Good Goes Bad, Bad Gets Worse.

"Oakland?  I gotta move to OAKLAND?"  (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

“Oakland? I gotta move to OAKLAND?” (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Tomorrow is the last day of the 2014 NFL season. An elite few will be still be ballin’ hard as they try to make the playoffs. Everybody else is just getting this last meaningless game the hell out of the way, try not to get hurt (though some guys may try to hurt somebody else if only to take out their frustrations) and then clean out their lockers.

“What will happen, will happen,” Harbaugh told reporters when asked about his future coaching plans, “What will not happen, won’t happen.”

What will not happen is another season with James Harbaugh freaking out on the sidelines as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Four years ago, Harbaugh was The Man, the chosen One who would lead the 49ers out of the poverty of the Dennis Erickson/Mike Nolan/Mike Singletary years back to the Bill Walsh Super Bowl riches.  Didn’t turn out that way.   The history of how the good times turned bad have been detailed by reporter Tim Kawakami but suffice it to say, it’s not really a shock the 49ers and Harbaugh are about to break up badly.

To be a 49ers fan is to be shooting for the future while simultaneously shackled to the past. It’s not Jim Harbaugh’s fault he isn’t Bill Walsh (or even George Seifert). It’s not Colin Kapernick’s fault he isn’t Joe Montana or Steve Young (but he’s not Jeff Garcia or Alex Smith either).

When Harbaugh packs his bags to return to Michigan and a reported $8 million yearly check, he will be the highest paid coach in college football. This would be a nice pay raise from the $5 million the 49ers are paying him and would bump Harbaugh into the Sean Payton/Pete Carroll/Bill Belichick neighborhood without actually winning a Super Bowl like those guys. To put this in perspective the 32nd lowest paid NFL coach was the already whacked Dennis Allen of the Raiders.   Even a nobody like this was pulling down $3 million, so never feel sorry for a fired NFL coach. They’re all overpaid.

“Aw man! The singer forgot the lyrics of the National Anthem!”

 

 

In his wake the 49ers will either promote one of their defensive coaches, Jim Tomsula or Vic Fangio. If they decide to start fresh, look for the team to seek out an offensive coordinators such as Denver’s Adam Gase or New England’s Josh McDaniels in hopes someone can resurrect the 49ers DOA offense and if he isn’t traded, Kapernick’s career.

There are many reasons for Harbaugh and 49ers front office to part ways. A below .500 season after coming one completed pass from a second Super Bowl berth is an excellent one. Of all the disappointing underachievers in the NFL, nobody is as disappointing and underachieved more than the 2014 49ers.

Despite getting the Niners to the NFC Championship game three consecutive years, they only won it once and went on to lose a heartbreaker against brother John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens. Winners know how to close and Harbaugh never could. He repeatedly came up short in the biggest games. Coupled with an inability to win the arms race with arch-rival Seattle Seahawks, despite the impressive win-loss record, Harbaugh leaves San Francisco better than he found it, but still frustratingly distant from the Gold Standard days of Walsh and Montana.

If owner Jed York and general managerTrent Baalkie wanted to make the fans happen they would order Harbaugh to fire offensive coordinator Greg Roman, make him play out the last year of his contract and put down in writing a promise to make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in the NFL if he could (a) beat the Seahawks and (b) get to and win another NFC championship.

Hello, I must be going.

What Harbaugh wants as much as money is control. He wants to pick his own players, draft his own rookies, sign his own free agents. He wants to pick his own G.M. who will do all those things the way he’s instructed to do them and hammer out the messy and boring contract details. What Harbaugh wants most the 49ers won’t give him which leaves teams like the Raiders and Jets that might happily go along with Coach Khakis can do the kind of renovation job he did with the Niners with these two perennial bottom-feeders.

