Get ready for the next phase, because Harbaugh is
Adorned in his usual game-day/practice-day/everyday attire of khaki pants, black sweater and 49ers cap, Jim Harbaugh looked like a man that wasn’t done coaching football as he stepped to the podium Monday at his postseason news conference. The greatest 49ers season of the 21st century may be over, but Harbaugh certainly isn’t done. In relative terms, his work in San Francisco has only just begun.
But what a fantastic start to the Harbaugh era, with the 49ers transforming from 6-10 also-rans in 2010 to overtime losers in the NFC Championship Game a season later. That’s a quantum leap you just don’t see very often in the NFL, even in this age of league parity and first-to-worst turnarounds.
Harbaugh, of course, wasn’t quite ready to see it end, just like the legion of 49ers followers everywhere, a multitude that resurfaced this season and grew bigger and stronger by the week as the Niners kept winning and showing everybody they’re for real in Harbaugh’s first season with the team.
While his coaching predecessors wore suits to their season wrap-ups, Harbaugh was dressed as though he’d be conducting a practice session as soon his obligations to the media were over. That didn’t happen, because his gritty 49ers finally had succumbed 20-17 in overtime to the New York Giants the evening before, finally bringing to a halt this steaming locomotive of a season.
It still was a time to hurt, since the 49ers had come so far and then so close to the Super Bowl, losing at home in a game they could have – perhaps should have – have won due primarily to the kind of mistakes that had been uncharacteristic of their superlative play this season.
San Francisco’s players acknowledged they still were hurting in the locker room as they cleared out their stalls and packed their bags for the final time this season.
But Harbaugh, straight-faced and lock-jawed, showed none of that kind of emotion. You had to know that the one-that-got-away still burned in his gut, but Harbaugh was letting on to not of it. He already was moving on.
He moves on better than most.
When asked what his message was to his team after such a sudden and disappointing finish to such a wonderful, storybook season, Harbaugh quoted lines from an English folk song entitled Sir Andrew Barton.
“Basically, as Sir Andrew Barton said, ‘Fight on men,’” Harbaugh replied. “Sir Andrew said, ‘Hurt but not slain, lay down and bleed awhile, then we’ll rise and fight again.’”
Slightly paraphrased, those are the most famous three lines of the song. It was impressive alone that Harbaugh could recite them, or even that he has them swirling around in head.
To be sure, there are a lot of things swirling around in there. Harbaugh made that quite evident this season during his amazing debut as a NFL head coach, when he changed the culture around the 49ers with his stoic-but-brash, unrepentant style.
The part Harbaugh played in San Francisco’s 14-4 season borders on coaching genius. Only the great ones have it. Just like his team got oh-so-close to the Super Bowl, Harbaugh seems to be closing in fast on the higher level of his profession.
So that’s why on the day after, Harbaugh looked like he does every other work day. This thing he’s got going with the 49ers, it is far from over. And it could last a long, long time.
It’s as though Harbaugh woke up Monday and decided it was time to begin work on the next phase.
“It was an amazing season,” Harbaugh said. “In a lot of ways, beyond description. Incredible. As far as moving forward, it’s going to require that we do a lot of the similar things that we did when we started this up this past year.
Harbaugh went on: “Start from scratch. We started with people not even knowing each other. It’s going to take incredible resolve. It’ll be easier in some ways, harder in others, but we’ll be entitled to nothing. It’ll be that resolve that we start anew.”
But one thing won’t be different as the Niners dive into a bold new stage for the franchise that promises no limit to what can be accomplished.
And that’s the man at the top, which is the best thing of all for the 49ers going forward.