Jim Harbuagh's enthusiasm for competition didn't pump the brakes following the team's 23-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship. Instead, he said Tuesday he plans on continuously finding ways to be competitive in an offseason that will feature no shortage of story lines.
Harbaugh credited quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his play in Sunday's loss, despite turning the ball over three times in the fourth quarter. He even said targeting Richard Sherman on the game's final pass was the right read given the circumstances.
And with his team facing a number of tough decisions regarding free agents and contract extensions, he said he would fight to bring some of his players back. Within the context of the rumored power struggle between Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke, the coach's choice of words certainly raised a few eyebrows.
Then there's the issue of Harbaugh's contract, which he will never publicly discuss. He's entering year four of his five-year, $25 million contract he signed in 2011. At $5 million per season, Harbaugh is the third-highest paid head coach in the NFC West behind Pete Carroll and Jeff Fisher, and will likely enter negotiations with ownership regarding a contract extension this offseason. He went on to provide injury updates for NaVorro Bowman, Frank Gore, Mike Iupati and Joe Staley.
Harbaugh also confirmed he's spoken to the Cleveland Browns about his assistant coaches. The Brown's are the only team in the NFL with an opening at head coach.
Below is a transcript of Harbaugh's final press conference of the 2013 season from Tuesday.
Can you give us an update on LB NaVorro Bowman? Is the timetable impacted because of the two ligament tears in his knee?
Jim Harbuagh: "He's got an ACL tear. We'll see how MCL heals in the next two to three weeks. But, that's not known if that has to be fixed or not. The fact of fixing the ACL is what we know."
So, you'd have to wait two or three weeks before the ACL could be repaired?
JH: "Yeah, to see what the MCL is like."
One more injury question, RB Frank Gore wasn't on the field for those final five snaps, was that due to a hand/finger injury?
JH: ""Yes, his right ring finger. He broke it."
And that's the reason why, did he do that on--?
JH: "He broke the right ring finger."
At what point in the game did he do that?
JH: "I did not know about it until after the game."
But is that the reason why he wasn't in the game at the end?
JH: "Like I said, I did not know about that. No, I'm not saying that, no. That I was aware of at the time, no."
Back on Bowman, do you expect him to be ready for the start of the regular season?
JH: "I have no way to speculate (on that)."
What have the doctors informed you of?
JH: "I have not been informed about that."
Are you saying his MCL was not torn?
JH: "It's not known, for sure, if that has to be fixed, or if that will tack down on it's own."
Just to clarify, he won't have any procedure for--?
JH: "A couple weeks. Two, three weeks."
G Mike Iupati doesn't have to have surgery?
JH: "His fracture will be casted."
Joe Staley was telling me yesterday he had a compound dislocation in his thumb in the first quarter and he continued playing. Were you aware of that?
JH: "Yes, I was aware of that."
How well did he play?
JH: "He played well. The game itself was one of the best games I've ever witnessed as a coach or player because the players played their ass off. It's a credit to the players in the game, the way they played."
You were in the Super Bowl last year. You don't get there this year. Do you have to say this team did not take a step forward this season?
"It was a fabulous year of football. Superb year of football. Well, you can't say superb, but the players played superbly. I thought they were prepared superbly by our coaching staff, and it was a great year of football with a capital G."
I have a question about the final interception. QB Colin Kaepernick said after the game that his mind was made up pre-snap where to go with the ball. Is that the right call in that situation with that play to go ahead and make that decision where you're going to throw the ball before the ball is even snapped?
JH: "Pre-snap decisions are made, yes, based on the route call, the matchup, coverage. That does happen on certain pass plays."
Is that one of those plays?
So, when you look at the film and review that, was that the correct call for him to do?
Colin said point-blank that he blamed himself for that loss. Is that a quarterback just taking the mantle or is that appropriate? Should he have said that? Was he accurate?
JH: "No. That's not accurate. I thought Colin played his ass off. As I said, I thought all the players in the game did."