The failure of the Niners was a team effort.   All-time rushing leader Frank Gore is a free agent who wants to stay put, but at 32 year old and a $6 million salary, he’s not coming back at that price. Anquan Bolden is 34 and Kapernick’s most reliable receiver and that’s a worrisome combination. Ray McDonald has already been whacked for his off the field problem and Aldon Smith is probably right behind him. Justin Smith is thinking retirement, Vernon Davis has vanished from the gameplan and former first rounder Michael Crabtree is too slow to stretch defenses and too unreliable to be a go-to receiver.

An offensive line full of highly-paid first rounders has become a sieve as Kapernick is the most sacked QB in the league.   Stud linebacker Navorro Bowman was injured in the NFC Championship loss to the Seahawks and never made it back to the field.   The talented troublemaker, Aldon Smith served an eight gamesuspension which sapped the defense’s pass rush capabilities and he may not be back.   Last year the Niners ended the season with one player on injured reserve.   This season the number jumped to 16.    “Next Man Up” is the ruling philosophy in the NFL and the 49ers are about to apply it to a winning, but difficult head coach.

“He’s my best coach. I didn’t enjoy here until we started winning. Since he’s been here, I’ve been winning.” That what Gore said about Harbaugh.  Crabtree added, “He’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever played for… He’s a player’s coach. He’s just a good dude. Everyone has their own opinion, but he’s been a good dude to me. And this team.”

Yet Harbaugh came up short on discipline as time and again a Niners player would show up on a police blotter.  Instead of cutting the bad actors loose, Harbaugh and Baaike would make excuses and extend second, third and fourth chances.  There isn’t space to list all the Niners who posed for mug shots during Harbaugh’s tenure,  but the handling of defensive end Ray McDonald is a signature moment of this whole shitty season.  McDonald was investigated by the police for striking his pregnant girlfriend but not charged.  Instead of suspending him the 49ers allowed McDonald to keep playing.   After sliding by for beating up a pregnant woman, McDonald rewarded the team’s trust by his name popping up in a sexual assault.  That was a bridge too far even for the lenient and lax 49ers brain trust and they cut McDonald the same day.

The blame for the team’s flame-out will fall primarily on Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman and both will be gone next season and veterans Gore, Crabtree, Mike Iupati, Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith and Vernon Davis all possibly decamping as free agents, salary cuts or retirement.   This will be a drastically changed 49ers team in 2015 and no matter who takes over its hard to see similar success forthcoming.

“Who’s Got It Better Than Us?” was the war cry Harbaugh rallied his players with when the Niners were one of the league’s best teams.   Now they’re not.   The answer to the question has become,  “Lots of other teams not named the San Francisco 49ers.”

Don’t worry for Jim Harbaugh.   He’ll do just fine wherever he lands.   It’s less certain the 49ers will do likewise.

 

Those khakis will be worn somewhere else next season.

 

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Dreaming Out of Season

One bad play does not a season make. But two...?

The ultimate high in the surprising 2011 San Francisco 49ers season came when QB Alex Smith threw a precisely timed pass to TE Vernon Davis for the winning touchdown with seconds left to beat the Saints was dubbed by the 49er faithful as “The Grab.”  It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in ancient Candlestick Park with sunshine, clear skies and a warm, pleasant light growing in the hearts of every long-suffering fan.

The rainy, foggy and cold Sunday where two critical mistakes by a stand-in punt returner brought an ignoble finish to the season will live in 49ers history as “The Fumbles.”

It took me a few days to swallow the disappointment of the 49ers losing to the Giants 20-17 in overtime, but I’ve digested it now. The Giants deserve to go to the Super Bowl. They made the plays and caught the breaks. The 49ers didn’t and that’s why their season is over.

Now let’s talk about Kyle Williams, the guy who lost the two fumbles that cost the 49ers dearly. The player who so enraged some idiots they rushed to Twitter to make threats on his life.

After the game, my wife asked me if the Niners would cut Williams loose. I replied, “No, they won’t and no, they shouldn’t.”

“It was just one of those situations where I caught the ball, tried to head upfield, tried to make a play and it ended up for the worse,” Williams said.


