Andrew Luck, Jim Harbaugh, Jon Gruden, Colin Kaepernick
by Glenn Dickey
Jan 11, 2011


ANDREW LUCK: After Luck decided to stay at Stanford, his father, Oliver Luck, said his decision would be a Rorshack test for those who learned of it.

I viewed it the same way: Those who saw Luck only as a football player would view it as stupid; those who saw him as a person would understand it.

Sure enough, the first comment I read on the Internet criticized Luck for leaving so much money on the table, just to go back to be with other college students.

I had a much different opinion. I’ve talked to Luck enough to get a sense of him as a person and what I’ve seen was a very intelligent young man with a great sense of values. He is serious about his academics and wants to get his degree, which should happen next spring. He’s carrying a 3.45 GPA at Stanford, which is a considerable achievement.

My Cal connection doesn’t blind me to the fact that it can be a very pleasant experience for an athlete at Stanford, a small college with excellent academics. For Luck, it’s an experience that cannot be replicated by going back later, when he is older than the other students, to pick up the credits for his degree. Better to do it now.

For some time, I was telling people who asked that I was 95 per cent certain he would return to school. I wrote that in a column for the Examiner last Thursday morning and submitted it at 10:30 a.m. An hour later, the sports editor called to tell me that Stanford had announced that Luck would return, so I had to do some tweaking of the column.

There were practical reasons for Luck not wanting to go to the NFL at this time. With the deadlocked negotiations over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, nobody can be certain when players will even resume practicing. There’s absolutely no incentive for players to settle before training camp because they hate the mandated mini-camps and OTAs (Organized Team Activities) in the spring. Without an agreement, teams can’t hold them.

It’s hard for me to believe that an agreement won’t be reached before the start of the season, but it might be late enough to reduce the length of training camp.

Under normal circumstances, it is difficult for a rookie quarterback to learn the system. Without the usual preparation, it would be almost impossible – and I attach the qualifier because Luck has such an extraordinary memory, he might have been able to do it.

But, there was no reason for him to try it. Most of the athletes who declare early need the money, and an athletic career is usually the only way they can get it quickly and in large amounts.

Luck isn’t in that category. Neither he nor his family need an immediate infusion of money. He could make his decision based on what was most important to him now, and money clearly was not No. 1.

One columnist wrote that Luck was fortunate not to be in the position to be drafted by the Carolina Panthers, but that’s silly. He’ll be drafted by a team just as bad when he comes out next year. Quarterbacks like Luck always are. If they’re lucky, they go to a team with smart people who can rebuild quickly, as Troy Aikman did. If they’re unlucky, they have the experience of Alex Smith – or David Carr, who was on the 49ers roster this year – drafted by a team with very poor talent and nobody in the front office or on the sidelines who knew how to make it better.

Luck will probably also get less money next year because the new CBA will certainly have a rookie salary cap. But, don’t shed any tears for him. He’ll probably have a very good pro football career and he
ertainly will have a good life.

JON GRUDEN: A reader was surprised that Gruden’s name hasn’t surfaced in all the speculation about coaching changes. The reason: Gruden took himself off the available list.

Gruden was offered the Miami Dolphins job and turned it down, returning to ESPN for another year of broadcasting. He knew that, because of the uncertainty in the NFL (see Andrew Luck above), it will be much more difficult for a new coach to learn his team. He also knows the reality of the NFL: There are coach openings every year.

Of course, Jim Harbaugh will face the same problems taking over the 49ers because he knows almost nothing about the team. But the Gruden and Harbaugh situations are much different. Gruden is a proven quantity because of his success with the Raiders and early success with Tampa Bay, before that turned sour. Harbaugh has a solid playing background in the NFL but his only pro coaching experience is two years as quarterback coach for the Raiders.

This was also the time for Harbaugh to make his move because there was nothing more to accomplish at Stanford. His star was at its brightest.

I didn’t think he’d choose the Niners because of their organizational problems, but he’s obviously convinced he can work with Trent Baalke – and that Jed York will stay out of the way.

