INDIANAPOLIS – An invaluable resource.
That was the standout phrase tossed around by one of Jim Harbaugh’s former players from Stanford this week as the NFL’s Coach of the Year’s former pupils met with the media at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.
Being that and much more to his Cardinal players, Jim Harbaugh has helped many of the nation’s top prospects get to the pinnacle of offseason evaluations.
“He's been an unbelievable resource ever since coming out of high school, to dealing with college, things that come with being a quarterback,” said Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the consensus No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft according to most prognosticators.
“I definitely stay in touch with him,” Luck added. “I've called and asked for advice on certain things, texted him. I'm not surprised at all with the success he's had with San Francisco. It's very well-deserved.
“He's a great resource. I feel very fortunate to have been coached by him.”
Equally complimentary of his quarterback, Harbaugh said Luck is special in his own right.
“You ever played spades?” Harbaugh asked a room full of reporters while standing at a podium inside of Lucas Oil Stadium. “He’s holding a lot of aces in a lot of suits.”
Considered by many to be a once-in-a-generation quarterback (NFL Network’s Brian Billick called Luck the best quarterback prospect since John Elway), Luck took a humble approach when discussing his future in professional football.
Luck made sure to thank his former coach for being so instrumental in his collegiate career.
And in turn, Harbaugh had nothing but great things to say about his former quarterback. Only, Harbaugh’s going to lament having to stop Luck, the feared passing threat.
“He’s one of the finest football players I’ve ever been around,” Harbaugh said. “And an even better person – one of the top five guys I’ve been around. So he’s just a joy to coach. Not going to like playing against him. Not looking forward to that.”
Harbaugh also had this to say, “He’s prepared as anybody that you’re going to find.”
Sure, Luck’s upbringing and character played a part in that. But so did Harbaugh, and his Stanford coaching staff.
Harbaugh’s pro-style, smash-mouth system helped his players across the board.
Not just Luck.
“I definitely think it'll help,” said Stanford’s highly rated tight end prospect Coby Fleener on the value of playing under a professional-like system in college. “Coach (David) Shaw, his background with the NFL; coach Harbaugh, obviously his background with the NFL prepared not only me but the other guys you see here at the combine.”
Fleener said the Stanford program brought out the best out of him and his teammates in a number of ways.
“They challenged us intellectually, mentally as well as physical to run the scheme,” Fleener said. “Guys did a good job of stepping up. I know I loved it. I loved having run-checks, pass-checks and all that stuff.
“I think it will help me in the long run.”
In the long run, it’s not a guarantee Luck, Fleener or any of the top Cardinal prospects will ever be coached up again by Harbaugh or former Stanford offensive coordinator Greg Roman who has that title with the 49ers.
Competing on Sundays against Harbaugh and many of his ex-Stanford coaches remains more likely.
However, if selected by San Francisco, the Stanford players feel ready to step in and contribute. After all, it didn’t take long for them to become 49ers fans last season.
David DeCastro, one of this year’s top guard prospects said he followed the team very closely. He even recognized the blocking schemes ran by San Francisco which looked quite familiar.
“They ran the same offense we ran,” DeCastro said. “I noticed a lot of plays. I knew exactly what they were running most of the time, the play calls. So it was fun to watch. I’m always cheering for the old coaches.”
Because Harbaugh was an invaluable resource.
“He was an enthusiastic guy that demanded a lot out of us. We worked extremely hard, just dedication on and off the field every day. It was huge.”
Furthermore, DeCastro and fellow offensive line prospect, tackle Jonathan Martin feel well-versed in playing in a West Coast offensive scheme which utilizes much of the verbiage they learned in college.
So while many of the top talent in Palo Alto marveled over the 49ers success in 2011, they weren’t exactly surprised by it.
“I think coach Roman is a tremendous coordinator, coach Harbaugh is an amazing coach… and all the other guys they brought along,” Martin said. “Maybe that they had success so fast, but (I’m) not surprised they were successful.”