Harbaugh plowing ahead with plans, lockout or not
SANTA CLARA – Jim Harbaugh’s new coaching staff is nearly in place and he is in full-on, head-down planning mode. His normal schedule: a half day spent on draft evaluation and the other half preparing offensive and defensive schemes.
There’s not much else Harbaugh can do at the moment as a first-year NFL coach heading into an offseason of uncertainty with the league’s unsettled labor situation and a possible lockout for 2011. He has already met a handful of his players and even spoke with quarterback Alex Smith, the 49ers’ 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick who is an unrestricted free agent.
“This is a new time,” Harbaugh said Friday, exactly two weeks after he was hired away from Stanford with a $25 million, five-year deal. “This is like the Etch A Sketch when you were a kid or the plastic sheet that you lift up. There was a lot written on there and once you lift it up there’s a new, clean slate there. Everything to come is to be determined what’s going to be written on there. Everything in the past is now in a bio.”
Harbaugh announced two more hires Friday and the retention of four coaches already on San Francisco’s staff. Keeping their jobs from fired coach Mike Singletary’s staff are offensive line coach Mike Solari, running backs coach Tom Rathman, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and assistant offensive line coach Ray Brown.
The team also added Ejiro Evero as a quality control coach. Harbaugh has received a commitment from Brad Seely to become special teams coordinator.
There is much work to be done for a franchise that is counting on Harbaugh to turn the once-proud 49ers into a perennial contender and playoff team again. San Francisco started 0-5 and finished 6-10 this season after entering as an NFC West favorite following an unbeaten preseason. The Niners haven’t had a winning season since their last postseason berth in 2002.
Harbaugh just spent four years at Stanford transforming a program that was 1-11 the season before he arrived on The Farm. The Cardinal reached the Sun Bowl in 2009 for their first bowl berth since 2001, then went 12-1 with a 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech this season.
Now, he must get the 49ers on the upswing in a hurry.
“That’s a hungry group, guys who haven’t been to the playoffs,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the way these guys are in the locker room that I’ve found. I felt good about that. I had a feeling that was the case and researched it as much as I could. I felt good that I anticipated that.”
Harbaugh will be busy in the coming weeks evaluating potential quarterbacks, a position he knows so well. The Niners are expected to look to the April draft to add a quarterback to their roster, too.
The former Michigan quarterback spent 15 seasons in the NFL with the Bears, Colts, Ravens, Chargers and Panthers. A first-round draft pick taken 26th overall by Chicago in 1987, Harbaugh completed 2,305 of 3,918 passes for 26,288 yards and 129 touchdowns in the NFL. He also ran for 18 TDs.
“Do we need a topflight quarterback? Do human beings need air to breathe?” Harbaugh said. “I’m going to do my part and what I feel is my knowledge of the position and make a great evaluation of the quarterbacks on the current roster and those that are out there that we could bring to the 49ers.”
New general manager Trent Baalke, promoted earlier this month from his position as player personnel chief, said Smith will be considered the same way any other free agent is this offseason. San Francisco can re-sign its own free agents before the official free agency period begins March 4.
Smith took over the starting job midway through 2009 and was entrenched as the starter heading into 2010. After separating his non-throwing left shoulder Oct. 24 at Carolina, Singletary turned to 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith for the next five games – even after Alex Smith was healthy again. Troy Smith went 3-2 as a starter, then it was Alex Smith’s turn again for two games, including a commanding win over eventual West champion Seattle.
After a flop at San Diego, Singletary turned back to Troy Smith for a must-win game with the Rams on Dec. 26. That 25-17 loss cost the coach his job with one week to go. Tomsula, serving a single-game stint as interim head coach, went with Alex Smith for a win against Arizona in the season finale.
Harbaugh isn’t about to guess what might happen with Smith, other than to say their encounter was a positive one.
“I don’t want to speak for Alex,” Harbaugh said. “He strikes me as somebody who’s open. His vision for himself, his vision and how that relates to the 49ers is to be determined. Going through the process in his mind, what’s best for him and his career and how that relates to us, that’s an exciting piece as we move forward with not only Alex but all the players on our team. You hate to keep using Alex as the only example. There’s several examples of that.”