49ers' head coach has room to improve that will help team win
Harbaugh wants players to get better, he can do the same
Published: Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 11:02 p.m.
I offer this advice to Jim Harbaugh as the football season fades in the rearview mirror and baseball looms ahead. I offer this advice to be helpful, even friendly.
Now that he has time — no games coming up — Harbaugh might take time to reflect about himself, about what he does well and not so well as a coach. He always talks about wanting his team to improve one percent every day. I hope he applies the same standard to himself. He owes himself no less.
We could list endlessly the things he does well, has done well. He made the 49ers an elite team in the NFL and he did it fast. He is a winner and his team is a winner. He saw the potential in Colin Kaepernick — an insight of genius — and he made Kaepernick the starter. He gets his team to play hard, really hard, and his players play hard for 60 minutes. His players are able to put a bad play behind them and move on with confidence and conviction. His team is tough. His team scares some other teams.
I could go on.
In spite of his multiple successes, Harbaugh could improve a few percentage points. This merely means he's human. His pattern in the past season was to win two games and not win the third. The 49ers did it five times. You know that. When the 49ers lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl, that was the fourth game so the pattern varied a little.
In every playoff game, the 49ers fell behind. Look it up. Against the Falcons and Ravens they fell behind big time, virtually wasted the first half in each game. The Niners get credit for coming back, sure. But they never should have been in the comeback mode to begin with.
I put some of this — most? — on Harbaugh. He is so wound up his team seems to come out wound up, too.
It plays in his image and begins to calm down and find a rhythm later. He is the head coach, a very rich head coach. He gets the glory — he's had a ton — and he gets the blame.
There is more for Harbaugh to think about. The Niners used an illegal formation on their very first offensive play against the Ravens, a scripted play. Harbaugh did not see it.
The Niners' final four plays near the Baltimore goal line failed. They were bad plays, not well-conceived. The final incomplete fade pass to Michael Crabtree was what Steve Young called a “capitulation” play, certainly not the play a power team would use at that point. And please don't say Kaepernick called an audible out of the original play and that absolves Harbaugh and the other coaches. Kaepernick goes to the line of scrimmage armed with two plays. He went from one called play to another. The Niners needed to do better.
Harbaugh needed to do better.
So, what am I saying and what advice am I giving?
I am saying Harbaugh's greatest strength — his intensity — is also his greatest flaw. Nothing wrong with that. It's the way it works with most big personalities. His intensity makes his team lethal, but it also seems to interfere with his concentration and play calling. To concentrate and call good plays you need to be calm and detached.
Because Harbaugh is hyper-intense he seems to miss small, important details during games, and his team goes up and down — or down and up, if you consider the Falcons and Ravens game. A team can't go through every range of emotion in every game. Harbaugh needs to contribute more positive things during games.
I guess I'm saying it would help if Harbaugh were more even in his moods. I guess I'm saying he could learn a thing or two about himself. I guess I'm saying he makes things harder for himself than they need to be.
When I asked if he considers changing his in-game behavior, he scoffed at me. I believe he should take a
few moments to think about his actions. Maybe he can modify them for his own benefit. Not to be a nicer guy, or any less competitive. Simply to help his team win.
There's one other thing. And I hope Harbaugh does not think I'm being presumptuous. In baseball, the manager has a bench coach. Bruce Bochy, who surely will go to the Hall of Fame, has Ron Wotus, a wise head. They talk. Bochy tests his reality against Wotus'.
Bill Walsh had John McVay. McVay did not game plan with Walsh. But he was there in those offices, a calm, charming man who had a calming effect on Walsh, a very emotional man.
Maybe Harbaugh should bring in a Wotus, a McVay, someone to talk to and, yes, learn from. Someone to calm him, so he can do the wonderful things he is capable of.
None of this would mean Harbaugh is a bad coach or, heaven forbid, a wimp. It would mean he has the wisdom to learn about himself and improve.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat. com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.