Here is the opening to my Tuesday column about Jim Harbaugh’s handling of the quarterback switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick:


It is take-stock time for the 49ers. As they approach Saturday’s do-or-die playoff game against the Packers, it’s time to answer two significant questions:

Was Jim Harbaugh correct to go with Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith starting Nov. 19 against Chicago? And did Harbaugh handle the transition the right way?

The answers to these questions have significant implications for the Packers game.

To read the entire column, click here.

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  1. Peter

    If Harbaugh thought Kaepernick was the better quarterback… Maybe that Chicago game not only showed us spectators some thing wow, but also Harbaugh – even his well trained eyes and gut instincts – was exposed to a level of play he wasn’t previously seeing. Maybe Chicago was a genuine tipping point.

    If so, switching quarterbacks was still a gutsy move. I just don’t think Kaep was his choice at the start of the season.

    January 7th, 2013 9:23 pm

  2. dharte

    All premature…this weekend, and perhaps next (if they get that far), will tell us if Harbaugh is as good as he thinks he is.

    He has to win. No excuses. Alex Smith outplayed Rodgers at Lambeau and the 49ers handled the Packers on the road. So if they lose at home? No excuses–for you either, Lowell.

    I think Rodgers, who believes his “buddy” got screwed this year, will try to embarrass the 49ers.

    Looking forward to the show.

    January 7th, 2013 10:07 pm

  3. Brodie2Washington

    I think Harbaugh had Colin pegged for 2013. Harbaugh saw an athletic QB with a great arm, brain and disposition… but with a windup release from an unusual Pistol offense. A two year project at least

    Then the collapse vs the Giants. They seemed to “own” the 49ers offense. For ten quarters the passing offense sputtered vs New York.

    Thinking the 49ers would be seeing the Giants in the postseason, Harbaugh felt the need to reformulate the offense to get over the NY hump. After the Bears game, Harbaugh made the switch.

    The sticky parts are that Bears game stars Manningham, Williams and Hunter are gone, the Giants are out of the playoffs, and the 49ers face a team Saturday Alex Smith absolutely eviscerated with cool efficiency.

    The offense lost a major amount of explosiveness that will hamper the team no matter who is the starting quarterback. (That’s why I’m ignoring all the Smith vs Kaep stats)

    Was it a good decision to replace Smith? I don’t know. Injuries at WR (again) and lack of depth on defense are the teams biggest problems.

    January 7th, 2013 10:15 pm

  4. Charlie

    With all due respect Lowell, you have completely ignored the possibility that Kaepernick was not ready at the beginning of the season for the so-called “open competition”. Additionally, Harbarugh had a different situation than Carroll,—Pete didn’t have a quarterback that took his team to the Championship the year before. There was no loyalty to Flynn as there was to Smith. Better column if you compared apples to apples. Don’t believe you made a very convincing case.

    January 7th, 2013 10:24 pm

  5. flip3

    I fear that Harbaugh was acting on emotion. Pete Carrol, his arch-nemesis, was riding high with Russel Wilson, a running QB drafted in the 3rd round. Harbaugh’s hand-picked 2nd rounder was sitting on the bench. He needed to one-up Carrol, and that fueled his risky decision to play his young runner and gunner. Unfortunately, Kaep is no Russel Wilson.

    Going forward, the Niners will part ways with Alex Smith (what was his record against the Packers and Seahawks in the past 2 years?). And Kaep, Harbaugh’s guy, will never match Pete Carrol 3rd rounder.

    January 7th, 2013 10:40 pm

  6. htwaits

    In baseball one player, if he’s the pitcher and he has a little offense and a solid defense, can beat a more powerful team. The Giants have proven that two of the past three years.

    If football it’s never the case that a quarterback defeats another team. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a team to win a football game.

    As for second question, it’s the kind of analysis that everyone will forget if the 49ers win, but will look great if they lose. It might be what one would call a win/win situation.

    Most likely, if the 49ers lose, the injury situation will play a more important roll than how Harbaugh handled the switch to Kaepernick. I don’t agree with anyone that failure to win the Super Bowl means that it was a quarterback choice by Harbaugh that lost that chance.

    Walsh failed to get to the Super Bowl seven out of the ten years he coached the 49ers. Some of those Walsh teams that didn’t reach the Super Bowl had better talent than this 49er team.

    Maybe there is talent and good coaching on some of the playoff teams.

    January 8th, 2013 12:21 am

  7. Johnc

    To answer your first point >>Yes Kaepernick is the better quarterback
    To answer your second point>> there indeed was open competition.. It’s called who played the best on Sundays. The winner is Kaepernick. We have had six of seven years of Alex Smith and Harbaugh knows what he can do but when Kaepernicked stepped in and did an amazing job the competition was over unless he screwed up. He hasn’t . End of story.

