SANTA CLARA -- I compare Jim Harbaugh to Bill Walsh. The comparison is inevitable. I watch Harbaugh work in training camp and I think of Walsh. I compare them.
On Sunday, Harbaugh participated in a special teams exercise. He did not supervise the work. He participated, as if he still were a player. Holding a red foam pad, he crouched in front of a player and the player ran around Harbaugh and the red pad. So did another player and another player, etc.
You wonder if this pad holding was good use of the head coach's time. A teenager could have held the pad just as well. Or better yet, Harbaugh could have told Eric Mangini to hold the pad considering Mangini began his NFL career as a ball boy and gofer and has valuable pad-holding experience. You might even say Mangini has a pedigree in this particular enterprise.
I am not knocking Harbaugh for being an involved, hands-on — or pad-on — head coach. I merely am comparing his style to Walsh's style, a distant, godlike style.
I never saw Walsh hold the red pad. I never saw Walsh participate in a special teams drill. I never saw Walsh participate in any drill. Walsh stood at the edge of the action. He stood alone. He almost never spoke to players, unless the players were named Montana or Young. He watched. He watched silently.
If he was displeased — he often was displeased — he addressed his position coaches. He often yelled at them. "Is that the best you can do, Coach?" "Speed up the tempo, Coach."
You could hear the irritation in his voice, the judgment. He embarrassed his coaches in front of the players. He wanted the players to feel guilt for letting down a position coach and then they would try harder. He wanted the players to bond with the position coach even if the bonding occurred in opposition to Walsh. The bonding meant the team would play better.
I am not saying Walsh's method was better than Harbaugh's. Walsh's method could be cruel, and Harbaugh holding a pad is not cruel. Harbaugh is one of the guys. He feels comfortable being one of the guys and he needs to be one of the guys. He runs around the field yelling "Hup, hup" like he's calling signals in a game.
Walsh never ran around yelling hup hup and never was one of the guys, no matter who the guys were, football or otherwise. He was a loner and an odd duck in the way great thinkers are loners and odd ducks. And he suffered for it.
The 49ers players appreciate that Harbaugh is hands on, doesn't exist in an ivory tower. You sometimes felt Walsh's ivory tower. You almost could see it.
The players like that, after every play in training camp, Harbaugh shouts out "left hash" or "right hash" indicating the hash mark for the next play. An intern could yell the hash mark, saving Harbaugh wear and tear on his vocal cords. But Harbaugh likes to yell it.
Before every offensive play in training camp, Harbaugh ducks into the huddle with Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore and Vernon Davis and the rest. The circle closes and they bend their heads. Harbaugh is one of the guys.
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