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Harbaugh & The 9’ers

It is clear now that Jim Harbaugh is an enthusiastic and excellent coach. Perhaps, though, that is an understatement. He is an exuberant coach who is smart and crafty as a gridiron tactician and generous with his affection for his players. But he can be very tough with a player when he feels it is necessary in a very subtle way compared to other NFL coaches.

I think it was the 49ers game against the Dallas Cowboys and the 49ers mercurial tight end Vernon Davis was running a deep streak pass pattern that didn’t fool the Cowboys. Their cornerback was behind him on Smith’s inside shoulder and a safety was running towards Smith for the collision if necessary. But QB Alex Smith had to throw a perfect pass to beat the double coverage — and he did.

He threw a pass that went high above Davis’ right shoulder. But, the football was catchable if Vernon Davis went up to get the ball. Vernon Davis glanced at the Cowboy safety coming fast with menace in his heart. He let the football sail by for an incompletion.

The TV commentator at first said essentially that Vernon Davis was covered and the pass was too high. Then the play was replayed on TV in slow motion. And the TV color man said something like, “The pass by Alex Smith was perfect but the big tight end saw the safety coming and didn’t go up to get the ball.”

This happened when Harbaugh was trying to give Alex Smith confidence because his previous time in the NFL had been confidence-shattering. Harbaugh wrote Vernon Davis out of the game plan for a couple of games. Finally, Davis went to Harbaugh’s office and asked what he had to do to get involved with the offense. I’m guessing Harbaugh said, “When the football’s in the air, it’s your ball. Go get it and take the hit.”

This would ba a “Walshian” way of coaching.

The Handshake was when the passionate Harbaugh’s rejuvenated 49ers beat Jim Schwartz’ Detroit Lions in a close and very tough game at Detroit. Harbaugh gave the dispirited Coach Schwartz a long, swinging handshake and a strong pat on the back with a gleeful look on his face and jogged on his merry way.

Schwartz, who is also doing a terrific coaching job the Lions, had just lost his first game of the season. He was making a name for himself by throwing punches at an imaginary foe like Sugar Ray Leonard in training for a title fight after every win. To go from throwing punches after winning a football game to having a rookie coach in the league not only beat your team but treat you like a male cheerleader was too much for Schwartz to take. So, he chased down the joyous Harbaugh and bumped him. Others intervened and it was over.

I thought the small incident occurred because Schwartz punching the air after games was irritating to other coaches and was probably a preface to Harbaugh’s mood. But the direct reason was that Harbaugh threw a flag for an endzone TD, giving away one of his referee call challenges because TDs are automatically reviewed, if necessary, by the game officials. So, Schwartz yelled across the field to Harbaugh, according to TV Commentator Trent Dilfer, “That’s dumb. You can’t challenge that play in the endzone. Learn the rules.”

Harbaugh didn’t hear that, but his players told him that Schwartz had dissed him. If that had happened to me while coaching I, too, would have skipped merrily and given a long, swinging handshake.

Niners QB Alex Smith does throw fine when he rolls to his right side of the field. But, when he is running forward he seems to throw a (too high) sailing pass because he throws just as his right foot is about to land. Smith is right-handed so he has to throw as the left foot is landing on the turf. Or, if the right foot is about to land, you have to land on the right foot, then skip with the right foot and land the right foot again and throw as the left foot is about to land or has landed. It just takes practice.

I’m surprised that Ted Guinn has developed soft hands. I’m surprised at how fast Patrick Willis is in pass coverage. I’m surprised that W.R. Crabtree has become a team guy. I’m surprised at how good the 49er defensive backs are and how fast the 49ers young, offensive line has jelled. But, I’m not surprised that the 49ers are winning the West Division of the NFC.

Though I’m a 49er fan, I did like the John Madden, Kenny Stabler era of Raider football. In NFL history, the game lost a giant when Al Davis died.

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