    January 8th, 2013 4:32 am

  8. Jumbo Shrimp

    Kaep should have been given the chance to start the season, but that possibility ended when the Niners re-signed Smith to that fake 3-year contract.
    Because they are Alex Smithers, DHarte and Flip3 want the Niners to lose. What a joke! While Wilson is a special talent, and will indubitably be Kaep’s longtime division rival, Smith is no talent at all, and is now irrelevant. Hopefully the Smithers will move on when their cover girl leaves town.
    Now, Lowell, you can’t create a false equivalence to properly argue your point. Flynn started 1 measly game in his 2011 season, set records in a meaningless game and got a Kolb-like contract. Smith managed his way to an efficient and successful season, returned as the incumbent shouldering the Superbowl aspirations of an expecting NorCal region, and did nothing egregious in the pre-season to lose his job.
    Please raise your game. Good question to Harbaugh, but you could have been more convincing if you had not tried to convince with suck trickery. Some of your readers (Charlie above) are too smart for that.

    January 8th, 2013 7:37 am

  9. Dennis

    I don’t recall Kaepernick doing anything in preseason to distinguish himself as an up grade over Smith. I do remember that there seemed to be consensus among us fans that Smith was without a doubt the starting QB. I am not sure why you are trying to revise history here by suggesting that Harbuagh knew all along he was going to make this change. There is not a shred of evidence to support that conclusion.

    January 8th, 2013 8:23 am

  10. chris

    you konw, I dont think you can believe anything Harbaugh says…………especally when talking to the media. So I think its a strong possibility Kap woulduv replaced Smith at some point in the season regardless of the injury.

    January 8th, 2013 9:19 am

  11. John Sousa

    Oh man Lowell, you sure know how to push buttons. Compare Harbaugh to his Arch-nemesis. What’s your deal?

    January 8th, 2013 10:14 am

  12. LA9er

    I thought this was a good article. PC struck gold with Russell Wilson, who is the proto-type QB. Although at some point you’d think teams will figure out that you just blitz him, make him make the reads, have the ends put their hands up and force him into 3 step drops. He just kills you when he runs around.

    JH went all in with the switch. And one poster said it best that it’s hard to compare stats between KAEP and Smith because of all the injuries.

    Yeah — look at all the injuries since the switch. To all key players. It’s karma.

    Look, I’m not a Smith fan. He got used and abused. He did what was asked of him, completed 70% of his passes. He didn’t not stink up the place that bad to be yanked over an injury, especially when KAep’s play has regressed and is inconsistent. The Rams game were mental errors, which you don’t want a QB make. Stuff like, oh I dunno, make a wild high pitch that gave the Rams 7 points. Running backwards for a safety. Not sliding to stay in bounds.
    That said, I’m rooting for KAEP to step us fast, because he can be great, and for the Niners to deep double discount A Rodgers to next season…..

    January 8th, 2013 12:35 pm

  13. Jumbo Shrimp

    Pitch was also Roman & Ginn’s fault, safety wasn’t a safety, Akers shouldn’t have missed from 40. Kaep hasn’t regressed. What a weird post you wrote!

    January 8th, 2013 1:09 pm

  14. Raffaele

    The comparison to the Seattle situation is not particularly useful. Carroll and Harbaugh faced very different decisions at the beginning of the year.

    Harbaugh had a starting quarterback who was successful in 2011, had led the team into the playoffs. For Harbaugh there wasn’t any reason to stage a competition.

    Carroll had no valid starting quarterback—and had a team that had floundered in 2011. For Carroll, a genuine competition made great sense.

    By the way, trying to analyze what Harbaugh says at press conferences is about a useless as reading entrails to predict the future. Harbaugh is always deceitful, since he sees no value to him or the team in telling the honest truth. Further, he has low regard for media folks (no doubt he thinks, “Have any of these wimps ever played football?”) and because he is obliged to speak to the media he takes pleasure in fencing with the experts—columnists for Bay Area papers and guests on Chronicle Live. Harbaugh’s answers to questions are invariably misleading and/or deceitful, by intention.

    January 8th, 2013 2:17 pm

  15. LA9er

    Jumbo Shrimp,
    Not trying to hate on CK but being an honest observer: Het’s up and down. The pitch was not Roman or Ginn’s fault. CK threw it over Ginn’s head. And it was a safety when he backpedalled into the endzone and even if the ref blew the call, guess what? It’s a safety. Seattle didn’t catch the HM to beat GB, but guess what? GB has an official L in the lost column.
    It’s not about what other players do, but what the QB does, and the least amount of mental errors a QB makes because they touch the ball on practically every offensive play.

