Super XLVII was a battle of brothers, as Jim and John Harbaugh faced off as head coaches. Even though they are brothers, these two men had different approaches to the game.
Leading their teams to the Super Bowl after suffering heart breaking losses in the AFC and NFC Championship games the previous season is an example of how these are two of the best coaches in the NFL. The 2012 season presented the Harbaugh brothers with some very challenging obstacles. Both of them had to make a very difficult decision that could have backfired on them.
Who is the better coach?
It became very evident that Jim Harbaugh and John Harbaugh had a different approach during the festivities leading up to the Super Bowl. When they held a joint press conference, Jim wore his customary black 49ers sweatshirt, 49ers cap and tan khakis. John elected to wear a more business like suit and tie. John’s opening statement was lengthy, Jim simply said, “I concur.”
We all know the story of how John and Jim Harbaugh grew up around coaching because of their father Jack Harbaugh. These guys were forced to compete in everything. Last year, the 49ers went to Baltimore to face off against the Ravens on Thanksgiving Day. The Ravens ended up winning, but this was clearly a game in which both coaches were evenly matched. It is very interesting how both of these teams reflect the tough nature of their head coaches. That Thanksgiving game was one of the more physical games last year.
The Ravens went through a rough stretch — especially on offense — during the 2012 season. It seemed like Joe Flacco and their offensive coordinator were not on the same page. Something had to be done. John Harbaugh made the decision to fire Cam Cameron, his friend and one of the first coaches he hired to be a part of his staff. The play calling duties were turned over to then quarterback coach Jim Caldwell. Flacco was now able to take advantage of his big arm and the vertical speed that Torrey Smith has. Anquan Boldin now had space to dominate in the intermediate passing game, and Flacco went on one of the best postseason stretches in history.
Jim Harbaugh was also faced with a very difficult decision. The switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick was well-documented. It could have backfired and created a split in the locker room, but it didn’t because Jim has done an excellent job of getting his players to buy into his plan for the franchise. Smith understood what happened and continued to put his best foot forward. He was right there for Kaepernick when he came off the field and discussed what he saw happening. This spoke volumes about the kind of person that Alex is and how the players were completely on board with their coach.
So the question has to be asked, who is the better coach? The Super Bowl was a game of adjustments. The Ravens made it a point to take away the big running plays by Kaepernick and force him to hand the ball off to the running back on their read option plays. They did this by rushing the mesh point, which forced Kaepernik to make a quick decision. The outside rushers had to keep their quarterback contain assignments and not bite on the dive play. They had to trust that their interior linemen would be able to stop the running back. This forced Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman to go to the passing game.
The 49ers saw how Ray Lewis and Bernard Pollard where not able to keep up with the faster Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. As a result, Davis was consistently making plays on crossing routes. The idea was to attack the zone that Ray Lewis had to defend because he is a liability in coverage. John Harbaugh recognized this himself as shown in the mic’d segment on NFL Network. They were able to have Ed Reed drop down and help stop the 49er attack on the middle of the field. Michael Crabtree, Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis still made plays on some tremendous throws by Kaepernick.
It is very hard to say who the better coach is. If you go solely by the records, John Harbaugh gets the selection. His Ravens beat the 49ers in both games that they played. It should be noted that John has stated this about his younger brother, “Jim is the best coach in football. There is no question in my mind. They showed it today the way they battled back and fought right to the end. That’s who he is and that’s who they are. What he has done in the last two years, what they have accomplished in just two years there is phenomenal. I am so proud of him. What they’ve done in the last two years is unprecedented.”
I am going to agree with John Harbaugh and say that Jim is the better of the two coaches. He has turned things around very quickly for the 49ers in just two years. He took an offense that had zero direction and made it into one of the best in the NFL.
Many teams have fallen behind in the Super Bowl and simply packed it in. That was surely not the case for the 49ers. They fought back and came within five yards of completing the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.