SANTA CLARA — Jim Harbaugh spoke in the media tent Friday afternoon. He talked about meeting Willie Mays, playing three home games in a row and the role of motivational speaking in coaching. Harbaugh even quoted Napoleon. Here’s the transcript, courtesy of the 49ers.
We haven’t talked to you since you had your special visitor here on Wednesday, number 24 Willie Mays. How was that?
“It was awesome. It was awesome. The great Willie Mays was here. And he signed an autographed baseball for everybody that wanted one, which was everybody. And had a great time talking to him. Talked a lot of baseball. Talked a lot of the 1954 catch in the Polo Grounds. Ran my theory by him, which turned out was correct, correct theory.”
“The theory was that though that was a spectacular catch to everybody that saw it, it was a routine catch for Willie Mays. That he had that catch from the crack of the bat. And it was just a matter of running it down and then making the throw, hat came off, but I think he had it as soon as the crack of the bat he was off and gone. But, the Polo Fields, that was really designed for polo and for football. So, center field goes on forever, 580—90, whatever it was, 600 feet. But, that was the theory, that was just a routine catch for Willie Mays.”
Did he ever play football?
“He did. I knew this about him, that he had a 40-yard average as a punter. And [P] Andy Lee was interested in that. And Willie said that he also played quarterback in high school. So, it was great. Great conversation. I didn’t know that he had hit 62 two-run homers in his career. That’s incredible. And then there was a picture of myself and Willie Mays and [49ers CEO] Jed [York] was in the background. I think Jed tweeted it out. And once I saw that picture I was like, wow. Who would have ever thought that a Harbaugh would have been sitting next to Willie Mays with a big smile on his face? It was just a really, really great afternoon. And Willie said that when my dad gets in town that we’re welcome to come over and say hello.”
How quickly after that did you call your dad?
“Yeah, right away and sent him the picture, too. So, it was neat.”
What about Muhammad Ali? Any closer to that dream becoming reality?
“Well, we’re feeling pretty good. We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves right now. We got to meet Willie Mays. Doesn’t get any better than that.”
You said earlier in the week that RB Brandon Jacobs you were going to kind of assess as the week went on? How has practice been for him and what do you think?
“It’s good. It’s progressing and it’s coming along good. And we’ll make a decision, game-time decision on that one.”
Whenever he starts playing, whether it’s this week or next week, how much does he bring to the table? He seems like kind of a unique back with his size and power obviously. I’m sure all the reasons you went after him. How would you sort of explain the impact this guy could make?
“Well, all those things that you just mentioned I think there’d be a good change and mix. Some of the assets he brings will be positive.”
After playing three or four games on the road, how beneficial could this stretch of home games be for you guys?
“Well, we’re very hopeful and very determined to take advantage of it. And I kind of liken it to … you’ve got the ankle weights on that some people work out with. In our case, the guys pull chains, big chains when they run. You’re kind of taking those off. You’ve done some hard things as it relates to travel. But, you’ve still go to have that edge. You’ve got to have that saltiness, that attitude to go fight, bad taste in your mouth kind of thing. There’s a lot to that, too. So, we need both.”
Everybody who suited up last week got in the game, had significant roles in the game. That must have pleased you to see that. But, I was wondering where that philosophy of everybody plays, everybody has a role goes back to? Does that go back to is that part of the team, the team, the team concept?
“Yeah, whenever possible. Yeah, it’s a great thing for the morale of the team.”
But is that something that you guys did under Bo Schembechler? Where lots of different people have roles? Lots of different packages rolled in, rolled out of the game?
“Yeah, I don’t know if it necessarily goes back there. I just think it’s a good philosophy of team and morale of the team. Morale is to the physical as three is to the number one.”
When did you as a head coach start specializing in doing a lot of different personnel groups, a lot of different people in and out of the game?
“I don’t know. I don’t know the exact time. But, just something we’ve all noticed. Whenever possible, when it’s possible, when it’s earned. The meritocracy of it. The morale of the team. The morale of the individual. Contributing and playing. That can be a good thing, a powerful thing.”
Speaking of the team, did you reward the scout guys this week? Who were those?
“Who were the guys?”
“[S] Trenton Robinson on special teams. And I’ll get you those other names.”
I’ve stumped you.
“Yeah, I’ve got them. They’re just rattling around.”
Going back to your last point though, in terms of if you had to step back and describe your job, how much of your time or percentage of time is focused on group dynamics and understanding the group, what the group needs, as well as what individuals need? And how much is technical? Ie. what plays to call, what schemes to run, that type of thing? Is it possible to break it down?
“I don’t know if I could.”
Is there more time spent on taking care of the group and keeping the team focused and moral up? As opposed to designing plays or responding to situations?
“The greatest share is the talent and skill of the players. And that always seems to be a little bit undervalued or diminished when you start talking about some of the other things. That’s the greatest share, the preparation in terms of the X’s and O’s. That’s next. I guess if you’re likening it to someone that was a great motivational speaker, if they gave great motivational speeches that they’d be a great coach. That’s not the way it works. Tony Robbins is not coaching football. So, I don’t know what the breakdown would be. But, the skill and talent of the players is by far the greatest share.”
Can you kind of assess where LB Aldon Smith is at as far as his transition to an every-down linebacker?
“Continues to be productive and understanding the plan within the framework of the defense. Being able to execute his assignments, whether it be rush, drop, take on a tackle or a tight end thick in the run game. He’s progressing very well.”
How about what have WR A.J. Jenkins and RB LaMichael James shown you in practice? How are they better I assume now than they were five weeks ago?
“Multiple ways and right now both in an understudy role. But, continuing to get ready when called upon.”
Obviously you are focusing on the Bills. I don’t know if you got much chance to watch last night’s game? But, based on how the teams in your division played at the end of last year and so far this year, is it safe to say that they’re four of the best defenses in football?
NFC West from top to bottom?
“The best four defenses in football?”
Not the best, but among four of the best?
“Could be. Haven’t seen all the defenses yet.”
Did you watch last night’s game?
“Some of it, yeah.”
Is there much to be gleaned just watching the TV version? Do you watch it as a fan or as a coach?
“Both. It was here and there. Saw good part of the end of it, the fourth quarter. And some of the beginning, second quarter, third quarter. Walking by a TV and caught a series here and there.”
How much did Jenkins and James, what can they do to be if they are called upon? Is that just more a function of your depth at those positions? The fact that they haven’t been called upon?
“I think they could go in and do a fine job right now. And you get better at football by practicing and playing football. So, they’re going to be just fine.”