Here is a link to my Tuesday column about Jim Harbaugh. The full text runs below:
Right after the 49ers blew the game to the Arizona Cardinals, Jim Harbaugh came to the interview room in Glendale, Ariz., for his post mortem. He had the energy of a limp noodle.
You couldn’t blame him. Bad loss. It’s just that Harbaugh is a leader and, aside from leadership, a leader needs to show at least two things: competence and optimism. On Sunday, Harbaugh showed neither. He seemed like a man headed for the fetal position.
So, his Monday presser became important. Would Harbaugh pull another limp noodle? Would he stare glassy-eyed and seem indecisive? No one wants a defeated coach.
Or would he project leader?
He projected leader. He laughed. He smiled. He met reporters’ eyes. He came off optimistic, decisive, up for next Sunday’s very hard game against the Eagles. The interview was on TV. The entire country and his own players were privy to his performance. It is essential for a coach to be strong after a loss.
Harbaugh wore no cap. Please bear with me on this. Remember, I was an English major and I find meaning in details. Remember, in my writing about the 49ers — one of the continuing thrills of my life — Harbaugh is the main character, the protagonist, the leading man. I look for meaning in the choices he makes, even in clothes.
He always wears a 49ers baseball cap. Always. He shoves that sucker down over his ears, and his ears stick out like some doofus in the sixth grade. He pulls the hat over his eyes so he’s peeping out at you like a raccoon. He has a Midwestern football mind and he thinks genteel appearance is worthless. He wants to look like a football guy.
I get all that. But there is something else. When he hides his eyes, when we barely can see his pupils and his expression, he is in hiding. It is a weak stance.
Jim Harbaugh is a strong leader — I think. But he sometimes takes a weak defensive posture in public. It’s one of his fascinating paradoxes. He is a strong-weak man.
On Monday, he was full frontal with his eyes. Wanted to look at us. Wanted us to look at him.
He was saying he had nothing to hide and he wasn’t afraid after getting his butt kicked. He was projecting strength. He said stuff like, “I feel good about our football team, everybody that’s in that locker room. And continuing to strive to fix, to improve, to get better is what we’ll do.”
Back to no hat. I believe — can’t prove it — he was showing Colin Kaepernick the way. Someone sure needs to show Kaepernick the way. He is a public-relations liability. He showed up in Arizona wearing sunglasses to the postgame interview room. You just wanted to laugh.
He might have been implying, “I played great. I’m a star. I’m separate from the team.”
If so, ugh!
Maybe that wasn’t it. Kaepernick probably was in hiding. Think Harbaugh’s cap. He didn’t want to give media — and fans — any part of him. Certainly not his eyes. Not his soul.
I would like to think on Monday that Harbaugh made a subtle comment about Kaepernick’s sunglasses. “Don’t hide, Colin. Meet the media and the world in the fullness of your confidence.” I’d like to think that’s what Harbaugh did.
Because I’ll tell you this. Harbaugh the famous coach, Harbaugh the famous quarterback, Harbaugh the tall manly man has trouble leading his team leaders — Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin. He has been passive and ineffectual and, on two occasions, Kaepernick and Boldin were out of control.
In the loss to the Bears, Kaepernick, after throwing a pick, got penalized half the distance to his own goal line, after allegedly making an offensive remark to Lamarr Houston, overheard by an official. The Bears got the go-ahead score on the very next play. Kaepernick hurt the team by opening up his mouth — if he opened up his mouth.
If Kaepernick said what the official said he said and what the league fined him 11 K for, it was almost certainly a sexual or racial slur.
Twice, Kaepernick publicly denied saying anything to Houston. This was a risky assertion considering the existence of cameras. Pretty soon, video came out of Kaepernick yelling at Houston. It contradicted the I-didn’t-say-anything contention. People studied the video. Kaepernick seemed to be saying something naughty.
After the Cardinals game, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee mentioned the video to Kaepernick in Kaepernick’s postgame presser, the one in which he always dummies up like answering questions is an affront to his stardom. Kaepernick said he didn’t say anything wrong to Houston. I said to Kaepernick he had alleged all along he never said anything — wrong or right. With a sick grin, Kaepernick said he does, in fact, talk on the field.
Kaepernick is contradicting himself. Fibbing? Either he said something or he didn’t say something. Now he’s sliding on his story. All along, he could have said “No comment.” Public figures say that all the time. Or he could have said, “The incident is over. I don’t want to get into it.”
Reporters respect stuff like that. They do not respect what he appears to be doing. Kaepernick is the most important player on the 49ers, a leader. Harbaugh needs to educate, guide and lead this leader. Harbaugh has not. He has allowed Kaepernick to damage himself.
The other leader in question is Anquan Boldin, one of the respected veterans on the team. He went off on the officials after the Cardinals game, blaming them for the 49ers’ loss. This after he got flagged for banging his helmet into the helmet of a Cardinals player. It was unwise payback, and Boldin got flagged and wrecked a Niners’ drive — a drive they desperately needed.
In his second go-round at Stanford, Bill Walsh coached a player — I won’t name him — who got called for a payback foul and hurt the Cardinal. Walsh was steamed. After the team flew back to the Bay Area, he told this player to meet him in his office next morning. When the player appeared, Walsh lectured him on his responsibility to the team. “Ronnie Lott never did anything like that,” Walsh told the player.
On Monday, Harbaugh discussed Boldin’s football sin in a roundabout way. “We’ll address it. We’ll work to fix things. There’s things that need to be fixed and I have great confidence we’ll get them fixed.”
I believe Harbaugh can enlighten Boldin on his responsibility to the team. I believe Harbaugh can get the 49ers playing like, well, the 49ers. I was impressed he projected “leader” on Monday. But playing the part of leader to the media is easier than actually being leader of a team.
The time is now, Jim.
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