The San Francisco 49ers are getting a hard-charging, schematically brilliant head coach whose philosophy suits the team's existing personnel perfectly.
As a bonus, Jim Harbaugh has also clashed famously with Seattle coach Pete Carroll, meaning NFC West fans can expect more edge to the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry.
That was the word Friday from ESPN college football analyst and former NFL quarterback Brock Huard, who would know. Huard worked two Stanford games this past season and followed the Pac-10 closely even before his days as a quarterback at the University of Washington in the 1990s. His brother, Damon, went to camp with the 49ers under previous coach Mike Singletary. Huard works during the week as a radio host on 710ESPN Seattle.
"I think hiring Jim Harbaugh is a home run in every way for the 49ers," Huard said.
Let us count the ways, according to Huard:
Offensive scheme. Huard: "Harbaugh likes the power run game, be physical, hit you in the mouth. The 49ers drafted two big linemen and they have a sledgehammer back when healthy. Many of the pieces schematically are in hand, unlike what he would have encountered at Michigan or other places. San Francisco will fit him really well personnel-wise, minus the quarterback."
Clear philosophical vision. Huard: "He is a guy who has tremendous staff and knows exactly what to do offensively, and he has a mind's eye for what he wants to do defensively. He fired his defensive coordinator at Stanford and got Vic Fangio. On offense, his identity is going to be built around the power run game, play-action pass and a physical presence."
NFL mindset. Huard: "Harbaugh to the NFL is no surprise for me. Being with him twice this year and having him rave about the NFL being the highest level of football with the cutting-edge schemes, the best of the best, it did not surprise me at all."
NFL-ready coaching staff. "His staff and so many of his hires over past few years are very much NFL guys. He hired Vic Fangio, who did brilliant things on defense -- 8.8 points per game against (over their past five games). And then he ran a 3-4 defense in Baltimore with the Ravens. Very aggressive, very blitz-friendly. The 49ers have the personnel in their front seven to run that."
Mastery of Xs and Os. Huard: "One of his graduate assistants is a guy I played with in Indy, Aaron Moorehead, the receiver. He said that they were doing things at the college level that a) you never imagined you could do at the NFL level and b) his depth of knowledge on Xs and Os is incredible." A rival college coach told Huard his team studied Stanford's running game and charted running plays from 30 different personnel groups and formations.
Hard-driving personality. Huard: "His personality is evident in how he handled the Orange Bowl postgame press conference, how he handled the media there. That personality is probably better suited for the NFL game, where Bill Belichick has shown personality doesn't matter as long as you win."
Tireless work ethic. Huard: "What people didn’t recognize was that Harbaugh was as relentless as anybody in college football in recruiting. He understood what it took to win at that level. Now, he can use the energy where his passion is just as rich, and that is in the Xs and Os of the NFL game. He is thrilled to match wits with the best of the best, 24-7. Having a quarterback who could handle it at Stanford, he pushed the envelope schematically beyond the rest of the conference."
Fans of the 49ers should be hopeful, in other words. Harbaugh's offensive expertise and passion for offensive diversity will stand in stark contrast to the simplified approach former Singletary implemented.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. saw some of the same positives Huard outlined. He also offered words of caution based on his own experiences working under another successful former college head coach.
"I was hired by Butch Davis in Cleveland and he was the best in the group of college coaches, and he didn't do well there," Williamson said. "All those guys, they took a college view of how to acquire talent. It is just so much different. Knowing the league is so important. All those things with Harbaugh are very unproven to me. Yesterday, people were talking about Miami making him the highest-paid coach in the NFL. To me, that would be insane."
The 49ers reportedly will pay Harbaugh $25 million over five seasons, less than Carroll is getting from the Seahawks and less than what the Dolphins were reportedly offering.
"The 49ers were the worst schematic team in the league," Williamson said. "That starts with Singletary and goes down to the way they handle quarterbacks, put together game plans, have no stability. Harbaugh will erase all that. He is worth more to the Niners than any other team in the league."
Harbaugh has roots in the San Francisco Bay Area. His hiring should resonate locally.
"Last year, their fan base had to be champing at the bit because the NFC West looked so winnable, and there was no more disappointing team," Williamson said. "These were same old Niners who stunk since Steve Young left. Then they bring in a guy who has been extremely successful in that area of the country and it is good for ticket sales and all the off-field business things. They have always been the passive team who doesn't make the big move. Now, they spent the money and got the guy everyone else wanted."