Do you understand why he said that, do you like that, maybe that's a little bit of leadership there? What do you characterize what he said?
JH: "I think you characterized it pretty well. Taking the mantle."
A lot of the players that helped get you to three straight NFC Championships are now pending free agents, S Donte Whitner, C Jonathan Goodwin as well as CB Tarell Brown. Will this be one of the more difficult or involved offseasons to figure out which core players you keep and how you bring in and do you replace them and rebuild it again?
JH: "Today, it's Tuesday and I'm back to work. You find other ways to compete. It's not as enjoyable as it was a week ago. You're not still playing. You're not still competing on the field and getting ready for practice today and tomorrow. But, you do find other ways to compete. And, that's definitely one of the ways. Fight to keep our players. Fight for our players to not be taken away from us. So, that will be a competitive fight."
Obviously, you always want your players back and you're not exactly in control of everything, but are you resigned to the fact that you might lose some guys this year that you really don't want to lose?
JH: "I'm resigned to the fact that I'm going to fight to keep our players and not let our players get taken away."
How would you like to see Colin approach this offseason? Last year he was very busy, very active, very visible. Do you mind what he does in terms of off-the-field issues, not issues, but just what he does off the field?
JH: "I thought he was A-plus in the way he trained, prepared. As coaches, as players, you could see it. It was hourly. It was daily that we were with him in the offseason and he was preparing for the season. Talking to him, that's the plan again this year."
You could tell he was the first guy in today.
JH: "Yeah. You could see his car right in the parking lot."
Did he meet with you? Did you talk with him, go over things, the game?
JH: "We talked yesterday. It wasn't one of those post-season meetings where everybody just calls a meeting, just because that's always what's been done. I didn't need to ask the players how they felt. I know how they felt. I know how I felt. No need to pat each other on the back. But, just needed to look into their eye and tell them just how thankful that I was to be their coach and how enjoyable this season was and thank them for their efforts."
A couple of minutes ago, you hesitated on the word superb, a superb season.
JH: "Well, you can't call it superb, but it was a great year of football."
Let me ask my question, OK? Why did you hesitate on superb?
"Well, superb you'd be super, Super Bowl, win the Super Bowl. I'd classify that as superb."
And a follow-up is, is there any such thing as a good loss?
JH: "I don't know that. I've heard people ask that question and I have not experienced a good loss. So, if there is one, I'm not aware of it."
You don't ever use the phrase, ‘window of opportunity,' but we use it and how many times can a team get to certain level and not win it before the window closes? Do you presume that your window to win a championship is still wide open? Do you have many more years? One more year? Where do you think you are in that level?
JH: "Well, back today competing for that very thing. I don't understand windows. It's confusing in terms of football. So, back today competing."
Along those lines, how much do the Seahawks figure into your offseason and figuring out ways to beat the team that won the division this year?
JH: "I think you compete at making your own team better. Find ways to continue to improve and then your opponent has a say. So, you are competing against them as well."
Do you intend to bring all of your assistants back, most of them back? What's the plan there?
JH: "As you know, there are some assistants that are moving on to other jobs in their career path, and that's something else we'll be competing at, to make sure that we continue to have a great staff."
Other than those, would you imagine keeping everyone else?
JH: "We'll see. You don't know for sure."
Can you say if the Browns have contacted you about anyone on your staff?
JH: "I've had conversations with the Browns."
JH: "Regarding our coaches, yes."
So that's a possibility as far as that opening?
JH: "Yeah, there are possibilities."
Is it just one? There was a report about defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Is he the one or are there others that the Browns have asked about?
JH: "Again, you start talking about other people's jobs - that's their situation. You asked me if I've talked to anybody about our coaches, yes. Going into any further detail - I don't think it helps our situation, their situation. Their search is their search."
Has anyone for the league or the officials contacted you about the running into the kicker penalty, and would P Andy Lee have been able to punt after that play or was he injured?
JH: "He limped off, but I think he would have been able to punt after that."
Has anyone contacted you about that play?
