This is my Friday column.
Yesterday we covered what we’ll miss about Jim Harbaugh. Today we’ll cover what we won’t miss, or at least what I won’t miss.
It was stone-age.
Let me amend that — the passing game was stone-age. Harbaugh’s running game was pretty good. That’s where he expressed his creativity. But his passing game boiled down to, “Drop straight back, throw downfield and hope for the best.” Stuff that would have made Bill Walsh snicker.
And the passing game was only the third-worst thing about Harbaugh’s offense.
The second-worst thing was how conservative it was. Harbaugh would send out his field-goal kicking unit over and over and let the opponent hang around when they should have lost already.
But the worst was Harbaugh’s play-calling system. Just calling the play took him and his coaches forever. It seemed they burned timeouts to avoid delay penalties almost every game. Call it slapstick football.
Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator
Greg Roman deserves his own section. Harbaugh hired him, so Harbaugh’s responsible for him.
Roman called the offensive plays. His first 15 — the plays he scripted — often were clever and effective. But when he went off-script, he got lost.
He frequently forgot to repeat plays that were successful earlier in the game. Week 9 last season against the Rams, for example – the Niners’ offense averaged almost 9 yards per carry on counter runs, but Roman only called three of them. The Niners lost 13-10.
Roman did other weird things when he went off-script. One series he would use three wide receivers, then the next series he’d use four, and then the next series he’d use two tight ends. He seemed to want to impress the crowd with his vast array of plays and personnel groupings instead of just calling the stuff his players did best. This made my brain hurt.
But what really made my brain hurt was the way Roman answered questions. Like after Week 1 last season. The Niners had cut running back LaMichael James, so a reporter asked Roman if James wasn’t a good fit in the offense.
“I think LaMichael’s a really good football player,” Roman said.
Really? Then how come you never found an effective way to use him, Greg?
Harbaugh should have fired Roman years ago. But Harbaugh was loyal, so they went down together.
Harbaugh’s behavior during games
Harbaugh argued with the officials almost every play.
He’d scream, he’d spit, he’d stomp, he’d throw down his hat or his play sheet or his headset or all three, like a kid throwing a tantrum — all while the play clock was ticking down to zero.
Harbaugh obviously didn’t care what people thought of his behavior, which was his business. But he was the one who radioed Greg Roman’s play selections to the quarterback. How could Harbaugh do that and go berserk at the same time?
A coach is supposed to move on to the next play, not fume over the previous one. Maybe the Niners would have gotten their plays in quicker if Harbaugh could have emotionally detached himself from the game.
You would have thought Harbaugh was planning the invasion of Normandy.
Almost everything was a secret, almost every line of questioning off limits. You couldn’t ask him about scheme or injuries, you couldn’t ask him to compare or contrast things and you couldn’t interview his assistant coaches.
In four years, I never met his quarterbacks coach, Geep Chryst. Not one time. I requested to interview him and got turned down. Sometimes I wondered if he really existed.
One of the first things new head coach Jim Tomsula did this offseason was introduce his entire coaching staff to the media. Finally, I met Chryst. He was charming and interesting, and he spoke for about 30 minutes without giving away any state secrets.
What was Harbaugh so worried about?
Local beat writers had an unspoken rule about Harbaugh interviews: If you asked a question which elicited one of Harbaugh’s cliché catchphrases, you failed.
His catchphrases included, but were not limited to the following: Mighty men, humble hearts, iron sharpens iron, low-hanging fruit, blue-collar team, that’s scheme, God willing and the creek don’t rise, trusted agent, the olive jar, peeling back the onion, working through something, plowing ground, he’s a football player, Freddy P. Soft, arrows up, A-plus-plus.
As I would drive to Santa Clara every morning, I would test my questions to see if Harbaugh could answer them with “mighty men,” “humble hearts” or any of his meaningless responses. I called this the Harbaugh Game.
I don’t have to play that game anymore, and we don’t have to hear Harbaugh’s slogans ever again.
Who’s got it better than us now?
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.