This is the transcript of Jim Harbaugh’s Wednesday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ p.r. department.
“We had compiled some team voting and voted on awards for this season. Wanted to announce those. The Len Eshmont Award: [RB] Frank Gore. The Bill Walsh Award: [S] Antoine Bethea. Bobb McKittrick Award: [T] Joe Staley. The Hazeltine Iron Man Award: [DT] Justin Smith. Thomas Herrion Memorial Award: [LB] Chris Borland. And Blue Collar Players of the Year: Justin Smith, [WR] Anquan Boldin and [WR] Kassim Osgood. Congratulations to those very well-deserving players.”
Antoine came in here replacing a guy who played some pretty good football for you. Is he even better than you thought he was when you guys signed him?
“Antoine Bethea has been a pro’s pro on the field, off the field, in the locker room. A real joy to be around every single day. As a football player, he’s been outstanding in all aspects of safety play. Been a fabulous year for him.”
That’s voted on by the coaches, correct?
Was he like having another coach out there on the field?
“In all aspects, he’s a pro’s pro. Great with the young guys, great on the field, great in the meeting rooms. Outstanding.”
Obviously, he works very closely with S Eric Reid. Do you see Reid kind of following in those footsteps, the same type of player?
“I do. As a pro and as a leader, absolutely.”
With Reid, he was going to see a doctor yesterday, I believe, or maybe it was Monday? What update do you have on him?
“Don’t really have an update today on that. But he is being evaluated.”
We talked to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio about Justin Smith and he said he would fly to Missouri and have a beer with the guy if he has to to convince him to play another year. What’s your take on whether or not this is going to be Justin Smith’s last game and how sad it would be if he doesn’t come back for another year?
“Well, that’s something I’m sure Justin will evaluate when the season’s over and give himself some time to reflect on that and the decisions he’ll make with his family and what’s in his heart to do. But I know Justin Smith will make the right decision. He always does. In terms of his play, it has been at the highest level this year. It’s been outstanding as it has been throughout his career. He is somebody that I truly respect. He has been a great teammate and ally for all of us. He really showers us with so many virtues. He is strong and he is competitive. He is a football player in every sense of that phrase. But that’ll be a decision that I’m sure he and his family make and evaluates when the season is over.”
Can you just speak on the longevity of being able to play 14 years in this league, which you did as well, and just how tough that is?
“It’s a great accomplishment. It speaks volumes. I don’t make it a comparison to playing that long as I don’t know what that’s like as a defensive lineman that’s in collision every single play. There’s nobody that works and trains himself to be able to do that like Justin Smith. He has trained himself to do that with great talent and effort and always the execution is infallible. It’s an amazing, amazing career that he’s had. And people say, ‘Wow, I want to play 14 years in this league, I want to be a great player for 14 years,’ and then you find out what you have to do to do that and it’s like, ‘Woah, you have to work that hard, you gotta be that strong, you have to be that mentally tough?’. It hasn’t been for everybody, but Justin Smith is that shining light.”
Do you remember your decision when you were deciding whether you were going to come back for a 15th year and join the Panthers and just where your career was at? Were you wrestling with retirement, too?
“No. I really wanted to play as long as I could. It’s a personal decision. He is more than capable to do that. The difference, I’m sure, as Vic said, we want him back. There’s lots of teams that would want a Justin Smith. Every team should have a Justin Smith playing for them. There’s a big difference between people that want you to be on their team and telling you, ‘It is time to move on with your life’s work.’ And that won’t be the case with Justin Smith going into next year.”
What did he show you when he was playing, as Vic said, with half an arm and some of these injuries he played through the last couple of years before kind of being healthy this season? Every day he was out there nursing something, probably.
“It’s a study. Somebody should study it. What the strength, the mindset, the competitiveness, the durability, what sets him apart, because he is set apart. There’s a very small circle of ‘Justin Smiths’ that are in this league or have ever been in this league. That’s the kind of company that he’s in. The one arm – I remember a game we were playing in St. Louis, where he had really hurt his knee and was having trouble walking on it. We had a big lead, so, he was out two or three series. And then, the Rams had caught up and Justin grabbed his helmet and was going back out for the next series because we had to have that stop, and we got the stop and won the game. It was like, ‘Wow.’ That’s just things you just don’t see.”
Was that last year in St. Louis?
“Was it last year? I think it was two years ago. 2012. [former 49ers kicker] David Akers threw the touchdown pass to [WR Michael] Crabtree on the hideout play. Yeah, that was that game.”
Talk about Joe Staley. He wins the McKittrick Award and he also got a Pro Bowl nod yesterday, just how his season’s gone along?
“He’s been outstanding as well. Voted captain by his teammates. He’s been a tremendous leader. He’s been somebody that has played every game. He has started every game in the four years that we’ve been here. And I know he had started quite a few before that. Every game, every time you suited up, every time you kick a ball off, there is Joe Staley. And that speaks volumes for who he is and what kind of talent he has and execution and effort. Football player. In the lineup at one of the premier and toughest positions in all of football, left tackle, that is, again, he’s in a circle of football players, it’s not very big, that can do that.”
Having your offensive line kind of together is a big reason for what you guys were able to accomplish on the ground against the Chargers Saturday. What was your take on that, that unit and what its role was in the running game?
“Thought it was fantastic. Thought our team was really, offensively and the offensive line, was clicking on all cylinders. It was a tremendous game plan and [offensive coordinator] Greg [Roman] called a great game and the offensive line really was coming off the ball and playing on all cylinders.”
What about RB Frank Gore’s season as a whole and what he’s meant to you as far as being a head coach and what he brings?