JH: "No. Nobody's contacted me about that play."
Why not re-punt that? It was a 38 net, moved it up five yards. Why not go ahead and punt it?
JH: "Because he was limping off the field."
So that did impact your decision?
After the game, you compared it to a 15-round fight, saying one or two plays really decided it. You've had a chance to now look back on more of it. Do you still hold that view? Is there some other area that you think maybe you could have improved as a team on that would have won that game? What are your thoughts?
JH: "No different. As I said earlier, I thought the players that played in the game are a real credit to football the way they played."
At the end of the game when you guys were on offense, 18-yard line, 30 seconds left, two time outs, were you comfortable? I know you don't like that word comfortable, but did you like the rhythm you guys were in? Did you think you were pressed up against the clock at all? Should you have handled that differently or did you handle it correctly?
JH: "We all felt that we were in position to score the touchdown there. I thought we were in good position."
Is there something about Colin, I know your judgment of it that he's played very well, but three turnovers in the 4th quarter, again he was harsh about himself. Is there something there that needs to be tuned up in his game? Is there something that you can say, ‘OK, there was a reason why these things happened and we will fix them going into next season?'
JH: "I thought he played fabulous. I really did. There were things that happened both side of the ball, special teams. You could point to a lot of areas. I really feel like the players just really acquitted themselves as well as they could on both sides of the ball. Both teams."
Your next home game's going to be across the street over here. In this offseason, are you going to set up the locker room over there and all that stuff? Are you going to take a role in some of that or have you thought about any of that? Are you going to have some involvement in setting up that whole thing over there?
JH: "There is going to be some strategy there, and I'll get into it now that the season's over."
Will you keep the locker room here or practice out of that locker room or do you even know yet?
JH: "We'll make good decisions. We'll make good decisions as an organization, together, as we've always strived to do."
Do you expect to have contract extension discussions with 49ers CEO Jed York any time soon? Do you expect to have an extension by the beginning of next season?
JH: "Well, until something further changes, which would have to be a principle in my mind that would completely change the way I think, I don't ever talk about contracts publicly. If that principle changes, I will let you know."
Do you expect to be the 49ers coach for many years into the future?
JH: "When that principle changes, [San Jose Mercury News columnist] Tim, [Kawakami] I will (call you)."
You can call me.
JH: "Yeah, well I'm sure you'll keep asking me. I don't have a problem with that. I guess on a professional note, a personal note, something that stood out in my mind - is just how good it's been to work with all of you, weekly, monthly during an entire season. And, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, professionally, I want to compliment you on just the way you've all handled the news, and your accuracy and your professionalism in which you've reported it. And I know you don't take sides or choose up sides. I know you are very eager to be neutral, but I've felt that you've done it in a very professional way. There wasn't a time when you tried to divide the team. There was no malice in the way our media handled the season and I appreciate that. I thought it was fair. I thought it was tough at times, but fair, but not divisive. I don't know if you take that as a compliment or not, but I felt like you were on the 49ers side as much as you could be in your positions. And I appreciate that...Does that make any sense at all, [Santa Rosa Press Democrat columnist] Lowell [Cohn]?"
Except for being on 49ers side. We cover, we don't root. But you know that.
JH: "I understand that's your position, but I felt the way you covered was very professional and with no malice to try to divide the team."
Thank you, I'm sure we all appreciate that. And, I would add you've improved. When you first started with us, you weren't as confident or as forthcoming, and I think one of the reasons we've done better is because you've done better.
JH: "Well thank you. I strive to improve. Improvement leads to success, success will lead to championships."
You did bring up professional, I did want to ask you about Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman's actions and words on the field with WR Michael Crabtree. I guess to Colin too with the choking gesture, with the comments after the game. You know Richard, were you disappointed in that? Were you upset by anything that he did?
JH: "I don't know the things you're referring to. I've heard some talk about it, but I don't know those specific gestures that you're referring to because I didn't see them."
Did you see the interviews?
JH: "I did not see the interviews. No, I did not sit down and watch the interviews from the game. And whatever did take place, let those be judged how they're judged."
