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Jim Harbaugh made rare successful jump from college to NFL

Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh

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Updated: January 18, 2012 12:44PM



There is a reason I am neither an NFL owner nor an NFL general manager.

Actually, there are several billion reasons I’m not an owner; the reasons I’d fail as a GM probably number in the millions.

Take the case of Jim Harbaugh, current coach of the San Francisco 49ers and toast of the City by the Bay.

Just over a year ago, when NFL money men were coveting Harbaugh like a golden calf, I wrote a column dismissing their man-crush. They were talking about the guy like he was the latest incarnation of Vince Lombardi, and I couldn’t figure out the attraction.

Yes, he led Stanford to a 12-1 record in 2010 and that was nice, but overall he was 58-27 as a college coach and 29-21 with the Cardinal. His NFL coaching experience was confined to two seasons as a quarterbacks coach with the Oakland Raiders.

And we all know what often happens when a collegiate boss makes the leap to the “next level.”

Nick Saban is the best major-college coach working today, but his time with the Miami Dolphins was hardly memorable (15 wins, 17 losses).

And even Steve Spurrier, an NCAA legend, struggled in the biggest league of all.

The “Head Ball Coach” was merely the “Ol’ 12-20 Coach” with Washington.

So when the 49ers won the Harbaugh sweepstakes, I didn’t feel a parade was necessary.

This was a franchise that last had a winning season (and last made the playoffs) in 2002, and hadn’t won more than eight games in a year since.

Plus, Harbaugh inherited a 6-10 squad that didn’t even seem to have the personnel to be a contender in 2011.

What did Harbaugh do?

He stared down unrealistic expectations and exceeded them. I mean, the dude couldn’t look more like a super-genius if he had a giant head shaped like a brain and wore a cape.

By Saturday afternoon, Harbaugh was presiding over a 14-3 team that had just dispatched the New Orleans Saints 36-32 in one of the best football games you’ll ever see any time at any level.

Now the 49ers will host the New York Giants in the NFC championship game, led by a coach who has done the best job any coach could’ve possibly done with this team.

Harbaugh is brash and, frankly, comes off as rather unlikable, but those are the observations of outsiders.

The insiders -- specifically, the players -- love the guy. He changed the entire culture and he did so practically overnight.

“I feel so much different than in years past, just the sideline,” San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith said. “The sideline atmosphere is so much different. When bad things happen, when plays get made against us, things like that, the guys are just so confident.”

Obviously it’s a tad early to build a wing at Canton especially for Harbaugh, but it’s not too early to give the man his due.

The owners and GMs who fawned all over him just 12 short months ago knew genius when they saw it.

And if this season is any indication, the next level might be the best level for Jim Harbaugh.



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