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Coach's Notebook: Jan. 6

Posted Jan 6, 2014

Jim Harbaugh waxed poetic on the joys of winning playoff games as a coach and as a player.

There were reports you were pretty happy, even giddy after that game. We’ve seen you guys win some big games. What was it about that one that really kind of set you off afterwards?
“Many things. People may disagree, but personally, as a player and what that meant for the players, I was happy and ecstatic for them because I haven’t found anything that makes you feel more like a man than to go, not only beat your opponent, but you’re beating their crowd, and then, the elements, in a playoff game. And both teams have to beat the elements. But, in a playoff game, to beat the elements, to beat the opposing team, to beat the opposing crowd, just nothing quite makes you feel like a man like that, that I’ve found.”

How’s your voice today?
“Good. Good. Strong.”

No ill effects from the robust shouting after the game?
“Was there? Was there robust?”

After the game, the widely distributed clip of you bringing out the, ‘Who’s got it better than us,’ it sounds like you could barely get the words out because you were so hoarse?
“No. It was real good, robust.”

You didn’t want to talk about the elements much heading into the game, but now that it’s over, how bad was it out there? How hard on your players, on you?
“Well, actually there were some really good things about it. I think one of the biggest things, we’ve got a good bad-weather quarterback. I think we’ve established that. And then when you factor into the field, the traction wasn’t good, it’s tough on defensive players because they’re the ones that have to react. The offensive player knows where they’re going and the defensive player has to react. And the thing I didn’t envision, really even going into the game, and I didn’t envision when we drafted [QB] Colin [Kaepernick] was just how unbelievably effective he would be on a bad field. He was running like a gazelle. At times just looked like he was running and having fun like he was the only one on the field. That’s what a difference it was between him and the other defenders that were out there. And, because of the bad field, factoring that in, but that was very much to our advantage.”

It seems that Colin towards the end of the season was doing especially well throwing on the run and looked really comfortable at that. He had a great day breaking the pocket and running yesterday. Is that something that the coaching staff has been encouraging him to do more or is it just kind of the way he’s seeing the field right now?
“I think the way he’s seeing the field. There was quite a few excellent passes from the pocket as well. He had some very good touch passes to [WR Michael] Crabtree on the sideline, to [WR Anquan] Boldin on the sideline, downfield throws. [Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers made some terrific throws. I thought Colin arguably made more terrific throws. The touch to the backs coming out of the backfield I thought was really good. And those aren’t easy climates to throw the ball, to catch the ball in, to execute in. But, I thought our guys did a very good job of it.”

When you say he’s a good bad-weather quarterback, what about, besides like you said I guess the footing and the speed the defense had trouble with, what else about his skills do you think particularly translates to difficult conditions?
“Being able to throw a ball that pierces through the elements, the wind. He’s shown that in the rain, bad weather, footing, or elements of precipitation. He can pierce a defense with velocity and tightness of the spiral. And also, really did a nice job with the touch on the ball as well. It was going to be difficult to catch the ball at times. I thought he really laid it and placed it extremely well and that’s hard to do. Just the hand on the ball, the coldness, the hardness of the ball. You can’t compress it with your fingers as well as you can when it’s 70 degrees out. So, yeah, we’ve got a good bad-weather quarterback.”

I’m guessing you can appreciate those skills maybe? You obviously had to do it?
“Yeah I do. I do. I appreciate those from a quarterback and the difficulty on a defense when the field was like it was. It’s harder to react for a defensive player when the footing is not as good, but I thought our defense did a heck-of-a job holding Aaron Rodgers to his lowest output in his playoff career. I think that speaks volumes for the way our defense played. We had several big plays. When you look at [CB] Perrish Cox, [CB Tarell Brown] T-Brown, [CB Tramaine Brock] T-Brock all made big PBUs down the field. Perrish Cox on the broken play on third and 16, Aaron just chucked it and Perrish was able to make the deflection, which that would have been a huge play in the game. T-Brown got a PBU on the post that was wide open. And then also T-Brock on the sideline. Those are huge plays and very tough on the defenders. Also [P] Andy Lee. I’ve held, I’ve been a holder in NFL games in cold-snowy-windy type of conditions and it is not a great feeling when you’re sitting there as the holder wondering how the ball is going to come back. There was a couple that kind of came back with a little wobble, hot, that he had to reach for or reach back for. I thought he did an excellent job. You can point it out. That saved us.”

