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Lowell Cohn: Jim Harbaugh forsakes 49ers' way

  • San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, center, looks to the scoreboard as he stands on the sideline with 49ers' Glenn Dorsey (90) and Justin Smith (94) in the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Maybe Harbaugh never got the memo. He sees himself at war and that means he has lost perspective.

He sure doesn't do things the 49ers' way. He doesn't use the West Coast offense. That's obvious. And he has forsaken another 49ers' tradition established by Bill Walsh.

Walsh Axiom: Get rid of a player BEFORE he hits the downside of his career.

Walsh was ruthless about cutting ties with players, men he liked, men who still could play. He saw the team as a living organism and he wanted the organism vital and young.

Among the players he let go were Fred Dean, John Ayers, Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds and Ray Wersching. There were others.

Wersching was upset with Walsh for years. One day, he came to Walsh's office at Stanford. I was there. He and Walsh spoke privately in a conference room. Afterward, Walsh sat with me, his face white, his hands shaking, He said he appreciated Ray giving him the chance to make things right.

George Seifert, a nice man, also could be ruthless. Seifert cut ties with Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Roger Craig. All were outstanding players when they left the 49ers and two of them are in the Hall of Fame. It bears repeating that one of them was Joe freaking Montana.

In addition to being ruthless — in an organization-replenishing sense — Walsh and Seifert had a succession plan, young guys to replace aging guys.

That brings us to Harbaugh. He depends heavily, desperately on three old players — old by NFL standards — three players Walsh and Seifert would have given the standard-issue gold watch and sent on their way.

The players are Frank Gore, 30; Anquan Boldin, 32, and Justin Smith, 34. Harbaugh has overestimated the shelf life of these men as dominant players, and he hasn't shown the proper urgency to bring in replacements. A coach and general manager must think two years ahead. Harbaugh and Trent Baalke are lost in the moment.


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