I interviewed Jim Harbaugh in his office the other day. Here is a partial transcript of our conversation which lasted 25 minutes. I left out a long section of Harbaugh talking about Bill Walsh. I will use that material in my Sunday column.
Cohn: What is your day like now? How do you spend your time?
Harbaugh: On the draft. Schematically on offense for the most part. Also scheduling – practice schedules for the minicamps, OTAs. I spend most of the day on the draft with a small part of the day putting the finishing touches on our playbook and then practice schedules, daily, weekly, minute by minute of how our practices will go. And then the other thing I’ve been taking an hour out of each day to watch the Bill Walsh tapes we’ve gathered. It’s a full day.
Cohn: How many hours?
Harbaugh: Right now 14 each day.
Cohn: Explain how you prepare for the draft.
Harbaugh: You’re looking at the college players position by position, better best, ranking them. Starting to think about how it will play out in the draft. You can’t really predict that.
Cohn: You say you plan schedules. That’s an act of faith given the labor impasse.
Harbaugh: You’ve got to have the plan. What happens if they say, ‘You have minicamp tomorrow?’ ‘Ah, shoot, we’re not prepared. Let’s load the guys up on the bus and go play paint ball instead.’ (Harbaugh laughs.) Wouldn’t work. Got to be prepared.
Cohn: When you took over, what were your initial tasks?
Harbaugh: Evaluating the team, hiring the staff. To hire the staff took two to three weeks. Then evaluating the team took that long and then longer. That went into evaluating for free agency.
Cohn: How good is the current squad?
Harbaugh: I think we have a very good nucleus that will be good for us in the future.
Cohn: I’m going to slow you down. It’s kind of a vague answer. Good for us in the future could mean C+
Harbaugh: Bodes well for us. A good nucleus. Very excited about the team we have and I think it’s a very good nucleus and yes we will build on it and I think that bodes very well for us.
Cohn: You’ve said nice things about Alex Smith. What do you like about him?
Harbaugh: I like him as a football player. I like him as a person. I like being around him.
Cohn: I’m going to slow you down again if you don’t mind. When you say I like him as a football player, I mean you were a quarterback and you’re smart about quarterbacks. So when you say as a football player you mean as a quarterback. What good attributes does he have?
Harbaugh: The ability to play the position, the DNA to play the position, physical skills to play the position, the mental capacity to play the position.
Cohn: It’s never demonstrated itself to the full. You could get those things out of him?
Harbaugh: That would be the intent, yes.
Cohn: You’re not lacking in confidence about being able to do things like that.
Harbaugh: No, I’m not.
Cohn: I think you’re an incredibly confident guy. Do you perceive yourself as a confident guy?
Harbaugh: I feel good about doing the job, yeah. And I feel confident in doing my job. I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Humility prevents me from saying there’s nobody better.’ I’m sure maybe there is. It’s irrelevant to talk about.
Cohn: Who’s the best quarterback you ever say?
Harbaugh: (He takes a long time to answer). Best quarterback I’ve ever seen? What, played with, played against?
Cohn: I don’t care – saw on television, played against, are aware of and visually experienced.
Harbaugh: (laughing) I’m not going to say one. There’s many. It’s not important to me to rank the best quarterback I’ve ever seen.
Cohn: What did you like about Joe Montana?
Harbaugh: What was there not to like about Joe Montana? I liked everything about him.
Cohn: I know what Bill Walsh told me he liked. (Harbaugh looks interested.) It was how precise he was, how every throw was exactly where it had to be and right on the money. Bill would tell me that all the time.
Harbaugh: You’re correct in that evaluation.
Cohn: What did you like about Steve Young?
Harbaugh: You’re talking about two great Hall of Fame quarterbacks. I liked everything about him. Very precise.
Cohn: Were you?
Harbaugh: No, not in the same ballpark.
Cohn: You were a fiery guy. You are. I’ve seen you.
Cohn: Is it an asset being fiery?
Harbaugh: I think it’s an asset to be competitive. I just love what I’m doing. I’m very passionate, very fiery, very competitive at the things that are important to me. Football is one of the most important things to me and always has been.
Cohn: Would you rather complete a screen pass for five yards or run your back up the middle for five yards?
Harbaugh: No preference. We’d like to have the ability to do both.
Cohn: Will you call the plays?
Harbaugh: (He hesitates.) Greg Roman, our offensive coordinator will call the plays. It’s not at all a sensitive topic. That’s my fault for getting that expression (on his face). It’s got some complexity to it. My easiest way to say it is Greg Roman will call the plays.
Cohn: Are the 49ers still a top brand?
Harbaugh: Football is so pure. That’s what I love about it. We won 37 percent of our games the last eight years so we’re not No. 1. That is what we’re fighting for. That’s where we want to be. That’s the expectation here because the bar has been set so high by — start with Bill Walsh, George Seifert, the Hall of Fame players. ‘Where else would you want it to be set?’ is my response to that. When you walk in the door you get fired up seeing the Lombardi trophies. It’s on our shoulders and we have the opportunity to go chase that same glory.
Cohn: What does it mean to you to be a 49er?
Harbaugh: The opportunity of a lifetime.
Note: After I left his office, Harbaugh came rushing after me. He said he wanted to add to his final answer. ‘It’s also the challenge of a lifetime,’ he said.