Jim Harbaugh is as much a football coach as a psychologist is a pixie. His words are measured, his thoughts unlimited. There’s a reason for every comment, just as there is for every play call.
Wednesday at 49ers Central in Santa Clara — and via phone hookup — Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys, who play the Niners on Sunday at Candlestick Park, said what one coach always says about another: That Harbaugh is brilliant.
Harbaugh, who might be described by the contradiction humbly arrogant — or is it arrogantly humble — wants none of the praise. Even though 48 hours earlier, in a clever ploy, he had spoken of the Niners being ignored by ESPN’s “SportsCenter” highlights.
It was the old “We don’t get respect,” contention, as if a team which hasn’t had a winning record or a place in the playoffs in eight years should have respect or even 10 seconds on the tube.
“Personally,” said Harbaugh two days later, “I’d prefer all that is written is written against us.”
Which, of course, when you’ve won your first game as a head coach in the NFL, cannot be. And it’s something Harbaugh, who knows the media and the landscape, understands well.
“I feel a certain sense of assurance we are going to be successful, if that’s the case,” said Harbaugh, continuing the dialogue. “When honeyed words are flowered upon us, that’s when I feel exposed before our enemies.”
Was that Harbaugh speaking? Or Mao Tse Tung? Or Bill Walsh? Indeed, those who foresaw Harbaugh coming from Stanford to be savior of the Niners, as Walsh did, have their wish and their shadow-boxing coach.
Jim sounds and acts like Walsh the sequel.
Remember during those glory days of the Niners — and a game against the Cowboys any time of year is a perfect occasion for recollection — how announcers such as John Madden or Al Michaels would say San Francisco had “too many weapons”?
On Wednesday, Niners quarterback Alex Smith, following Harbaugh to the microphone, said he now has “a lot of tools at my disposal ... a lot of things built into the gameplan for me to use.”
And while tools aren’t exactly weapons, because the latter referred to Jerry Rice and Roger Craig, in addition to Joe Montana or Steve Young, there’s a feeling Harbaugh is creating an offense which can win.
It isn’t just the players which make a team effective, it’s the way they are employed. Alex, under what, two dozen offensive coordinators — really only seven in six years — had not been given the tools, confidence or the freedom to do what was needed.
The Niners are 1-0, and Harbaugh, Smith and no less Ted Ginn Jr., who ran back a kickoff and a punt return for a touchdown, had a part in that.
“It’s a lot better than 0-1,” Alex mused. “You sacrifice yourself to win. A division opponent [Seattle]. When you get the ‘W,’ it’s huge.”
What happens is to be determined, but Harbaugh, giving away no secrets, pointed out, “There’s an old football axiom which dates back to 1869 [when Princeton played Rutgers in the first game] you can’t win Game 2 until you’ve won Game 1.”
Can’t debate that remark. Or the way the Niners began the 2011 season.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at email@example.com.