“Trusted ally and known friend for this season, last season, every season. He’s a known agent and trusted friend of mine personally and the San Francisco 49ers. He has had an incredible career. The kind of career that few have had when you think of some of the things he’s overcome, the level that he has played. You can talk about a lot of players or backs, especially when they hit 30 years old, that’s some kind of landmark. But, Frank never talks that way. He never talks about being 30 or being an older player, therefore he never thinks that way. Just an unwavering competitor is Frank Gore.”
QB Colin Kaepernick yesterday talked about perhaps working with a quarterback guru, or whatever you want to call it, in the offseason. What is your take on that and do you see value in NFL quarterbacks working with a specialist for a couple of months before you guys meet again in the spring?
“Yeah, there’s value there. Quarterbacks are always trying to improve their play and find something. Find one thing or find two things to help them, to get better. Colin’s always been that type of player that is looking for improvement for those two months that are after the season. He likes to, the way they don’t come into the facility, but his car is in the lot the next day. He’s very shortly plotting out his offseason regiment. He takes no time off and gets right to work. So, it’s expected he would find anything, even one or two things to try to improve his play. That’s the kind of guy he is.”
When you were in the league, did you ever have a player or a coach you went to to work on your mechanics?
“A specialist like that?”
Yeah, or anybody you admired or wanted some help with?
“No, not on a consistent basis. Coaches that I had on my team, absolutely.”
The league’s changed though, hasn’t it? With restrictions on how much you guys can actually have your hands on guys?
“Yes, it has.”
You think it’s more conducive now to seeking independent help?
“I think the principle’s the same. You’re always seeking out ways to improve. Do anything, willing to do anything to get better, to improve.”
Chiefs QB Alex Smith went to pitching coach Tom House. Did you, I forget maybe we discussed this at the time, but did you talk to Tom at that time or do you have a sense of kind of where he’s coming from as far as tutoring, mentoring quarterbacks?
“Yeah, that’s something we set up, facilitated, and thought it had good results.”
Did the Niners actually reach out to Tom?
That was your recommendation?
“As I recall, yeah, I recommended that to Alex.”
Are you guys working here tomorrow?
“No, players won’t be in tomorrow. A unique week where we played a Saturday game and Sunday was off, we were able to come in Monday,Tuesday, today. Get a good chunk of our week in and then to be able the staff and the players off on Christmas and then tomorrow, Friday, will be like a normal Friday. So, it’s good. It’s a good thing. There’s no vacations, no Christmas vacations in pro football, but this is a day where they will be able to spend a full day with their families on Christmas. Think it’ll be a great thing. Hopefully, the goal is to have a great practice today, great meetings and then it’ll be Christmas Eve for the fellas. Anticipate they’ll enjoy their time .”
And you, too?
“Yeah, I’m going to enjoy my…I’ll be there when the kids coming running down the stairs to open their presents. Looking forward to that.”
How was your birthday?
“It was good. Thank you, yeah. It was a good birthday. Really good. There’s really no better place to spend it with than here with our players, our coaches, our staff. Had a really good day of practice and got a lot of nice cards from players, coaches. Handshakes, happy birthday wishes. Just all you can ask for on your birthday is that somebody comes up to you with a gleam in their eye and a smile on their face and maybe says a couple kind words. That’s all you can ask. That was wonderful. And then to get to do that with the team made it A-plus-plus.”
Colin said they were going to do something for you.
“Yeah, they got me a nice cake and said happy birthday, coach. Nice card as well.”
I don’t believe you’re still on Twitter, but Michigan sent you happy birthday wishes. Were you aware of that?
“I had a lot of nice birthday wishes. Hopefully you’ll have the same on your birthday. A gleam in the eye, a smile on the face and a just a few kind words. That’s all you really need.”
Sort of nice to have your old school, though, recognize it too.
“And I wish you guys a very merry Christmas. Isn’t it wonderful that you’ll be able to spend time — ?”
Thank you for that.
“I see the gleam in the eye and a smile on the face. That’s wonderful.”
What was it like growing with a birthday right before Christmas?
“As a youngster, you thought, ‘Well, we’re getting the same present here. It says, merry Christmas, happy birthday.’ And then I look over to my brother and he’s got the exact same present. Like, ‘Is there another one here?’ No, it’s happy birthday and merry Christmas. And then as you get older, it’s kind of nice because your birthday just kind of comes and gets caught up in the holiday season as everybody is making preparations for Christmas. So, you don’t mind it as you get older. ‘OK, nobody really noticed my birthday. That’s a good thing. Maybe they think I didn’t get a year older.’ So, it’s good as you get older. It’s nice. I don’t complain about it at all. They come faster, though, when you hit the 40’s and the 50’s, these birthdays seem to come a lot more frequently. But, I hope they keep coming.”
Any advice then for someone’s whose son, their birthday is three days after Christmas?
“I think it’s the same, yeah. Two days after or three days before. In our case, growing up and money’s tight, so you’re buying presents for a lot of people, so the happy birthday, merry Christmas present was very practical.”
Do you recall any great gifts that you’ve gotten over the years?
“Yes, my grandma, Jesse Sepidi, would always get us underwear and sometimes pajamas. Yeah, I think my favorite gift, I got these sheets that had all the NFL logos on it. All the helmets. Those were my sheets and the pillowcases and it had a matching comforter that had all the logos on it as well. And I got that and my brother got it. We got the same gift. We were probably six, seven, and those were my sheets, that was my comforter until I graduated high school. I had those all the way through high school. And then didn’t take them to college. So, I’d have to say that was the best gift.”
“Thank you. Merry Christmas to everybody. Happy holidays.”