The mad, mad world of Jim Harbaugh – and why he’s right

I don’t think there was ever a question there. I think it’s just a lot of gobble gobble turkey. Just gobble, gobble, gobble turkey from jive turkey gobblers … that paints a pretty good picture. He’s a very confident guy.
- Jim Harbaugh on Alex Smith’s confidence.

On the same day he declined to publicly name a starting quarterback, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh informed incumbent Alex Smith that Colin Kaepernick would get the nod Sunday at New Orleans, a source told SI.com.
- SI.com’s Jim Trotter, last Wedmesday.

Colin we believe has the hot hand. We’ll go with Colin.
- Jim Harbaugh, this Wednesday.

Just another sunny day, in California…and on Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers. I could’ve pulled out any number of Smith-centric positive comments that Harbaugh has made since he took the 49ers Head Coach job on the 7th January 2011. Look at them, and you’d be perfectly inclined to yell ‘WHAT THE HELL?’ at the news story contained within the second and third ones. How can a man who has always publicly preached confidence in Smith, rebuilt the man’s game, rebuilt the fans’ confidence in him, and made him play to the level where only a costly Kyle Williams fumble and defeat in overtime keeps him from a Superbowl, then bench him for what could end up a flash in the pan, once NFL defenses catch up? I can answer that. It’s just another day in the mad, mad, world of Jim Harbaugh. The mad, mad world which has (along with my health) deep-sixed many of my attempted columns for several months, with things changing on a game by game, sometimes day by day, basis, making it very hard to stick to a column.

However, this isn’t lunacy, or even crazy genius. By Harbaugh’s standards, it’s not anywhere near either. It’s hardly running fly sweeps, or throwing passes to Joe Staley and Issac Sopoaga. It’s just right. The conventional wisdom would be to react as I said in the paragraph above – you already have a well-established starter, who was but two or three plays away from a Superbowl last year, so why on earth change anything? A large part of this line of thinking is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – not necessarily bad wisdom. It would also be pretty hard to argue anything was broken – Smith had not only made a pretty good start to the year, but in the game he left against the Rams, he continued his hot streak going back to the Cardinals game. Indeed, what may prove to be his last pass as a 49er was a touchdown. There was no 2nd season under Harbaugh slump, he had continued with much the same consistency as the year before, and the offense was probably even moving (without checking and regurgiating statistics) slightly better, particularly with the games against the Bills and Jets under consideration.

But, while I see the logic in those statements, it’s my job to tell you what I believe. And I 100% believe Jim Harbaugh is correct. Let me explain why. You’ve seen me elsewhere on here say explicitly that I thought Smith had, at best, two years left in the starting job. Let’s face it, Baalke/Harbaugh didn’t trade up for a guy not to use him at some point. I think we all knew that, eventually, we’d be writing about Kaepernick starting at Quarterback. So there’s that. It is unfortunate for both Smith and the NFL that he’s lost his job merely through reporting a concussion, but, bluntly, those are the rules, and who cares? The NFL is a cut-throat business, and that’s how it works. Go ask Patriots fans if they still feel sorry for Drew Bledsoe. Seems a bit unlikely to me, and no one’s going to feel sorry for Smith if Kaepernick hoists the trophy in New Orleans either. On a playing level, there were quite clearly some throws made on Sunday against the Saints (one to a well-covered Delanie Walker, for example) that would just not have been within Smith’s ability level. Even on touchdown plays such as his zone-read run, or a 45 yard pass to Delanie Walker, you see the offense reach a level it hasn’t seemed capable of under Smith. I think Harbaugh feels that way too.

You can see, watching the 49ers now, that the offense more closely resembles the Stanford offense that so excited us when we were interested in Harbaugh in the first place. Punishing. Explosive. All in the same package. I believe that only Kaepernick can provide that, and when it comes down to it in the playoffs, we cannot expect the fates to fall the same way again. Last year, we rode a relatively mediocre offense to the NFC Championship Game before being found out. One pass to a receiver for three yards should not even put you in a football game. With Kaepernick, not only do you have his ability to make more explosive plays down the field, but you also add the relatively unique ability to make plays with his legs. All this ensures that, come the playoffs, a debacle like the Giants game on offense won’t happen again. In today’s NFL, where offensive production is a must (there are no 2000 Ravens any more), the move to Kaepernick, while strange to many on a Superbowl-chasing team, could actually be the final push over the top. That’s where I stand on it. Harbaugh’s got it right.

