Fresh off five consecutive golf outings in Monterey Bay last week, Associated Press Coach of the Year Jim Harbaugh was off the links and feeling refreshed back in his office Monday morning.
Harbaugh spent Tuesday through Saturday competing in a charity shootout, a practice round with his quarterback as well as the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he came up just short of advancing to Sunday’s final round.
Sitting at his desk in a grey 49ers hooded sweatshirt, the first rookie coach to lead his team to a 13-win season coming after a losing year, spoke graciously about his experience spending time with professional golfers and celebrities who were all quick to compliment San Francisco’s efforts in 2011.
The feedback, coupled with Harbaugh’s drive to win his first Super Bowl title, has San Francisco’s leader eager to prepare for a run at the team’s sixth World Championship. Winning 14 games to reach the NFC Championship game was a great experience for a 49ers team that hadn’t been to the postseason since 2003, yet, Harbaugh is using the experiences to better himself in his second year as the 49ers head coach.
Hearing all week how well the 49ers did this year only has Harbaugh eager to do it all over again.
“After the remarkable season we had, it does make you that much more energetic, enthusiastic and excited to get back to work,” Harbaugh said on Monday.
Harbaugh, however, didn’t agree to play in the tournament for competitive purposes. Instead, the football coach signed up to enjoy serene surroundings, galleries of supportive fans as well as spend time with his rotating group of caddies.
On Thursday, Harbaugh had
“That might have been the best part, he and I having a chance to spend some quality time outside of 4949 Centennial Blvd,” Harbaugh said of Smith, the 49ers quarterback set to be a free agent on March 13. “It was just great. What a phenomenal guy. I doubt there are many millionaire superstar NFL quarterbacks that will humble themselves to carry the bag.”
With Smith taking off to attend a surprise 60th birthday party for his mother over the weekend, quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst carried Harbaugh’s golf bag on Friday and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio handled the responsibility for Saturday’s round.
At every turn of Monterey Peninsula, Spyglass Hill Golf Course and Pebble Beach Golf Links, the three courses used in each of the opening rounds of the tournament, Harbaugh experienced an outpouring of support from the 49ers Faithful lining the tee boxes, fairways and greens.
Harbaugh wasn’t alone in receiving consistent applause throughout the week.
“The best part was just how enthusiastic and energetic and supportive all the Bay Area fans were for the 49ers, for myself, for Alex, Geep and Vic,” the 49ers coach said. “It was just a real warm feeling amongst us and the 49er Faithful.”
Even celebrities like Clint Eastwood, Bill Murray, Huey Lewis, George Lopez and Tony LaRussa (among others) shared words of encouragement with Harbaugh.
“The high class individuals that are in orbit down there, it’s pretty amazing,” Harbaugh added. “At times I felt like we were the Beverly Harbaughs invited to Pebble Beach – (we) weren’t going to say ‘no’ to that.”
The actors, entertainers and sports figures all agreed on what they enjoyed most about Harbaugh’s 49ers squad: the teamwork the group consistently displayed.
“They all were really positive about the team, the way we played as a team, how the players played their hearts out,” Harbaugh detailed. “That was obvious to really all those folks down there. I don’t think anybody didn’t comment along those lines.”
A similar sentiment expressed the most from the team’s adoring fans was that of gratitude. Most of the praise was in fact directed at Smith, who threw for more than 3,000 yards for the first time in his seven-year career while leading his team to a NFC West division crown.
“The reaction (Smith) got from the crowd couldn’t have been warmer and more thankful,” Harbaugh relayed. “People were thanking him for the season, ‘Thanks Alex.’ ‘Thanks for bringing the Niners back.’ ‘Thanks for everything.’ People really recognizing how tough and how well he played.”
In turn, Harbaugh and the 49ers representatives marveled over the PGA players whom they walked the fairways beside.
“It was wonderful to watch the pro golfers from inside the ropes, the way they go about their craft,” said Harbaugh, who played in a foursome along with San Francisco Giants All-Star pitcher Matt Cain as well as tour pros Ryan Moore and Matt Bettencourt. “Phenomenal experience getting to know those guys.”
As for Harbaugh’s most memorable stretch of golf, the 49ers coach wasn’t in a Sunday-like competitive mindset during the week. Recalling favorite shots or courses wasn’t on his mind on Monday, either. Really, it was the overall experience that remained most vivid.
“It was a lot of fun. We weren’t out there fighting anybody,” Harbaugh said with a grin. “(I was) feeling this is about as good as it gets.”
The relaxing period of time spent on the links will quickly transfer to where Harbaugh’s even more comfortable, formulating plans inside his office at team headquarters in Santa Clara.
With the NFL scouting combine taking place at the end of the month, Harbaugh is taking part in various pro and college scouting meetings in Santa Clara to prepare for the upcoming free agency period in addition to April’s NFL Draft. He’ll do so in concert with newly extended general manager Trent Baalke, who he congratulated for a well-deserved extension with the 49ers through 2016.
“All things are positive,” said Harbaugh, who will meet quite often with the scouts. “We’re excited to get back to work and there’s so much to do.”
With more than a year of experience on the job, Harbaugh looks forward to a full offseason to work with his players in addition to evaluating new talent to bring on the roster.
As the 49ers coach sees it, being a division champion will only make things tougher in 2012.
“We’re going to have to get better,” Harbaugh said. "Everything about next year, we’re going to need to be better. You draft lower. You play a division-winner’s schedule.”
The 49ers will select No. 30 overall in the first round of the draft on Thursday, April 26.
“Everybody’s here, coaches are here,” Harbaugh said. “And I think I speak for everybody, they feel the same way. It’s exciting to get back to work.”