The following is a transcript of an interview with 49ers quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, who was a long-standing relationship with Jim Harbaugh.
Worth noting, Harbaugh was in San Diego from 1999-2000 with colossal bust Ryan Leaf, the second overall pick in the 1998 draft who was injured and ineffective during Harbaugh’s seasons with the Chargers:
Q: When you did you first get to know Jim?
GC: I was only helping out at (the Bears) camp at the time when it was held at Platteville (in 1987). He was the first-round pick. My first experience with Jim was … at that time getting around the campus of Wisconsin-Platteville, a lot of the Bears had mopeds. There were some shots in Sports Illustrated of guys cruising around campus and Jim was all excited to get himself a new moped. And before he had ripped the plastic off his moped, he proceeded to drive it right toward William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry’s Mercedes (laughs). So he got out of that situation.
But having been around him in Chicago, when I joined Mike Riley’s staff in San Diego, he was the perfect guy to bring on board because I’d know Jim for all that time and had stayed in touch with him, including when he was volunteering his time helping his dad (Western Kentucky coach Jack Harbaugh) as an unpaid assistant. He was working out of his house in Orlando watching high school tape and trying to find players, quarterbacks specifically, for (his dad).
So Jim’s always had a great eye for the position. When we got him in San Diego, with (Ryan) Leaf on the roster, that was a core principle we wanted to have. We wanted to surround Ryan with someone like Jim who would be such a great role model, but we knew had aspirations and was going to be a terrific coach. Jim was also a lot of fun. He can watch an opposing quarterback warm-up and, like we used to do sometimes with baseball swings, he could kind of have the keen eye to watch it and then quickly integrate that into ‘Hey, this is how he throws.’ He’s great at that. His eye for the position, not just playing it, but studying it. I’m not the least bit surprised at the proven track record that he already has a young coach.
Q: (Offensive coordinator) Greg Roman mentioned that Jim said he’d hire him one day during Jim’s last season in Carolina. Did you have a sense when he was in San Diego that he’d immediately get into coaching after he finished playing?
GC: Yeah, and with his dad’s influence and with his brother still coaching in Philadelphia while he was still coaching with us in San Diego. I know that he was a great person to talk about opportunities (after he retired) – ‘You know, I’ve got a chance to coach here at the University of San Diego. Hey, I’ve got a chance to coach here in Oakland. I’ve got an opportunity – what do you think?’ A lot of times those positions aren’t the glamorous positions, but he had such an enthusiasm for it.
Just like we see in (49ers offensive assistant) Bobby Engram already. What great enthusiasm. He’s got a proven track record as a player already. He does all the little things naturally right and he’s got such great enthusiasm just like Jim to want to be good at this profession. So it was not – Jim’s not a hard person to read in that regard and as a result I’m not surprised by the result.
Q: Obviously you were the coach and he was the player during his time in San Diego. But due to Jim’s experience did you work as peers in some ways?
GC: I think the first thing that comes to my mind, not just myself but everyone on the staff, whether it was Mike Riley the head coach, or the other assistant coaches, was the tremendous level of respect we had for him. But not only that, we had tremendous trust in Jim. In other words, what Jim saw on the field was really, again, it’s the idea of really having a keen eye. The feedback that he gave you when he was out there playing — that’s really what was happening. He had that ability to capture that picture and then help you.
And so any time you have that level of communication, and that level of trust, and that level of respect, I think you can go further within an offense. You knew you could do stuff with Jim even though maybe his physical skills weren’t where they were when he first came out of Michigan. That was always an awful lot of fun to have Jim on the field. And that was always the one thing we said – it was fun to be on the field with Jim. I’m sure there are a lot of Stanford players that would say that. And I’m sure there’s a lot of University of San Diego players that would say that.
Q: Would you talk about game plans together?
GC: Yeah. I would say that it’s good to have a dialogue. Sometimes with a younger quarterback you’re making sure that they’re learning the system. The luxury of any veteran quarterback, and especially in Jim’s case, he could absorb the game plan so quickly and he knew what you were trying to get out of certain things. So you didn’t have to go through the sequential learning of A to B to C to D. He could quickly get to the meat of the order, the intent of the play, and as a result, you’re just more efficient with your time.
Q: In some ways it seems his background made him perfectly suited to be a great quarterbacks coach. He had the coaching background with his dad and then his playing career …
GC: Then you have to understand because he knew all along what he wanted to do that he was trying to get the most out of every situation that he was in. And I think that helps. You know there were stories about Steve Spurrier – the last thing he thought he’d do when he was playing was end up being a coach. And he kind of came to coaching once his playing career was over. I think Jim knew all along and so he was trying to get the most out of those situations – being in Chicago. Being in Indianapolis with (Colts coach) Lindy Infante. So he really stored that information in the back of his mind. And I really think that’s why he’s ramped up so quickly as a coach.
Q: It’s always mentioned that he was able to develop Josh Johnson and Andrew Luck? How did he do it? In other words, what qualities make him such a good quarterbacks coach?
GC: I think to answer that question fully you’d probably have to walk in his shoes and just see the touch that he has because he played the position. And not just played it, but played for a long time at a high level. And then talent comes into this as well as hard work. He has a great eye to see and he can absorb all that and then turn around teach it. So it’s really a two-way street having played the position, understanding the demands of the position and having all the instruction he had with being with guys who were good coaches. And he also has the ability to internalize that, turn it right back around, organize that in his mind and put it into part of a larger system and then teach it.
Q: Do you guys like to talk quarterbacking?
GC: We love it. His enthusiasm is natural. It’s contagious. You hope to match that. We love to get together and the days go quickly when you’re around Jim. It’s an awful lot of fun. We’ve got a great staff here — a lot of people who obviously are naturally attracted to Jim. And Jim’s run into contact with a lot of different people so we feel real fortunate here to be part of the 49ers.