Q&A with Jim Harbaugh at the NFL Combine

The following is a transcript from Jim Harbaugh’s press conference with the national media today at the NFL Combine. (Note: The questions are paraphrased — my recorder didn’t pick up most of the questions in their entirety. UPDATE: The 49ers sent out a transcript with a more accurate reflection of the questions. This updated blog now reflects that):

Q: Are you looking to turn the 49ers around similar to how he did with Stanford’s football program?

JH: I think that everybody, whatever position they’re in, I mean, we were a 6-10 ballclub last year and we’re not looking to go 8-8 next year. We’re looking to make the jump all the way to the Super Bowl like every other team in the National Football League. Just the ways that you can do that, trying to think through it, trying to research it, find out. Competitiveness is thinking through it and thinking your way to victory.

Q: How did you prepare your players while at Stanford for the NFL combine and what are you looking for at the combine as a head coach?

JH: As far, as my player when they were in college getting ready for the combine? I mean, just get themselves in the best possible physical condition they can get in. Be ready to come in here mentally sharp, mentally alert and compete. Compete. Compete. Compete. Those are the things I tried to share with them. Things that we’re looking as a head coach, it’s the opportunity to get knee-to-knee. Eyeball-to-eyeball with these guys. Some instances it may only be 15 minutes. In some instances it may only be five minutes. But that’s valuable time. And also to watch them compete in drills. See how they compete. See what their energy level is. See how they go about their business. And evaluate it as much as you possibly can. So we’ll be sitting out there for many hours watching many football players. And combined with what they’ve done on tape that’s the thing that you go back to. So watching the tape and getting them to meet them in person is what you’re looking to do.

Q: How is your experience different now at the combine as a head coach compared with being an assistant coach in the past with the Raiders?

JH: When I was an assistant, I was a quality control coach doing a lot of quality control jobs. Inputting numbers. I was able to evaluate quarterbacks and things like that. Here I’ll be here for six days evaluating all the positions. Being in the meetings. And getting to actually ask questions and be around these youngsters. Like I said, getting knee-to-knee and eyeball-to-eyeball with them. And let them get to know me. Let me get to know them.

Q: On how much thought he has given to the 49ers quarterback situation at this time:

JH: I’m not going to talk extensively about that. This is my first time going through this and I’m sure not going to make the mistake of tipping our hand about what we’re going to do. But thinking about it a lot. And, like everyone position on our team, really thinking through how we can upgrade our roster and the ways that you mentioned are the ways to address the quarterback situation. Guys who are on our roster. There’s one quarterback on our roster and that’s David Carr. You mentioned Alex Smith and he’s an unrestricted free agent. So he has some decisions to make too. And then you evaluate free agency. You evaluate trade paths. The draft. Those are your only options.

Q: On whether he will explain his decision process before he signed with the 49ers, in terms of talking with the Miami Dolphins and how much they offered him:

JH: No. No. Not really. (laughter)

Q: On whether the Cleveland Browns contacted him to interview about coaching there before he signed with the 49ers:

JH: No.

Q: On whether he made any contact with the Browns:

JH: No.

Q: On the challenge of being a first-time head coach in the NFL potentially heading into a lockout situation in the league:

JH: Well, you know, the complexities, understanding the rules. You know, there’s guys that want to work on football, but right now is not a period of time where you can do that. I’m an optimist and I’m going to look at it that way. That planning for the offseason as if there is going to be no disruptions. Scheduling. Offseason workouts. Weight workouts. Mini-camps. Et cetera. Just planning for there to be no interruption and then if there is we’ll have to adjust. But everyone will be under the same parameters in that regard. But I’m optimistic that something will work out.

Q: Are you at a disadvantage as a first-year coach with a new staff?

JH: You could say that maybe it’s a disadvantage for us. We haven’t given our players in type of a playbook and they don’t know what our schemes are. But it’s up to us to adjust. To overcome any and all obstacles that are out there. And we’ll think through it and come up with a plan.

Q: Is there anything you can do before a lockout to get a head start?

JH: There really isn’t. This is a time where you can’t require players to come in and we don’t want to get into anything that isn’t legal to do. The things we can control now are putting our staff together, which we’ve done. Installing our schemes, offensively, defensively, special teams. Looking at the free agents. Prepare for the draft. So that’s what we can do and that’s what we’re working on.

Q: On what the transition is like from coaching the college game to coaching the pro game:

JH: I’m going through that transition right now. To me, football is football. We’re going to do the things that we believe in. There will be adjustments, but we’ll go through them and figure them out. You know the path to winning is thinking through things. You have to have a plan, but I think it’s important to have a feel for what you’re doing as well.