W
illiams will forever be known and reviled as the goat who cost the 49ers a trip to the Super Bowl. In part that is true and that is something Williams, a second year player from Stanford, will have to own for some time. But football is a team sport and the 49ers lost that game as a team. One or two plays can dramatically alter the outcome of a game but a loss can be attributed to an entire 60 minutes worth of poor execution.

The 49ers offense converted only 1 out of 13 third downs. That’s terrible.

The 49ers wide receivers combined for one catch for three yards in five quarters and almost four hours of football. That’s worse that terrible.  That’s pathetic.

Hero one day, goat the next. Welcome to the NFL, Kyle Williams

QB Alex Smith, who looked like a stud in the previous week’s shoot-out with the Saints looked pretty ordinary against the G-men. His two touchdown passes to TE Vernon Davis were things of beauty, but as Greg Cosell in his NFL Flims blog called out Smith for his “tentative and uncertain pocket play. “

Cosell said, “Smith was reluctant to let it loose on routes and throws that were not only well designed, but were open…One of the attributes that separates high level quarterback play in big games and critical moments is the willingness to make stick throws into smaller windows. Smith did that with confidence against the Saints. In the NFC Championship game, he was hesitant and cautious on throws that were clearly defined.  Simply put, Smith left a lot of plays on the field against the Giants. While Williams publicly shouldered the burden of defeat, it was his quarterback who failed to deliver on the promise he had shown a week earlier.”

In this season where a franchise that had once been the NFL’s Gold Standard of a successful football organization on and off the field, made an unexpected return to glory, no player benefited more from the coaching of Jim Harbaugh than Alex Smith. The former overall Number One pick looked destined to be a bust. Under the tutelage of Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, they made Smith an effective game manager who didn’t throw interceptions and didn’t make the critical mistake at the critical time.

Against the Saints, Smith proved he could not only manage a game, but with his feet and his arm, he could make crucial plays and win games as well. Smith didn’t throw any interceptions against the Giants, but he couldn’t get the 49ers in the end zone either when they needed to. Smith played it safe and the difference between his lack of comfort with his wide receivers and Eli Manning’s confidence with his group is like that between night and day.

I really believe Kyle Williams will make plays for the 49ers as he learns how to play the position. During the season Williams caught 20 passes for 211 yards and three td’s . Those aren’t flashy numbers, but Williams is fast and can stretch a defense vertically. I have no doubt as a slot receiver and in a four receiver package, Williams will eventually shine.

With this depressing loss the Niners become just another one out of 30 teams not good enough to get to the Super Bowl  with deficiencies and have needs that must be met.

No position needs upgrading more than wide receiver for the 49ers. Michael Crabtree, the first round pick three years ago is a solid Number Two receiver. He lacks the speed or big grab ability to be a consistent Number One. There will be free agent talent available that meets that need. Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Marcus Colston, and DeSean Jackson may be available if the Niners want to bid for their services.

The Niners may not have the bank available to sign a big name free agent. They have several free agents of their own they need to resign including Smith. They may have to look past the premier group of receivers for some gems remaining after the initial buying spree or trade up in the NFL Draft hoping to grab a young and speedy receiver.

I like the place the 49ers are in going in to the off-season. After their first playoff appearance since 2003, they have holes to plug, but this year it’s going to be about adding talent, not blowing up the roster and starting over.

“Everyone in here told me to keep my head up, it’s not on me,” Williams said. “You hate to be the last guy that had the ball, to give it up in that fashion and lose a game of this magnitude. It is what it is. We’re going to move forward as a team. I couldn’t be happier with the teammates I have in here.”

I agree. For far too long after the 16th game the typical Niner fan had to sigh in disappointment and disgust, “Well, there’s always next season.” This year we can say “I can’t wait for next season.” Our Super Bowl dreams are merely delayed, not deferred.   We’re dreaming out of season.

At the risk of echoing Sarah Palin, the San Francisco 49ers don’t need to rebuild.  They need to reload.

Who's got it better than us? Well, there's the Giants...

Saving the Best for Last: The 49ers Shock the Saints

"I am a 49er. Hear me roar!"

