I have never been a Jim Harbaugh fan since his days at Stanford (his 2007 Stanford team beat the then-number one ranked USC Trojans, my favorite college football team). However, I have great respect for all of his accomplishments as a football coach. Three NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance in four years. That SCREAMS coaching excellence to me.
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By the time you read this article, Harbaugh will be long gone from the San Francisco 49ers organization. Will he head to the Oakland Raiders? To the University of Michigan? To the Chicago Bears?
Who knows? I sure don’t. But what I do know is that the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry, one of the greatest in recent history will never be the same without Harbaugh with his Dockers pants and black 49ers sweater on the other side of the field.
What made the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry so unique was the amount of subplots that ran beneath each game. There’s the infamous distaste between Harbaugh and Seattle head coach Pete Carroll (the “What’s your deal?” ordeal), There’s the Russell Wilson–Colin Kaepernick competition, two quarterbacks who were underrated and drafted relatively low in their respective drafts. And, of course, there’s the competition between two of the most formidable defenses in recent history.
Harbaugh’s departure should set off a chain reaction throughout the 49ers organization.
Longtime 49ers defensive end Justin Smith will reportedly announce his retirement from the NFL at some point this week. Frank Gore, the NFL’s 20th 10,000 yard rusher, is a free agent. Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman and rookie Jimmie Ward all suffered season-ending injuries, which brings their ability to contribute next season in question.
Kaepernick obviously regressed this season as he barely completed 60 percent of his passes while throwing 17 scores to 10 picks. Compare that to Wilson, who nearly broke the quarterback rushing record this season (while also making an MVP case).
The departure of Justin Smith and suspension of Ray McDonald will hurt the 49ers an immense amount. Even though I love the games of Niners players like Tank Carradine and Chris Borland, let’s face facts: they aren’t a Willis or a Smith.
As I’ve stated time and time again, the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry is defined by the brand of football each team plays. Both teams want to suffocate their opponents defensively. Both teams want to play an extremely physical, smash-mouth brand of football. Both teams ultimately strive for success.
Look no further than last year’s NFC Championship game between the two NFC West rivals, which many labeled as “The REAL Super Bowl.” Of course, America only remembers Richard Sherman‘s infamous postgame speech calling out San Francisco wideout Michael Crabtree.
But if one thinks about that game as a whole, it was great. GREAT. I don’t think I can stress that enough. Even this year, the two games were fairly competitive throughout.
That is why the departure of Jim Harbaugh is so bittersweet for me. Even though it looks like the Cardinals and Rams are developing very quickly, the Seattle Seahawks will be the kings of the NFC West and the NFC for the foreseeable future. So, on one hand, I’m excited to see all the future success for Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks.
But at the same time, I am simply a sports fanatic at heart. I want to see physical, smash-mouth, hard-fought football games, not games where the offenses score all the time.
Great coaches are hard to find. No matter who the 49ers hire next, he’s much more likely to become the next Mike Singletary or Mike Nolan than the great Jim Harbaugh.
So, 12th Man, as much you may hate Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers, we also have a responsibility to thank him for the past four years. We have witnessed some great football games over the past four years, many of them 49ers-Seahawks games.
But at the same time, 12s, here’s to the sheer ineptitude and idiocy of Trent Baalke, Jed York and the rest of the 49ers front office for thinking that they, not Harbaugh, are the reason for the 49ers success.
The San Francisco 49ers have begun the decent into the gold mines of irrelevancy.