Cohn: 49ers need to woo back Alex Smith

  • SF coach Jim Harbaugh, right, and quarterback Alex Smith proved to be a winning combination in 2011. (Associated Press file photo, 2011)

This whole thing — who will play quarterback for the 49ers next season — is all about Jim Harbaugh. It is not about Peyton Manning, who won't be playing in San Francisco.

And it is not even about Alex Smith, who may or may not be playing in San Francisco.

It is about Harbaugh, pure and simple. And right now he gets a failing grade.

Before I get into Harbaugh's performance, let's make something perfectly clear. Now that Manning is with Denver — appears to be — Smith is the 49ers' best quarterback option. Don't delude yourself that someone else can do better than this flawed quarterback — we know all about that. Smith did, after all, take the Niners to the NFC title game.

Don't delude yourself that Josh Johnson is the answer because he played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego. Johnson is a nonentity.

And don't delude yourself that Colin Kaepernick is the answer. He is not, not at this time. He has virtually no experience in the NFL and he hasn't played a real game in two years.

In three years, he will be the 49ers quarterback if things go according to a prudent schedule, but he is not ready for the warp speed of NFL games and he will not take the Niners where they need to go next season. And Alex Smith just might.

If Harbaugh thinks otherwise, if he thinks he is so brilliant that the quarterback does not matter, he is allowing his ego to cloud his view of reality and he's falling into the old coach's trap that scheme is more important than players. Jimmy Johnson used to find that idea laughable.

“It's not Xs and Os,” he said. “It's Jimmys and Joes.”

That quote is especially relevant to the 49ers. Bill Walsh was nowhere until he got his own Joe — Joe Montana. If Harbaugh thinks Johnson or Kaepernick will get his team into the championship game, he is making the Steve DeBerg mistake — DeBerg was the forgettable Niner quarterback who preceded Montana.

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