San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has been so successful so quickly that it’s time to start putting his brief career into perspective.
He’s the first coach in NFL history to take his team to three straight conference championship games in his first three seasons. He put Stanford on a path to dominance that hasn’t been seen at the school since Pop Warner was running the program.
Throw in Harbaugh’s three-year run at the University of San Diego — where he won 22 of his last 24 games — and you should get the picture. We’re looking at a man well on his way to being the greatest coach of the next generation.
Harbaugh’s hot head-coaching career is all the more amazing because nobody saw him being this good this fast. If he can lead his 49ers past the Seattle Seahawks in this Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, the buzz around him will only intensify.
San Francisco came within one incomplete Colin Kaepernick pass of beating Harbaugh’s brother, John, and the Baltimore Ravens in last year’s Super Bowl. A victory this time around would leave many people wondering if it’s really possible for Jim Harbaugh to ever fail in this profession.
It’s actually damn near impossible to find another coach in recent memory who compares to Harbaugh, at least when considering the places he’s coached and the results he’s achieved.
Bill Walsh won at Stanford — a school notoriously hard to recruit at because of the difficulty of finding kids who meet its high academic standards — but he never took his teams to the heights Harbaugh reached with that program. Walsh also won only eight games during his first two years with the 49ers before claiming the first of his three Super Bowl victories after the 1981 season. He then went 3-6 in 1982, a strike-shortened year.
Bill Belichick bombed in Cleveland before winning three Super Bowls in New England. Bill Parcells went 3-8 as Air Force’s head coach in 1978 and didn’t reach an NFL conference title game until his fourth season in the league. Chuck Noll had three straight losing seasons in Pittsburgh before the Steelers blossomed into a dynasty, while Tom Landry didn’t post a winning record until his seventh season in Dallas.
There are other coaches whose careers started much faster — including Vince Lombardi, Don Shula and Joe Gibbs — but the list is not long.
Just as impressive is the job Harbaugh has done in three short years in San Francisco. People can say he walked into a treasure trove of talent, but Mike Singletary and Mike Nolan, his predecessors with the franchise, couldn’t maximize that potential.
–Jeffri Chadiha, ESPN.com
The Golden State Warriors were certainly lacking something in their 123-116 Wednesday night loss to the Denver Nuggets. Toney Douglas had not helped the team much all season, but ironically, his services were sorely needed on the day he was swapped in a trade for Jordan Crawford.
Douglas is an ace point guard defender who has lacked for opportunities to play alongside Stephen Curry. The Nuggets would have been perfect for Douglas, as they’re rich in point guard-sized talent and supersmall lineups. In Toney’s absence, Nate Robinson and Randy Foye set Oracle alight for 45 points on 24 shots.
Perhaps nobody could have defended Nate Robinson on this evening, though. The buoyant guard hit an array of absurd off-balance shots, sinking six in the final quarter. This display was a reminder of the games Robinson could summon as former leader of Golden State’s bench offense attack.
“That’s what Nate can do,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw declared. “He can bring that. He can get hot at any time. He’s a streaky player, and when he’s on a good streak, he’s as good as anybody in the league.”
Robinson’s offensive outburst was illustrative of what Golden State lacks and what it seeks from the trade market. Though the Warriors did not trade for Robinson, they did make a deal for Crawford, a gunner of comparable reckless confidence.
Is Crawford, of all people, the savior of a title contender? On its face, such a possibility seems as ludicrous as Golden State’s title contention status. But the Warriors boast the league’s best-performing starting lineup, and Crawford has evolved as a playmaker.
For now, the bench is Golden State’s glaring flaw.
“We’re 29th in bench production,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said before the game. “It’s safe to say we couldn’t be worse.” Myers’ bench lacks guys who can dribble and create shots. Though Crawford, like Robinson, can produce maddening results, there is value in being the right kind of gunner amid guys who can’t get their own offense.
–Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop Network
Pop quiz: Who was the 49ers’ starting receiver alongside Michael Crabtree last postseason?
(Drawing a blank. Tall guy? Was it Dwight Clark? Maybe J.J. Stokes?)
It shouldn’t be a stumper, not really, but in many ways it is, because Anquan Boldin is in that spot now and seems like he has been there forever.
It certainly seems like Boldin should’ve been with the 49ers forever, because he came in a trade last offseason and has fit wonderfully into the hardy team culture.
So much that …
As the 49ers head into Sunday’s mega-NFC Championship game against Seattle, Boldin has more than replaced Randy Moss in the 49ers’ offense beside Crabtree.
To put it bluntly, Boldin has basically erased Moss, a future Hall of Famer, from all 49ers memory banks so decisively that it puts Boldin’s own Hall of Fame candidacy in much grander perspective.
I covered almost every 49ers game last season, and I clearly remember only two things that Moss (now out of the league) did during the season:
His touchdown catch in Week 1 at Green Bay and his halfhearted attempt at a high Colin Kaepernick pass over the middle in the Super Bowl that ended up as an Ed Reed interception.
Maybe not all of it was Moss’ fault; during Super Bowl week he said he was unhappy with his role with the 49ers and suggested he was mainly a decoy.
But this season, the 49ers sure haven’t used Boldin as a decoy, and he carried much of the 49ers’ pass attack for the first 11 games, while Crabtree rehabbed his Achilles injury.
Boldin had 85 receptions for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns this regular season; last season, Moss had 28 catches for 434 yards and three touchdowns.
–Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News