Jim Harbaugh is a blessing to San Francisco 49ers fans. But let’s face it, now that we have two years with the second coming of Bill Walsh, we all have a few things that coach Harbaugh does that can frustrate a football fan.
In order of most damaging to least, here is my list of Harbaugh’s shortcomings.
Harbaugh is still a little too collegiate in his game planning in two distinct ways. First, Harbaugh caters his game plan to play to an aspect of that week’s opponent. Second, his game plans include plays that are, at times, inappropriate.
First, remember Week 3? The team was 2-0 and had (essentially) blown out Green Bay on the road and (completely) dominated the Lions during the home opener in the two weeks before?
Up next was the middling Minnesota Vikings. During a crucial point in the 49ers’ first two drives, Alex Smith forced the ball to Randy Moss, as if the team was trying to get him going against his former team. Both drives stalled and Minnesota never relinquished momentum.
The next week, Harbaugh decided to unveil a package of plays featuring the team’s athletic back-up quarterback. Was it a coincidence that Colin Kaepernick first appeared against the New York Jets, who happened to have the NFL’s best known backup quarterback, Tim Tebow? It worked, but the fact remains Harbaugh doesn’t just game plan to win, he occasionally works in twists that tweak his opponents.
The second expression of his collegiate coaching roots involves plays included in his weekly game plans. The two examples I’d like to discuss are the double reverse against the New York Giants in last year’s NFC Championship game, and the pitch-flip to Ted Ginn Jr. against the Rams in Week 13.
The double reverse tried to take advantage of Kyle Williams’ speed and elusiveness against an over-pursuing defense. Great idea. However, it was raining, the field and ball were affected, the second pitch man isn’t used to handling the ball, and Williams was a rookie. Once the conditions were apparent, it should have eliminated as an option.
The pitch-flip was all sorts of wrong, and we all knew it as soon as it happened. Not there, not then. Way too cute in that situation. While the actual calls were Greg Roman’s, Harbaugh should have enforced parameters on plays like that, like past the 40-yard line or during the middle of the game.
Again, just a little too cute for his own good.
Switching gears, Coach Harbaugh’s emotional use of challenges is costly. There were several games this year when Harbaugh’s challenge just didn’t make sense. During his first year he was much better. I hope he returns to whatever method he used during his rookie campaign.
Lastly, Harbaugh’s method of dealing with the media is hilarious, but may ultimately cost his team more than he is saving in strategic obfuscation. The more he hides and taunts the media, the more they dig and needle. Ultimately, this will backfire on Harbaugh. He needs to learn to use the media as an asset.