A few times this year you’ve mentioned that Anquan Boldin, you’ve given him the compliment of he’s a “football player.” Kaepernick, after the interception, knocks helmets with Packers CB Tramon Williams and then everything else he did both running and throwing. Would you bestow that same sort of compliment to him?
“Yes. Colin Kaepernick is a football player.”

Yesterday, you had a lot of praise for Michael Crabtree and his hands. What makes him special? What separates him from the pack?
“A lot of talent. A lot of physical ability and competitiveness. He’s a highly-competitive individual. It’s important for him to be good. It’s important for him to make plays. He’s got a lot of pride about his own personal performance and the team’s performance. And, he’s one of those guys that can really get his engine revved up for games and big games. And just, he catches the football. A lot of people talk about different things for receivers, 40-times or three-cones, how fast they run around the little orange cones etcetera, but pretty darn important to catch the ball for a receiver. I just have never personally seen anybody catch the ball better than Michael Crabtree does.”

How different does that make you guys going to Carolina with Crabtree on the field versus the last time you guys played them and not producing a lot against them?
“More dangerous. Michael Crabtree was not there for that game and [TE] Vernon [Davis] was out of the game early with a concussion, etcetera. I think more dangerous.”

How quickly do you sort of take the euphoria from that game and then when you get on the plane, when do you turn the page to Carolina? How soon is that?
“For me, it’s by the time we land. But, you talk about a happy flight. Everybody’s experienced a happy flight in their own way. For me, it’s talk to the players and have some conversations on the plane and then I sit there in my seat and I’ve got the video of the game that I’m watching. And then also, our planes have a TV, so you could watch some of the highlights of the other games and a highlight comes on I want to see, I can press the pause on my video. I’m just sitting there, just me. All I need now is a cup of coffee and just happy as I could possibly be doing those things. And then when I run out of the video to watch, then start watching the Carolina tape and my mood starts to change as we start to land and start focusing on the Carolina Panthers. It’s a happy flight for me. Other people may experience that happy flight in a different way, but that’s how I do it. It’s very nice.”

Obviously it’s early in that process, but as you start to analyze the Panthers, what did you learn from that video from that first video against them and what makes their defense so difficult, so tough to move the ball on?
“A very good and dominant front seven. Excellent in the secondary, very physical. They’ve added very nice players at the safety position and they’ve done a nice job at the corner position. Free agent or draft, they’ve put that defense together really well and they play well together. They lead in top five in several defensive categories, with very well coached, sound schemes and very good players”

K Phil Dawson has waited a long time for this. I know we talk to you about him all the time, but can you sense what something like last night meant to a veteran like Phil and just to be in this position at this stage?
“Just a great feeling of winning. A great thrill of victory. Wonderful, wonderful feeling of winning and experience the things we had talked about, just how that makes you feel as a man, as a football player, when you defeat all those different things, the opponent, the crowd, the pressure, the elements. You could tell he’s just happier maybe than he’ll ever be and he’ll remember that for many years to come. The story the good man shall teach his son. And he’ll remember it. When he’s old, he’ll feel very good about that, what he accomplished. It was just a great moment. Just eye-to-eye looking, knee-to-knee looking at him. That was why I was so ecstatic. Why are you so thrilled after the game? Its moments like that that I shared with Phil or Colin or [LB] Patrick [Willis] or [LB] NaVorro [Bowman] etcetera. And also to point out on the field goal protection, the offensive line was really good on a field that’s really tough to hold your ground, sink and protect. I thought our offensive line did a fabulous job in that regard as well.”

What was that last field goal like for you? Did you see, I guess they called offside on the Packers, and did you see how close that guy came to blocking it? There was a video where it looked like the ball went through his arms.
“Through the arms, yeah. No, I didn’t see the through the arms until I was on the plane enjoying my happy flight.”

Good place to see it.
“Yeah. No, it felt good. I knew it was offsides. Saw the flag come out. I think the feeling that you feel as a quarterback when you know the defense has jumped offside and you got a free play. Might as well chuck it downfield. And, fortunately the ball went through and we didn’t have to re-kick. Game winner. Walk-off field goal.”

How long of a field goal would you have been comfortable asking Phil to attempt in those conditions?
“At the end like that for the game-winner, we would’ve stretched it probably to whatever we needed to. But, going that direction, which was more into the wind than the other direction, we would’ve stretched it to 53, 52, 51, would’ve tried it. Especially if it was the last kick. But, great job by our offense getting the first down, not forcing us to make that kick with a minute left on the clock to where you give the Packers the ball on the 41 or the 42 or the 43. That would’ve been dicey. So, that would’ve been a little dicey. So, the offense knocking out those yards, those critical yards after Colin’s scramble on third and eight, was huge as well. We picked up another 12 or 15 yards after Colin made the first down to get us into field goal range.”