Did you make a point of avoiding that, of looking at that interview?
JH: "No, I didn't avoid it. I have been seeing to other areas."
Given what Michael Crabtree showed you in the way that he could come back, do you believe NaVorro Bowman can do something similar?
JH: "I absolutely do. I really do. He's got healing ahead. He's got grueling rehab ahead. That is not the way that you would have foreseen his offseason to be, after coming off of what many have talked about, and deservedly so, of a Defensive Player of the Year-type of performance. Great year by NaVorro. But facts are stubborn things. That's what lies ahead of him. Now, knowing what's inside of NaVorro Bowman, I have great faith in the human agency of NaVorro Bowman to continue to be great."
Can you share some of your message to the players heading into the offseason from yesterday when you had a team meeting?
JH: "No, not so much. Not so much. Am I regressing? (Laughter) Am I regressing, Lowell?"
What's the plan going forward with RB Marcus Lattimore? Will he be full go when OTAs begin?
JH: "I believe so, yes. I think this has been an outstanding year for Marcus. Tough at times, but I think great things will happen for him."
Do you go into next year presuming that Lattimore and DT Tank Carradine, two guys you drafted pretty highly, are going to be producing for you next year or have to?
JH: "I have great hope for that, yes. I think there's a path there, and nobody owes anybody a career in professional football. Your career is literally your business, but I have great faith that those men have what it takes."
JH: "Chris was out sprinting yesterday, and Ian Williams is back walking around and well on his way to healing and rehabbing. Same thing, grueling rehab."
I did notice at the end of the game you and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll did exchange some words at the handshake. I'll ask. Can you share what that was about?
JH: "I congratulated him and his team moving on and wished them good luck. And he had some very nice things to say as well. I think everybody saw the same thing in terms of the way the game was played. Great credit to the players that played in the game and to the coaches that coached in the game. It was a great football game."
He said before the game, and maybe you knew about it, you and the 49ers make him and the Seahawks better. Would you say the same thing works the way that you look at them?
JH: "Yes, I would. They're an outstanding, worthy opponent, and they do. That's one thing about a rivalry that is a wonderful thing in football, at any level, it makes both teams aspire to be better, to be great. And they had a phenomenal year. So far they've done it better than anybody else has."
Would you like to see them win the Super Bowl?
JH: "The team that plays the best, the team that plays the hardest is the one I root for. That'll play out a week from Sunday."
Has the league contacted you or the 49ers about what happened on the sideline with Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane going out of bounds?
JH: "I think there has been some contact there. [General Manager] Trent's [Baalke] talked to them about that. I do have a perspective on that because I did see it. I was standing closer to the sideline than the person that got run into. I saw Jeremy deep into our box and I turned around. What I saw was our guy do the exact same thing. I was practically in his shoes because we both turned around and saw the same thing. And he did run into our guy and kind of stumbled down to the ground. But our guy was in a spot back where he was supposed to be. I saw it with my own two eyes. I saw the same kind of reaction. He made the same reaction that I did. So, it was bang-bang. I could be called for a witness on that because I saw it."
In that instance is it, when the player's behind you, is it hard to figure out whether to move?
JH: "Yeah, you don't know which way to go other than just hold your ground and protect yourself. Which was his reaction. It would have been mine as well. But I think I would be welcomed to be called and say the same thing on the record."
What's your schedule like the next couple of weeks? Are you going to the Senior Bowl, are you going to watch the Super Bowl here at home, or are you going to go to New York for any reason that week? Do you know?
JH: "No, I plan on doing the work from here."
Who was that on the sideline? I didn't immediately recognize him.
JH: "I know that. I don't think that's come out. I'm not going to be the one to say that right now."
It wasn't a player though?
JH: "No, it was not a player."
After ending the last three seasons with losses that are as close as can be, does it get easier each time or harder? What's your mindset going into the offseason?
"Competitive. Find new things to be competitive with in your work, and today is no exception."
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