Even though I wrote in this column that the SF 49ers made a mistake seven years ago when they chose Alex Smith #1 in the entire NFL draft over Cal’s Aaron Rodgers, I didn’t believe that Alex Smith was a complete bust. I believed that the first two head coaches that Smith played for — Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary — were not good coaches. Neither coach placed their players in the best position for them to be successful. Plus, their insecurities made them angry at their players and most especially their QB Alex Smith.
I believe in Karma. So, it was a pleasure to me when the incoming new head coach Jim Harbaugh came to the 49ers after having spectacular success at the college level at Stanford. Harbaugh had been an NFL quarterback for about 15 years and seemed to be an excellent coach who cared for his players. So he could bring both intelligent schemes to unfold on offense and to attack on defense and the compassion and skill to return confidence to his players.
Harbaugh made sure Smith had his play book in the off-season during the lockout of players from the NFL facilities so he could teach the other players his system. When the NFL business dealings were completed and regular football practice began, it was refreshing to see Harbaugh treat Smith like he was a good man and an important player on his 49ers teach-in 2011. It was a joy to see the quarterback and the coach smile together affectionately.
Alex Smith will never be an Aaron Rodgers in football ability — few quarterbacks ever will be as good as the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl quarterback. But, the four wins and one loss record of this year’s 49er team so far does mean he is an adequate field manager of the game and can be successful in the NFL.
Harbaugh came to the 49ers in a low key way because his sterling record as a college coach preceded him. He said the staff of 49er coaches needed to criticize the players’ mistakes in practice in person so the players don’t need to also see the criticism in newspapers. Harbaugh doesn’t have to be loud or act arrogant because he is so good at his job; his football record speaks for him.
The 49ers don’t have a true #1 receiver. But, they have several good receivers. And, their talented young offensive line is beginning to gel. And, Frank Gore is special at running back, plus new small running back Kendall Hunter is a fine change of pace behind the powerful Gore.
The 49ers don’t have a shutdown cornerback on defense. But, overall, they have a respectable defensive backfield because the front seven of the 49er defense is so good. The front seven of the 49ers are the best front seven in the NFL (led by lienbacker Patrick Willis) — except for the Baltimore Ravens.
And, only the Green Bay Packers are clearly a better team in the NFC. I began to love the SF Giants again in 2010. In now in 2011 I am falling for the 49ers all over again.
Coach Mike Nolan a few years ago insinuated that Alex Smith was a coward because he complained of shoulder pain when he threw a pass. Smith’s teammates were so intimidated by Nolan, they never spoke up for their quarterback. Rather, an ex-49er playing for the Seattle Seahawks said, “What’s Alex Smith playing for? The guy is injured,” before he was allowed to heal. With a 4-1 record after a lopsided 48-3 win over a flat Tampa Buccaneer team, Smith has been treated fairly. Their Karma is fine.