Jim Harbaugh brought the San Francisco 49ers to the brink of a championship twice in his first two years as a head coach in the NFL, and he did almost all of it without “his” quarterback.
It is no secret that Harbaugh thought very highly of Colin Kaepernick coming out of last year’s draft and given how quickly Kaepernick found himself thrust into the starting role and the unusual circumstances surrounding the move, it is crystal clear that Kaepernick was always his guy.
After all, when was the last time a starting QB lost his job to a 2nd-year QB with virtually no pro experience while boasting a 6-2 record, an incredible completion percentage, and a 100+ quarterback rating during the middle of a Super Bowl-aspiring season?
That suggests that Alex Smith as the unwitting bridge from one era to the next. Smith wasn’t so much as endorsed by Harbaugh as he was utilized.
Let’s not forget that people (me included, for sure) who follow the NFL thought the 49ers were in for a rough year with a coaching change and a lockout to contend with. With a shortened preseason, it sure looked like 2012 was going to be a rough year for the red and gold.
Instead, Harbaugh made use of a very smart quarterback who had been with the team for several years and commanded the respect of the locker room to get the playbook into his players’ hands, hold training camp-like practices, and provide a sense of continuity.
For all of that, Coach Harbaugh was just waiting for the flimsiest of pretenses to get Kaepernick in as a starter.
Entering the 2013 season, Peyton Manning was the hot free agent. Harbaugh and his offensive coordinator Greg Roman visited Manning with the presumed goal of possibly signing him. So why didn’t they?
Besides GM Trent Baalke’s general strategy of not making big free agent signings, not signing Manning initially seemed like an endorsement of Alex Smith. Harbaugh was quick to compliment his starting QB, for example, once the news of the trip went public.
Looking back, it now looks like the endorsement wasn’t for Alex Smith, but for Colin Kaepernick. Barring injury, Manning wasn’t going to be a one-year rental. Smith, however, could serve one more year, then be released to pave the way for Kaepernick. The 49ers signed him to a nice contract, assuaging his ego and reinforcing their “commitment” to him.
And they knew all along they would release him before the contract expired.
Now that Alex Smith has bridged the gap from the Era of Mike’s to the current era, Harbaugh finally has his guy in place as the starter and a full preseason to work with the offense.
We 49er fans expect our team to be pistol (formation) whipping each week’s opponents during another Super Bowl-or-bust season.