Having said all that, just for balance, and just in case, let me add the last bit of the 3rd quote, Harbaugh’s missive on Wednesday:

And we’ll go with Alex. They’re both our guys.

So at the end of all this, I still don’t know what, ultimately, happens long-term. My thinking is Kaepernick continues to play well, solidifies his hold on the job, and that’s the last we’ll see of Smith in San Francisco. But it’s the mad world of Jim Harbaugh. You never know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if’ll make sense, I don’t know if it’ll be conventional wisdom – but I do have a feeling, all in all, it will prove to be the right decision for the San Francisco 49ers.

Til next time. Which will be sooner, I promise.


John Porter, 22 year old 49ers fan from Preston, England. Been bleeding red and gold since 1998.
  • Hector Martinez

    I’m guessing your a BandwAgon fan pretending to be not too be! If you suffered the true fans like me web we were 2-14 you’ll realize Alex smith is the only solution to a Super Bowl at this point. I saw it coming when everyone got all giddy eyed at the idea, especially the press who loved the idea knowing it wouldn’t work pretending it would so we dismantle our team. This was like Troy smith, Kap is essentiAlly only a backup at this point, not a bad one but a back up alernative, that’s it. Bring back Alex and keep him in there as long as possible, I use to e a hater of his for years, but He’s finally come around!!!!

  • 49ers-1982

    By JH's hot hand theory, CK is not hot anymore after Ram game. JH still sticks with CK. To me that is a lie from very beginning. He is simply not man enough to tell the truth that he wants to show his hand pick QB is better than the inherit AS. Nothing to do with I have 2 hot hands/ 2 starting QB …. This is really mad and not needed for a late season drama. If you do not want AS, do the change after the seaon end. See how far AS can carry the team. If we reach super ball and win, that is a good way to say goodbye; if we fall short of SB, you can blame AS and say we want to go to different direction. To me, this is really a stupid distraction for 49ers.

  • Lawrence Stokes

    No one can predict the future, and a blind man can’t see. However, he can sense his way around a busy city better than a person with seeing ability. I can see, and sense Kaepernick matches and can take control of the 49ers offenses abilitys better than Smith can. For example; against Chicago the offense moved very quickly down the field instead of little dink and dunks Smith throws. Regardless of mistakes Kaepernick makes, and will make, the players around him will have more confidence with a quarter back that can produce in a large way for his team. Something else to think about; the defense of the 49ers can’t, and will not always be able to hold off an offense. Their game against the Vikings early this season proved that. They got knocked backwards in the first three quarters. If Alex Smith could put points on the board quickly he would of helped out the defense instead of the defense carrying him. I have respect for Mr. Smith, he doesn’t throw many interceptions, however he’s very limited and you have to be careful with him. What I mean is, if he does throw a pick or two your going to Lose the game, because he doesn’t have the ability to lead his team back from a big deficit. You might say,’he made a great comeback against the Saints in last years playoffs’ true, at the same time they had a nice lead through out that game because their defense held off the Saints quite some time. Alex did not have the ability to put thT game away. The point of all this is Kaepernick is much more explosive, and it’s what the team will need in this years playoffs, not next years, but this years. Thank you for taking out time to hear my thoughts!

    • Jan Kimbell

      I'm with you. I saw CK (when at Nevada) play Cal, who I think was ranked #4 at the time and highly expected to win. Colin just wiped the field with them-super impressive in that unexpected win..er.. slaughter. And now, they couldn't be calling Kaepernick "Harbaugh's new toy" if the kid didn't have that spark. He has everything we need, except perhaps a bit more experience, and that's coming. So he had a bad game last week, good for him. He will learn more from that than from any Bears-type-win razzle dazzle. CK has the heart, athleticism, range, leadership and bald faced fearlessness that makes his super talent shine… and that puts him miles ahead of the unfortunate Mr. Smith.