Q: Is there a benefit to being a former player as a coach in the league?

JH: Is there a benefit to being a former player and now coach in the league? I sure hope so. In every coach they lean back on their playing experience when they’re teaching, when they’re explaining things. But it’s definitely not – playing experience isn’t the critical factor. It’s being able to teach. To communicate. To have a plan and have the conviction to stick with that plan. And, again, to have a feel for when to change that plan.

Q: On his impressions of the quarterbacks at this combine given he’s a former quarterback himself:

JH: I kind of looked through the keyhole being right there and seeing some of their games and understood that it was talented football team. I mean there’s guys that are marquee players. There’s guys that have experience – that have been there before. I’m extremely excited to work with our football team and see how we can make that jump.

Q: Can you talk about evaluating quarterbacks here at the combine?

JH: The quarterback position is a critical position. The quarterback handles the ball, as you know, on every single offensive snap. So it’s important to get that evaluation right. I feel like my job right now is to get the best possible evaluation of these quarterbacks that are in the draft as I possibly can. Starting by watching on tape. Seeing what their production was in college. And as he go through this process getting a chance to meet them. Understand do they love football? Do they like to work at the game? How much do they understand the game? Will they be a fit for our team? Those are all critical evaluations.

Q: Did the Browns contact your agent or one of your representatives?

JH: No … no … no. Still no. (Laughter).

Q: On his relationship with University of Michigan and whether it changed when he accepted the 49ers position:

JH: I have great love for Michigan. I look at Michigan, that was my university. Stanford was my university too. Both those universities I consider my university and both would have been great options. But ultimately it was on the level of competing at the highest level. Even-playing field that the National Football League is. That’s a challenge and a competitive situation that I willingly accepted. And I’ve had no second thoughts about the decision. I’m extremely enthusiastic. I walk through the doors of the San Francisco facility every single day and if you’ve ever walked through those doors, you walk through and you’re staring at five Lombardi trophies. And pictures on the wall of the great players and the great coaches. And you understand that the legacy that Bill Walsh created. That George Seifert created. The bar is set high and where else would you want it set? So that’s the type of stuff that gets me fired up every day.

Q: On whether there is hostility between himself and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and how he would describe his relationship with him:

JH: Professional. No hostility. Competitive. You know, we coached against each other in college and I anticipate that it will be competitive as we go forward playing each other twice a year. But genuine respect for the job that he does. Like all the rest of the coaches in the National Football League, respect. But competitive and we want to beat them.

Q: On how much his brother, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, has taught him:

JH: I’ve learned so much from my brother and my dad and I talk to them all the time. Get their advice. Get their input. My brother has given me a lot of advice. We’ve never coached together. We’ve never worked together professionally. Played on some teams. Baseball teams and football teams growing up. Hockey teams. But at heart we’ve always been on the same team. At least that’s the way that I feel about it. You know, that’s going to change this year. At least one week when the 49ers play the Baltimore Ravens. And it will be extremely competitive and a must-win type of game for the San Francisco 49ers.

Q: What has your relationship with Trent Baalke been like?

JH: I’ve been really impressed with Trent Baalke. He is a smart guy. He is a hard, hard worker. There haven’t been too many days, maybe a couple, where I drive my car into the parking lot that his car isn’t already there. We’re talking pretty early in the morning. But didn’t know him before this process started. I’ve been really impressed. I’ve been leaning on him a lot. There’s not a day that goes by where we don’t talk football. That we don’t talk San Francisco 49ers. That we don’t think about how to improve our football team and our situation. So, learning a lot from him. I mean, he’s taken the lead in terms of the draft. I’ve sat in on a lot of those meetings. He’s run them. He’s extremely good at it. I giove my input when I feel I can be of some value. But really right now just working together. Partnership.

Q: Is it an advantage for you having coached or coached against a lot of the players who are here this week?

JH: That’s interesting. I don’t if it is an advantage at all. Or how much of an advantage it is. But coming from college I do understand and have a fresh understanding of what these youngsters have been through the last three, four, five years. Where they were three, four, five years before that. The things that they’ve accomplished. The things that they’ve overcome. How hard they had to work to get this position that they’re in. And some of the tricks that they play and some of the wool they try to pull over your eyes. So if there is an advantage, we’ll see. I think it’s fresh. I’m coming from that background.

Q: On an advantage on specific players or the general process:

The general process, but also the players. The things that they’ve done to put themselves in a position, how hard they had to work, how hard they had to study, things that they had to overcome to get here. So, congratulate them on their success for doing that. They’re all good. Everybody that’s here is good, and now you try to find better and best as you go through this process.”

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