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NFC West coaches and finding right balance

FORT WORTH, Texas -- New head coaches sometimes "lay down the law" to take control of their teams.

Mike Singletary went this route upon taking over for Mike Nolan as the San Francisco 49ers' coach during the 2008 season. Singletary put players through grueling practices and a tough training camp early in his tenure, complete with "nutcracker" drills. He backed off some when he felt as though he had taken control of the team.

Steve Spagnuolo ran a grueling camp in his first season with the St. Louis Rams. Those practices featured live tackling, even on Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson. Spagnuolo got the Rams' attention, but the team went 1-15 and broke down physically in the second half of the season. Spagnuolo backed off some this past season, and players said they responded.

In Seattle, Pete Carroll went the opposite direction this past season, giving key veterans rest and giving the entire team days off from practice during camp. The Seahawks started and finished strong under Carroll during his first season.

Coincidence? Probably not. It's logical to think teams benefit when their coaches strike the right balance.

The disparate approaches we've seen in the NFC West came to mind Monday when Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward was discussing what changed when Mike Tomlin replaced Bill Cowher has head coach following the 2006 season.

Ward: "Well it’s his team now. When he first inherited the team, a lot of those players were under Coach Cowher and did things Coach Cowher’s way. Mike Tomlin was very militant when he came here. He wanted to see who would challenge his authority and he got rid of some of the guys that questioned his authority a little bit. He kept the guys that followed what he wanted. Once he got a full year or two of the guys he knows and sees every day at practice, then he let up a little bit. He gave guys off time and stuff like that. I think guys love playing for him. He’s just a pro’s coach and he stands up for everybody."

Ward said the grueling start under Tomlin left the Steelers tired and beat up heading into the playoffs following the 2007 season. Pittsburgh lost at home to Jacksonville in the wild-card round that season.

These are things to keep in mind as the 49ers begin working under new coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh is intense, but he was also an NFL quarterback, not a middle linebacker. I'll be interested in seeing how his background influences his approach with players, particularly early in his tenure.