Four of you last five games have been final play type of games. As a coach, do you like that or does it irritate you? You seem to enjoy the nail-biter type of games.
“Winning’s never an irritant to me. Never, never, never. I would think the TV audience would be highly tuned into the 49er games. They don’t turn off their sets when they’re watching the San Francisco 49ers. Must be very entertaining. But, no, I’m never irritated by a win. It’s never an irritant to me.”

Do you feel them getting more comfortable in those settings?
“Comfortable is never a word I would use in football. It’s a confusing word to me. There is no comfortable, or comfort. I think our team is very confident that they have the players that are going to make the plays. They know that they have a defensive line that’s going to push the pocket. They have defensive backs that can get the pass breakup. Linebackers that are going to tackle. Quarterback that’s going to make the throw when the throw needs to be made, or a play. Running back who’s going to get the first down when it’s third and three. An offensive line that’s going to protect when they have to do it. Receivers that are going to make the catch when the catch needs to be made. So, I think that’s a confidence that our team has. And a kicker that’s going to make the kick. And a holder that’s going to make the hold. Snapper that’s going to make the snap. There’s a good confidence with our football team.”

How cool was that for you to have Ric Flair address the team the night before the game? Was that a cool experience for you?
“Cool? Yeah, very cool. Very cool.”

How did that whole thing come about?
“[DT] Justin Smith had made a comment during the week, ‘it’d be great if we could get Ric Flair to come to the game.’ So, just kind of took it in and went to work. [vice president of football operations and sports medicine] Jeff Ferguson, our trainer, and some of the guys and the support staff reached out to Mr. Flair and he was able with his schedule to work in coming to the game. Yeah, it was cool. Got the red blood pumping the night before the game, which was good.”

I know how you feel about this, but it’s that time of year when your top coaches can be interviewed. Have you heard from any teams about defensive coordinator Vic Fangio or offensive coordinator Greg Roman?
“Yes. Yes we have. And [defensive line coach] Jim Tomsula as well. And imagine that there will be some interviews taking place in the coming week or weeks. It’s smart on their part. Those guys are great coaches, all of them. There’s nobody that’s got a better staff, in my humble opinion, than we do here. And, been great, great workers and leaders of our team. Greg Roman, Vic Fangio, just excellence year after year. [Assistant head coach/special teams coordinator] Brad Seely is top notch. Jim Tomsula has a proven track record as a football coach, head coach, assistant coach. Amazing staff. You wonder sometimes why it’s taken this long. But, people are looking for coaches that … if you want the one-year flash, sometimes seems like people hire that. But, here when you look at Greg Roman, Vic Fangio, Brad Seely, Jim Tomsula, and others that we have on our staff that are consistently good year after year, I think that’s special. That’s something special. And, I would be a surprise if somebody’s not hired as a head coach.”

Redskins and Vikings have called?
“No need to go into the names. Those men can share that if they choose to, or those teams can if they choose to. But, it would be a surprise if somebody’s not, or two, or three.”

Did you run into former MLB broadcaster Jerry Coleman when you were in San Diego ever? The Padres long-time broadcaster, a couple of war tours. You were busy yesterday, but he passed yesterday.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I wasn’t aware of that, thank you.”

I didn’t know if you had any stories from meeting Jerry. He’s your kind of guy it seems like.
“Yeah, yeah no doubt about it. You could spend 30 minutes with him and walk away feeling like you knew him. He had that kind of presence of personality and character. And, he will be missed.”

Do you believe in momentum when it comes to playoff time? You guys have the longest winning streak in the league right now. Does it mean anything?
“Well, I believe in - you’re only as good as your last four quarters of football. And your next four quarters will be based on preparation and your approach and then proving it. You got to go prove it.”

Can you compare coaching a clutch game and a win like that versus playing in it? You said that this was the best feeling possible. Do you get that same thing playing, or is it better coaching, or better playing?
“I think it’s better playing. As a coach, you are blocking and tackling nobody. Those are the guys that are laying it out on the line. And therefore they feel the greatest share of the satisfaction and the glory and the credit and the feeling. Coaching is definitely the next-best thing. So, it’s wonderful. But, playing’s the best.”

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