Harbaugh is not exactly an open book to the media. He’s adept at side stepping hard questions or giving clichéd answers. He’ll have a harder time of that now, if for no other reason than he’ll have to talk to the media every day instead of at one media lunch a week.

The NFL also has stricter rules. At one of his Tuesday lunches at Stanford which I attended, Harbaugh got very angry when writers pressed him on whether an injured player would be ready for Saturday’s game. “If I tell you, our opponent will know it, too,” he said.

In the NFL, to prevent gamblers from getting information others don’t have, teams are required each day to list the status of injured players, whether they practiced and what their availability will be on Sunday. Even the Raiders, the most secretive team in pro sports, have to abide by those rules.

He’ll have to buck the trend of college coaches failing in the pros, but there are exceptions to that rule. The 49ers have two of them: Bill Walsh came from Stanford and, much earlier, Buck Shaw was a coach at Santa Clara.

Another conspicuous exception to that trend: Jimmy Johnson, who was an outstanding coach at Miami and then with the Dallas Cowboys. (Interestingly, Johnson was the coach Eddie De Bartolo wanted to replace Walsh, but Walsh’s wishes prevailed and George Seifert got the job.) If Jerry Jones hadn’t gotten into a power struggle with Johnson, the Cowboys might have been dominant throughout the ‘90s. But there’s only room for one genius in an organization. Jones learned that from Al Davis.

There are two types of college coaches who fail in the pros. We saw one with the Niners. Dennis Erickson has flourished as a college coach because he’s been able to recruit great athletes and not worry about getting them into school because every school at which he’s coached has minimal entrance requirements for athletes. He couldn’t re-tool like that with the Niners.

There are also successful college coaches who handle everything on that level and think they can do it in the pros, which they can’t. Harbaugh has enough pro experience, both as a quarterback and an assistant with the Raiders for two years, to know that. He’s also very smart and a really smart man knows his limitations as well as his strengths.

Harbaugh is a breath of fresh air for the franchise. As I said when I was on “Chronicle Live” on Comcast last Friday, this is the first good decision the Yorks have made since taking over the franchise. Maybe there’s hope for the 49ers yet.

DUH RAIDERS: The consensus is that Hue Jackson will be elevated to head coach but Al Davis is in no hurry. Jackson is under contract as an offensive coordinator for another year, so he’s not going anywhere unless another team wants him as head coach, which is unlikely. The 49ers interviewed him, but that was only to satisfy the requirements of the Rooney Rule.

At one time, Davis liked to interview several candidates, so he could pick their brains. Those days are over. Only desperate has-beens consider the Raiders now, and Davis hasn’t been able to attract a rising young coach since Jon Gruden.

Nonetheless, he’ll take his sweet time before elevating Jackson, just to prove he’s still thee boss, I guess.

The new coach may have some problems. Nnamdi Asomugha is a free agent because he didn’t reach what seemed to be reasonable incentives because of his injuries. Richard Seymour can be a free agent. Michael Bush almost certainly will leave.

And, the team has no No. 1 draft pick because of the Seymour trade.

NFL SEEDING: Seattle’s upset win in the first round of the NFL playoffs only makes it more important to change the rules, so that, once teams are in the playoffs, they are seeded by their season records.

The Seathawks were 7-9, and in the playoffs only because they play in the NFLs weakest division. Under the current rules, they then hosted the first game against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. And, they beat the Saints.

Does anybody believe the Seahawks would have won if they’d had to play in New Orleans? Seattle has the loudest, i.e. most obnoxious, fans in the league and they have a tremendous home field advantage. If they’d gone 11-5 in the regular season, fine, give them the home field advantage. But, don’t give it to a 7-9 team.