The hero of the day in the San Francisco 49ers victory over the New Orleans Saints was tight end Vernon Davis who caught the game winning score from much maligned quarterback Alex Smith.  The 36-32 downing of the high-octane Saints gave the 49ers their first playoff win in nine years and punched their ticket for an appearance in the NFC Championship.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh and the front office deserve all the credit for making the 49ers this year’s most unlikely Super Bowl contender.  Some credit should go to Mike Singletary, the man Harbaugh replaced for being responsible for getting Davis to drop the diva act and tap into his incredible potential.

For a while Davis looked to be just another in long list of first round failures for the Niners.  Nobody questioned if Davis had the talent.  The question was whether he would ever pull his head out of his ass and tap into it..  Singletary was not a good coach.  What he was was an excellent motivator.  Davis was motivated by Singletary and Harbaugh coached him up.

While Smith-to-Davis isn’t a moment as iconic as Montana-to-Clark, give them time.  They had to endure a lot of crap to get to this moment of glory.

My wife and I are 49ers fans going back to “The Catch” which occurred 30 years ago this weekend.

Today we witnessed “The Catch II” or “The Grab” as some have dubbed Smith’s TD pass to Davis. Whatever the hell you want to call it after nearly nine years or wandering in the NFL wilderness, it feels really good to return to being a relevant team again..

I respect the Saints and I’m not going to lie: I expected them to win.  I felt the Niners had a chance to throw some blows and go toe-to-toe with the Saints’ explosive offense.  Drew Brees is crazy good, but I also thought if the Niners had to deal with the Saints, that was fine.  They had to deal with us too.

If this had been in the Superdome, I’m not sure the Niners would have won.  They worked hard to secure that home field advantage over the Saints and it paid off in full.

The cherry on top is how satisfying it is that this the Saints/49ers was merely supposed to be the opening act for the main event of Tom Brady vs. Tim “Touched By An Angel.”  Tebow in primetime.   Nobody pimped this game harder than ESPN. They have been riding Tebow’s dick even more than they were Brett Favre.  I didn’t think that was possible, but ESPN’s saturation coverage and endless hero worship proved it was.

Joke’s on you, ESPN.  There was only one football game that was Must See TV and it wasn’t in Foxboro.  Brady demolished Denver and sent Tebow packing until he can plan his resurrection next September.

I have nothing against Tim Tebow personally.  He seems like an earnest young man who loves playing football and giving the glory to Jesus Christ, but I watch football because I enjoy the sport.  I don’t want anyone’s religious beliefs up in my face.

Anyone remember Reggie White? He was religious, very conservative and after the game he would gather with players from both teams and pray. But White didn’t make a show of his faith. Tebow does and that’s annoying as hell.

It only took seven years for Alex Smith to get San Francisco to fall in love with him.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Reggie White was one of the greatest of all time at his position and a Hall of Famer. The only way Tebow gets in the Hall of Fame is if he waits in line and buys a ticket.

Enough about losers that are not longer relevant.  The Niners are moving on and the Saints and Broncos are cleaning out their lockers.  For the past nine years it’s been the other way around.   I don’t know who the Niners will match up against next Sunday, but I know they’re playing and that is something I haven’t been able to say since they were rolling up Super Bowl wins.

These 49ers are not the 49ers teams of Montana and Young.  They lean on playing stout defense, capitalizing on the other team’s mistakes while minimizing their own turnovers.   Frank Gore pounding the rock between the tackles is how Harbaugh prefers it instead of Alex Smith strafing secondaries with his arm.   It’s not glamorous and it sure ain’t sexy.  Sometimes it’s even a little bit boring.

But it’s damn efficient even if it runs counter to how the Packers, Patriots and the Saints do things.  Those teams were supposed to be contending for a Super Bowl ring.  The 49ers were supposed to be happy if they finished with a .500 record.  Nobody could have predicted this kind of success and nobody did.

Anyone who tell you they saw it coming is lying their ass off.