    January 8th, 2013 2:20 pm

  16. Mark M

    I still believe it was the Bear’s game that changed everyone’s mind. That performance was so spectacular, it had to open up everyone’s eyes. I really had no idea Kaep was capable of that type of game, a performance that Alex has never been capable of. I’d stand behind that weird late season decision after that as well, especially after seeing Alex flop around against the better defenses this season. the ceiling is just so much higher and gives us a real title shot, something I never believed we had with Alex.

    But Kaep has been understandably inconsistent since then, especially against the defensive variety that teams have schemed against him since getting more film on him. He’s had little time to adapt so it’ll be interesting to see if he is truly progressing still in the playoffs. Plus the running game has slipped a bit with all this read option stuff. Don’t know if it’s the line or Gore or what, but we’re seeing some downgrade with this adjustment in this area as well. It’s a huge adjustment to make so late in the season. They really accepted an enormous challenge by making this switch so late, but I respect the decision to go for it.

    Go Niners!

    January 8th, 2013 3:36 pm

  17. Loneraider78

    If they go on to win the whole thing no one will care. The end justifies the means. Right?

    I have come around. If you recall, I was one of the ones that thought JH was nuts for making the change when he did.

    Now I can see that CK is the better player–not by a landslide, but better. However, if they fail to win the SB, people will make an even bigger deal of this, and question JH to no end.

    Having said that, I think we all agree that it can not be said that Alex Smith would change a thing, regardless of the outcome.

    January 8th, 2013 5:33 pm

  18. dharte


    “End of story”? In your dreams, pal. Kaepernick has to win, and if he doesn’t then this story is just starting.

    Kaepernick has, at best, been very mediocre in at least half the games he’s started: awful in Seattle, barely mediocre against the Rams (twice), saved by the defense against the Saints (and outscored by 10 by Drew Brees).

    So let the games begin. The kid has to come through or Harbaugh blew his big decision for this year; the jury will be out going forward (but you’re kidding yourself if you think this team will “lose” with the kid in the playoffs beyond next year…York will never be that patient–with his QB or his head coach).

    End of story? No, good luck with that logic after a loss on Saturday.

    January 8th, 2013 9:38 pm

  19. flip3

    End of story? What happens when Smith is gone next year, and Kaep remains a Michael Vick – caliber player??? Tolzein anyone??

    January 8th, 2013 11:21 pm

  20. Jumbo Shrimp

    Your points all point to accountability. The pitch never should have been called and Ginn should have recovered it. Also we don’t fault Green Bay for losing that game, we fault the refs for blowing the call and giving the game to the losing Seahawks, which prompted the switch back to the regular refs.
    You’re right about the QB touching the ball and mental security, but I’d say Kaep has progressed, not the opposite. He played the hardest part of the schedule and came out with a great record. The ball handling issues during the snap lasted only 1 game. The timeout and delay of game issues also just one game. This shows that Kaep is coachable, is responding to coaching, and is improving. And whatever you say about the mental aspects, Kaep’s physical gifts have permitted him to be significantly more productive than Smith, productive in terms of chunk plays, QBR, wins responsible for, dynamic play. There’s no comparison.

    You have an agenda (i.e. you are clearly a Smither) that totally undermines your credibility. Kaep is the top rated QB in the NFL this season (besides Peyton and Wilson) over the span of games that he’s started (QBR)).

    January 9th, 2013 9:33 am

  21. dharte

    @ jumboshrimp

    So you get to make up your facts?

    Kaepernick isn’t even over 100 in his QB rating. Get back to me when you know what actually happened this year.

    And my “agenda” is simply to hold Harbaugh and Lowell accountable. Lowell has trashed Smith for years. The kid played very well these last two years. And he deserved one more shot. Supposedly Kaepernick offered this team a better chance…this year.

    We’ll see. But that was Harbaugh’s “expertise” and if he’s wrong, no excuses.

    January 9th, 2013 8:52 pm

  22. Jumbo Shrimp

    It is impossible to score over 100.0 in QBR. Did you not know that?
    Did you also not know that Kaep had an NFL Passer Rating over 130 in the game against the Bears?
    You are a Smither. You have a single agenda you are pushing. Lowell is impartial and recognizes talent when he sees it. Smith is an average talent with a cautious decision-making process. Kaepernick is a superior talent who takes care of the ball, but is also able to throw 30 yard touchdowns with a flick of his wrist. Got it?

    January 11th, 2013 8:15 am

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