Blog Entry

Harbaugh wants Smith back in SF as starting QB

Posted on: February 8, 2012 10:27 pm
Smith could be back.  (Ryan Wilson,
By Ryan Wilson

Jim Harbaugh has been an Alex Smith supporter at least as far back as last summer when, during the lockout, the first-year 49ers head coach announced that he wanted the then-free agent quarterback in San Francisco as his starter. This must've seemed odd to Smith, whose NFL career up to that point had been full of underachievement and disappointment (though, to be fair, it wasn't completely his fault; this is what happens when you play in an new offense virtually every season in an organization that lacked stability until recently).

Now fresh off a 13-3 season, the NFC West title, and a trip to the NFC Championship Game, Harbaugh wants Smith, set to be a free agent in March, back for 2012. Even though the team selected quarterback-of-the-future Colin Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 draft. Smith finished the season with 3,144 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and ranked 13th in Football Outsiders' quarterback efficiency metric ahead of Joe Flacco and Cam Newton.

Three days after Smith accepted the NFL Coach of the Year award on behalf of Harbaugh at the inaugural NFL Awards during Super Bowl Weekend in Indy, the two played golf together at a Pebble Beach charity event. (And via's Matt Maiocco, Smith will serve as Harbaugh's caddie on Day 1 of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.) To hear the 49ers head coach, it sounds like he's in no hurry to break up the band.

"We're all in lockstep as an organization that Alex Smith is our guy. It's well-documented. You saw the way he played this year," Harbaugh told "Chronicle Live" host Jim Kozimor, according to Maiocco. "(He is a) tremendous leader on our football team.

"There's Alex and there are other guys, too, that are high priorities. We want our guys. There are guys who play like 49ers, and what they do is they play their hearts out for our team. So Alex and others, (it's) going to be a high-priority to get those guys signed."

Despite a career year, Smith understands he has to improve.

"For me, it's all about strengthening your weaknesses -- getting better," Smith said, "really analyzing where you need to get better and being honest with yourself, as a player and as a team. That's what will happen in the coming weeks."

The 49ers were a fantastic story in 2011 but the real test will be if they can sustain their success from one season to the next.

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Since: Jan 25, 2012
Posted on: February 9, 2012 3:27 am

Harbaugh wants Smith back in SF as starting QB

As he should. I think Jim brought the best out of Smith and helped this team do a complete 180. I feel Jim and Alex could end up having one of the better coach/QB relationships in the league. Excellent choice Jim, very glad you didnt feed into the hype looking for another QB. Loyalty, the main thing professional sports lacks today.  

Since: Dec 7, 2006
Posted on: February 9, 2012 3:06 am

Harbaugh wants Smith back in SF as starting QB

Great post Overbore you are correct on every point you made.If Alex had giants' recieving corp he would have been much more effective than he was.The needs for niners is obvious and it is not qb.recievers that aren't afraid to go over the middle;also speedy and a cb that will attack and play man to man.I like Harbaughs' take that keeping his guys is top priority and filling holes in the draft. The most loyal players you have NORMALY are the ones you draft. J. Smith and maybe a few others are the exception to the rule as is T.O in the opposite way.

Since: May 26, 2009
Posted on: February 9, 2012 1:31 am

Harbaugh wants Smith back in SF as starting QB

I know that some folks are going to interpret this as a "copout" move or even call it an outright mistake. Those folks are missing out on the importance of chemistry in the NFL.

Not only were the 49ers hapless on the football field for a decade, but they were hapless in the locker room. Jim Harbaugh brought in much needed know-how and a focus on the fundamentals, but he also fashioned the group of men into a team. Not just a group of talented individuals, but a team with a common purpose.

The Eagles were a group of talented individuals. The Jets were a group of talented individuals. The Cowboys were a group of talented individuals. The Chargers were a group of talented individuals.

Nobody thought that San Francisco would finish five full games better than each of those teams, much less take the Giants within 5 minutes of double overtime in the conference championship. Philadelphia, Dallas, and San Diego all have more talent on offense. The New York Jets were thought to have more talent on defense (but we now know that they do not).

You may say, "the 49ers are dumb for thinking they can compete long term with Alex Smith at QB! Look at all the other great QBs in the NFC! He won't ever make it back!"
Exactly. You're making it about one guy vs. one guy. In reality it's 53 guys vs. 53 guys. How else does Eli Manning hold a 3-1 record against Tom Brady, while most every other quarterback in the league has a losing record against the guy? Is it just Eli's talent? Is it just the Giants having chemistry?

Talent plus chemistry. The Giants field a better top-to-bottom roster than do the Patriots. They scout better. They draft better. They replace injured players more seamlessly. And when their backs are against the wall, and the whole world expects them to fail, they draw closer together and step up for one another. They tune out the doubters and say good things about each other. They actually believe in each other, lackluster 9 win regular season be damned. Talent plus chemistry.

Talent by itself? You're just spinning the wheels. The 49ers would do themselves no favors in the long term by trying to replace the guy who stuck it out faithfully for years in a bad franchise. Smith took the brunt of the blame. He didn't point the finger. Last year he finally was rewarded. He went to battle and mostly won. He got better. He was a leader. What does it say to the guys in the locker room if a player like that is cut loose?

Now I'm not saying that you shrug off Peyton Manning if he comes knocking, but get real. Who else are you going to get to step in? There's not much out there. Matt Flynn? Hardly. And Colin Kaepernick isn't ready. Let the kid continue to develop. Give Smith a 2 or 3 year deal and give him a chance to improve while mentoring the young guy. If Kaepernick ever starts outplaying Smith in training camp and practice then you can start talking. At that point it becomes more of a talent thing. But we're not nearly at that point yet.

Since: Jun 5, 2011
Posted on: February 8, 2012 11:18 pm

Harbaugh wants Smith back in SF as starting QB

Harbaugh is a Bo Schembechler disciple, but he has been around long enough to open up schemes on both sides of the ball.  What he did take from Bo, though, is a very heavy accent on fundamentals and repitition.  As we have witnessed with Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer-coached quarterbacks know how to win, but are usually lacking in fundamentals that are important in the NFL.  Harbaugh has done a great job of "cleaning up" Alex Smith's deficiencies and helping him turn himself into a very good NFL quarterback.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or