Harbaugh: ‘Losing is not an option’

Here’s the newspaper story detailing the hiring of Jim Harbaugh. It’s been quite a week, huh?

In an ornate ballroom here at the luxurious Palace Hotel on Friday, music greeted Jim Harbaugh as he was introduced as the 18th coach in the history of the San Francisco 49ers.

It was an entrance befitting royalty, which, in college football circles, Harbaugh has become after lifting once-lowly Stanford to dizzying heights.

But as Harbaugh, 47, discussed his next challenge – resurrecting a once-proud franchise – it became clear his grand introduction didn’t fit him.

One got the impression the ultra-competitive, tobacco-chewing coach would have rather met the media with his suit off and his feet up in his not-yet-decorated office in Santa Clara. After all, that’s where he was headed after the tape recorders and cameras clicked off.

His dad, Jack, coached for 44 years at the high school and college level. His older brother, John, is the coach of the Baltimore Ravens. And Harbaugh was eager to get right back to the family business Friday night.

“He’s going back to the office tonight to get working,” Niners president and CEO Jed York said. “That’s what he wants to do.”

It’s safe to assume Harbaugh didn’t transform Stanford, 1-11 in the year before his arrival in 2006, into a 12-1 national power this season without a few all-nighters.

And York knows the feeling after this week.

The Niners owner joked that he was ready to sleep after a wild three-day pursuit of a red-hot coach who attracted five suitors. Harbaugh told York on Thursday night he was fairly confident he would sign with San Francisco, but wanted a bit more time before making a final decision. Harbaugh eventually signed a five-year, $25 million contract Friday afternoon.

It’s not chump change mind you, but it is at least $2 million less annually than he was reportedly offered by the Dolphins.

The money wasn’t insignificant, but big bucks weren’t the overriding factor, according to Mr. Blue Collar.

“I don’t really ever talk about money, and it wasn’t a factor,” Harbaugh said. “I like a buck just like the next guy, but I love coaching, and I love winning, and I love football.”

Harbaugh’s sensibilities were illustrated by his preferred method of recruitment.

Dolphins billionaire owner Stephen Ross had flown in by private jet to San Jose on Wednesday night reportedly willing to make Harbaugh the richest coach in the NFL. According to Harbaugh, though, he had already been charmed during a six-hour meeting with Niners general manager Trent Baalke and owner Jed York earlier in the day.

The site? A friend of York’s house. The meal? Homemade sandwiches. Harbaugh was right at home.

“It was just natural,” Harbaugh said. “It was just talking ball.”

Baalke had a sense of what made Harbaugh tick. They first met six years ago at a college all-star game in Las Vegas and Baalke was struck by Harbaugh’s desire.

“I kind of fell in love with his energy, he had a passion,” Baalke said. “In order to succeed in this business I think you have to have that.”

With that in mind, Baalke didn’t worry about finances – “It was never about money for Jim,” he said – and stuck strictly with football during their six-hour, sandwich-filled session.

“I think more than what he said was how he came across,” Baalke said. “Just the passion and the energy, he’s a ball coach. He loves the game, you can tell he loves the game and that’s important.”

In San Francisco, Harbaugh won’t get the most money – even Stanford reportedly offered him slightly more. And he also won’t have control. The newly appointed Baalke had it written into his contract that he would have full control over the draft and the 53-man roster.

But what Harbaugh will have is the chance to resurrect a floundering franchise 17 years removed from its fifth and final Super Bowl. Since 2003, the Niners have zero playoff appearances, seven losing seasons and a 46-82 record.

At various times before and after his press conference, Harbaugh said he was drawn to the 49ers job because it was “the perfect competitive opportunity.” That is, it gives him a chance to coach at the highest level and, additionally, it’s one heck of a challenge.

“It really comes down to this is the level I want to be on,” Harbaugh said. “This is the shot and the organization that I wanted to do it with. And it’s the perfect competitive opportunity.”

It also gives Harbaugh the chance to follow in the footsteps of one of his coaching idols, Bill Walsh, who also left Stanford to come to San Francisco. Harbaugh has a picture of Walsh tacked on his computer screen, but he begged off any significant link between the two.

“There’s really no sentence that you could put Bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh in the same sentence as,” he said. “I have a long way to go and a lot of work ahead of me before any comparison can be made.”

Harbaugh will employ the West Coast Offense, a system Walsh made famous 30 years ago. The staple of San Francisco’s Super Bowl teams has become a forgotten relic under the failed regimes of defensive-minded coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary.

“We will install the West Coast Offense in San Francisco, the birthplace of the West Coast Offense,” Harbaugh said. “And I’m excited about that.”

But it will take more than an offense. Harbaugh will also need, among other items, a quarterback as he attempts to breathe life into an offense which hasn’t ranked higher than 23rd in the NFL since 2004.

The 49ers are expected to use an early round pick on a quarterback in the NFL draft in April and Harbaugh has an impressive track record developing young signal-callers.

At Stanford, Harbaugh recruited Andrew Luck, who would have been the No. 1 pick in the draft if he had not announced Thursday that he was returning to college for his junior season. At Division I-AA University of San Diego, where Harbaugh was the head coach from 2004-06, he developed Josh Johnson, who was a fifth-round pick of the Buccaneers in 2008.

He led both programs to great heights, taking USD to Division I-AA Mid Major national title in 2005 and 2006.

His latest project began Friday afternoon. And, by nightfall, he was ditching his tie and rolling up his sleeves.

“Losing,” he said, “is not an option.”

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