligence. Now, however, Smith has a system where he can be successful. To his credit, Smith has embraced what Harbaugh is preaching and has improved steadily.
Jim Harbaugh Has Built an Excellent Coaching Staff
When Harbaugh came to the 49ers from Stanford, he brought with him several top assistants. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is involved with play calling and game preparation and has done an excellent job keeping opposing defenses off balance.
Harbaugh also brought the highly respected Vic Fangio to San Francisco. Fangio is the defensive coordinator and his presence has been instrumental to the 49ers' success.
Fangio employs an aggressive style of defense and mixes things up so the opposing offense has trouble getting into a rhythm. Fangio utilizes blitzes from a variety of directions and his coverages are well disguised.
Harbaugh allows Fangio free reign over the defense and, unlike his predecessors Nolan and Singletary, does not meddle. As much as the 49ers are improving on offense, Fangio has the defense improving with every game, as well.
The 49ers Believe They Can Win
The San Francisco 49ers believe in what Harbaugh and his staff are teaching. Success has a funny way of doing that.
The 49er players have repeatedly said that Harbaugh is all about football. Without saying anything against former coaches Nolan or Singletary, it's abundantly clear the team has bought into what Harbaugh is coaching.
The belief that Harbaugh has instilled in the team is a key factor in its early season success. When players are focused and believe in what they're doing, they play better and the result is more wins. Harbaugh has given the 49ers that intangible benefit of positive belief.
The 49ers Have Started Far Better Than Expected
When the 49ers hired Harbaugh, I was excited and fully expected the team to get back to its winning ways. However, I did not expect the 49ers to get off to the kind of start that has made them one of the bright surprises of the 2011 NFL season.
With the lockout and minimal practice time to implement their offensive and defensive systems, I thought the 49ers would have a tough time this year. My expectation was that the team would struggle early on and, ultimately, things would come together in 2012, when the 49ers had a full training camp.
Harbaugh and the 49ers have exceeded those expectations by a large margin. Currently at 5-1, the 49ers have a commanding lead in the NFC West. They are also 3-0 on the road, where winning has been a major problem in recent history.
Harbaugh has taught the 49ers how to play and execute winning football. He has also taught them to believe in themselves and given them the fortitude to win under adverse conditions.
Harbaugh has turned this franchise around from being a laughing stock to now being a genuine playoff contender. The 49ers are playing smart, tough and determined football. They are rapidly becoming a destination location.
The recognition Jim Harbaugh receives for the 49ers' success is completely warranted.