I must admit, though, that I enjoyed seeing Marshawn Lynch’s great 67-yard touchdown run, bouncing off nine potential tacklers before completing it. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll compared it to the great run Steve Young made against the Minnesota Vikings in 1988; seemingly trapped behind the line of scrimmage, Young kept running as tacklers fell away and wound up flopping in the end zone for a touchdown. Carroll was defensive coordinator of the Niners at the time, so he had a first-hand look at that.

Meanwhile, the NFL has done something right by tweaking the overtime rule for the playoffs. Now, if a team wins the coin flip and gets close enough to kick a field goal, the other team still has a chance to get the ball and either tie or win the game. That’s a change that should also be established for the regular season. In an era when field goal kickers are much more accurate from long distances than before, it’s ridiculous that the coin flip can so often determine the outcome of a game that goes into OT.

COLIN KAEPERNICK: It will be very interesting to see where the record-setting Nevada Reno quarterback goes in the NFL draft because scouts will have to evaluate how he can do in a pro offense, which is much different than the “Pistol” offense Chris Ault uses with the Wolfpack.

Kaepernick got only one scholarship offer coming out of high school, and even Ault doubted that he’d be a quarterback. The Wolfpack coach thought he was a very good athlete who might wind up at defensive back. But, when he tried Kaepernick at quarterback in the “Pistol,” where he runs almost as much as he passes, he was a natural.

There are more and more quarterbacks who come out of spread offenses in college, and Ault’s scheme takes it even further.

So, why don’t the pros use the spread or even the Pistol? There are two reasons: 1) Quarterbacks would take even more punishment than they do in a pro-style offense; and 2) NFL linebackers are much faster than the collegiate variety and would cut off a running quarterback quickly if he came around the ends. That’s also the reason earlier offenses which emphasized running quarterbacks – the split-T, Veer and Wishbone – never found a home in the NFL.

Even so, a quarterback who’s a good passer can be an added threat if he can also run. Michael Vick is the latest example; Steve Young and Randall Cunningham are examples from the past.

But, the quarterback first has to be an effective passer. Scouts question whether Kaepernick can refine his throwing so he has a quicker release. For once, I have no opinion because I’ve only seen him in parts of two games.

PRO FOOTBALL: The news that Charles Haley is one of those being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame has to be greeted with a sigh by 49er fans, who think of what might have been.

Haley was a find by Bill Walsh, a fifth round draft choice who turned into a terrific pass rusher. He was also a volatile personality. Walsh could control him but George Seifert could not.

At halftime of a 49ers-Raiders exhibition in Seifert’s first season, Ronnie Lott had to be brought over from the Raiders dressing room to calm down Haley, who was in full rage mode in the 49ers room.

It wasn’t long before Haley was traded to the Dallas Cowboys and had several very good years. Obviously, the 49ers could have used him.

COMEDY HOUR: I went to the 49ers news conference for Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke, but I almost didn’t make it into the room.

For some reason, the 49ers PR department had decided there should be a media check-in, though the only way anybody knew about it was by being on the 49ers’ media e-mail list.

The young woman behind the desk asked me who I represented. I told her, “The San Francisco Examiner.” She then asked me if I had any Examiner identification. No, I didn’t. Well, did I have a business card? “No,” I said. “I’ve never needed one.”

By this time, the guys around me were laughing uncontrollably. One of them said, “He’s been writing forever.” The young woman apologized, saying she was new to the Bay /Area, and just asked me to sign in.

These news conferences are always interesting because so many questons are asked by people wanting the attention, and there is always at least one remarkably silly question. This time, it came from a CBS radio reporter in San Francisco, who asked Harbaugh why the news conference was in San Francisco when the 49ers are planning to build a stadium in Santa Clara.

It was a stupid question on at least two levels. The first was obvious: Harbaugh has had nothing to do with the stadium; that question should have been addressed by Jed York. Beyond that, everybody knew why the news conference was in San Francisco: The majority of the media is in the San Francisco/East Bay area. None of us would have wanted to go to Santa Clara and then slog our way back through Friday commute traffic.

Harbaugh simply ignored that question and discussed another topic, probably wondering “What have I gotten myself into?”

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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