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NFL Unfiltered Week 17: Why the other Harbaugh is a Super Bowl Champ


Now that Jim Harbaugh is back in college, it seems a little strange talking about him in a NFL column.  But the narrative surrounding his split with San Francisco is confusing and tired.  Not because he isn’t a good football coach, but because with all this noise, you’d swear the 49ers discarded a three-time champion.  

Granted, Harbaugh won football games at an historic rate, going to three straight NFC championship games and one Super Bowl.  He also leaves the NFL with the fifth highest winning percentage in league history.  

However, lost in nearly every television segment, radio monologue, article and tweet, is the fact the 49ers had a surplus of talent during his tenure. In fact, one could make a strong argument Harbaugh’s teams actually underachieved.  Photo: galleryhip.com

More importantly, Harbaugh’s brilliance seemed to disappear at the most important moments.

Think back to his decision to allow an obviously shaky Kyle Williams to keep fielding punts, as he did against the New York Giants in the 2011 NFC Championship Game. Remember how completely inept the 49ers looked the first two-thirds of Super Bowl XLVII against the Ravens. Yes, they made a comeback, but do yourself a favor and YouTube the last minute of that game. And while you’re at it, view the last drive against Seattle in last year’s NFC title game, then decide what kind of coaching savant he is.  

In comparison, the rest of the NFL consists of solid football coaches who simply go about their business, some in relative obscurity. Some, unlike Harbaugh, even carry around championship rings.  

Consider the 12 coaches who qualified for this season’s playoffs.  It is a hodgepodge of supposed geniuses, company men, and those simply in the right place at the right time.  

Certainly, Bill Belichick is a legend, while the rest of the AFC features Denver’s John Fox, himself a two-time Super Bowl coach, and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, who has his Steelers primed to make another run after finishing the regular season 11-5.    

In Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis is making it harder and harder to decide whether his squad is overachieving or underachieving primarily because of his quarterback, but he’s in the playoffs nonetheless. And the Colts’ Chuck Pagano quietly has his charge in the playoffs for the third straight season.  But of course, quarterback Andrew Luck plays in Indianapolis, so Pagano’s impact is always muted by football pundits.  

Rounding out the AFC is the sixth-seeded Baltimore Ravens, led by John Harbaugh. You know, the Harbaugh brother whose team actually won a Super Bowl.

The NFC landscapes looks very similar with one head coach Pete Carroll, lording over his Seattle Seahawks, while Mike McCarthy, Jason Garrett, Ron Rivera, and Bruce Arians win games with little fanfare.  

Without question, these twelve people are good football men, but in my view, there isn’t much difference between them.  And only those without a Super Bowl appearance rank lower than Harbaugh.

This is not to suggest Harbaugh is a bad coach, or that general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York did the right thing by agreeing to part ways with the Michigan man. But the notion Harbaugh is the only good football at the pro level, or the only coach capable of winning in San Francisco, is farcical.  

In college, the head coach means everything to the success of the football program. But once again, in today’s NFL, the hierarchy goes quarterback, talent evaluator, then head coach.   

That is something John understands far better than Jim.

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-Naturally, there are now reports Harbaugh wanted to stay in San Francisco.  If true, he should have humbled himself a little more.  But by most accounts, the only thing Harbaugh and humble have in common is they both begin with the letter h.  

-You get the feeling the real losers in Harbaugh going back to college are the Oakland Raiders.

-It’s odd to hear rumors of a rift between Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman.  Isn’t that like a legal secretary having a rift with a partnered attorney?  

-It’s even stranger for Kelly to say he won’t make any changes to his coaching staff.  After the season the Eagles just had, an upgrade at defensive backs coach seems like the least he could do.  

-Very quietly, Steelers’ offensive coordinator Todd Haley helped Ben Roethlisberger become a much better quarterback.  However, by most accounts he grates on an organization like Jim Harbaugh.  

-Belichick has his most balanced football team in a decade and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.  Anything less than a Super Bowl appearance is an abject failure.  

-It’s the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones so it isn’t likely, but we ought to cheer for quarterback Tony Romo.  He is a terrific talent, by all accounts the consummate professional and is nearing the end of a good career.  



Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area. He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention. His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.


Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com  and follow him on Twitter @EMyersIII


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Photo: galleryhip.com