After an informal get-to-know-you lunch with beat writers today (excellent stuffed mushrooms), coach Jim Harbaugh took on-the-record questions for the first time since he was hired exactly two weeks ago.
There was some hard news regarding the coaching staff coming out of the 30-minute give-and-take. And there were several questions about – who else? – quarterback Alex Smith!
Here we go:
• As expected, Jim Tomsula (defensive line), Tom Rathman (running backs) and Mike Solari (offensive line) will be retained from Mike Singletary’s staff. Harbaugh also confirmed that Brad Seely has been hired as the special teams coach. Seely was the assistant head coach/special teams coordinator in Cleveland the past two seasons.
Ray Brown, an assistant offensive line coach this past season, will also be retained. Brown will help coach tight ends and the offensive tackles. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman will serve as the lead tight ends coach. Roman also coached tight ends with the Texans and Stanford.
The final tally: Three offensive line coaches (Solari, Brown and Tim Drevno) and two tight ends coaches (Roman, Brown)
“We want to make sure that everyone’s getting coached,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a scorched-earth approach to coaching. Coaching that group — starters, backups, developmental guys. We really want to have that area coached well.”
The 49ers have also hired Ejiro Evero as a quality control coach. Evero, an assistant at the University of Redlands last year, was the Buccaneers defensive quality control coach from 2007-09. A former defensive back at UC Davis, Evero was a two-time Division II All-American.
Harbaugh said he might hire another secondary and/or linebackers coach.
• Harbaugh was asked about owner Jed York’s comments on KNBR this week regarding Alex Smith. York said the 49ers haven’t shut the door on the possibility of Smith, an unrestricted free agent, returning.
Not surprisingly, Harbaugh didn’t disagree with the boss.
“Like Jed, I would agree,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not into absolutes and alwayses and nevers, those kind of bold statements. My part is an evaluation. That’ll be of Alex and the other players on our football team … I’m going to do my part and what I feel is my knowledge of the position and make a great evaluation of the quarterbacks on the current roster and those that are out there that we could bring to the 49ers.”
Harbaugh said he’s met with Smith and other players at the 49ers facility. He’s also spoken with others on the phone. Based on his meeting with Smith, he said he didn’t think the quarterback has ruled out a return to San Francisco.
“He strikes me as somebody who’s open,” Harbaugh said. “His vision for himself, his vision and how that relates to the 49ers is to be determined. Going through the process in his mind, what’s best for him and his career and how that relates to us, that’s an exciting piece as we move forward with not only Alex, but all the players on our team.
“You hate to keep using Alex as the only example. My thing is this is a new time. This is like the Etch A Sketch when you were a kid or the plastic sheet that you lift up. There was a lot written on there and once you lift it up there’s a new, clean slate there. Everything to come is to be determined — what’s going to be written on there. Everything in the past is now in a bio.”
• Mike Singletary, famously, de-emphasized the importance of the quarterback position.
Harbaugh views the position quite differently.
The contrast was driven home when Harbaugh was asked if the Niners, given their uncertainty at the position, could get by with a less-than-elite quarterback in 2011. Or would be it necessary to have a top-flight quarterback?
“Do we need a top-flight quarterback?” he said. “Do human beings need air to breathe?”
Harbaugh followed-up by acknowledging that finding a top-flight quarterback would be a process.
“You’re talking about improving your football team and making your team better and that means getting players,” he said. “There’s only two ways to do that — either make the one you have better or get new players to come in that are better.”
• When asked about being a first-year NFL coach and dealing with the uncertainty regarding the league’s labor situation, Harbaugh busted out one of his mottos, coming, perhaps, to a T-shirt near you, “All obstacles can and must be overcome.”
He said planning for the future, and setting up countless contingency plans, is a part of his personality.
“It’s who I am in terms of I’m always doing it, always planning, saving, preparing for the future and getting angst about the what-ifs,” Harbaugh said. “But then (making) Plan A, B, C, D and it all falls together, comes together, you worry about things — but that’s my personality. I don’t know if it was the grasshopper or the … who’s the one saving stuff up for winter? The ant. I’m like the ant. Have a hard time living for today or in the past. To me it’s all like make the future the best it can be.”
• The Niners’ roster is dotted with veterans who have minimal or no playoff experience.
The list includes Takeo Spikes and Nate Clements, who have never reached the postseason in 23 combined years in the NFL, and Justin Smith, who has appeared in one playoff game in 10 seasons.
Based on his initial conversations with players, Harbaugh said their desire to end the franchise’s eight-season playoff drought was obvious.
“That’s the thing that has struck me since I’ve been here,” he said. “That’s a hungry group, guys who haven’t been to the playoffs.”
• Harbaugh won’t be attending the Senior Bowl next week, but general manager Trent Baalke will be in Mobile, Ala.
An intriguing group of quarterbacks will also be in attendance. The group consists of Washington’s Jake Locker, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, Alabama’s Greg McElroy, TCU’s Andy Dalton, Florida State’s Christian Ponder and Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi.
Harbaugh said he will stay in Santa Clara, splitting his time between draft preparation and evaluating free agents.