Colin Kaepernick; Jim Harbaugh/Bill Belichick; John Brodie/ Y.A. Tittle; Lou Spadia, Tony Morabito, Walter Haas Jr.; Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan/Trent Baalke
THE NFL is a copycat league, so we can expect to see several versions of the “read option” next year after the success of Colin Kaepernick and, to a lesser extent, Seattle’s Russ Wilson this year.
But, the NFL is also a league in which defensive coaches quickly learn how to defend an unusual offensive twist. The “Wildcat” is the latest example. It’s only occasionally used now, after its early success. The Shotgun has made a comeback lately but it’s much more sophisticated than what Red Hickey ran with the 49ers in the early ‘60s. Hickey rotated quarterbacks John Brodie, Bill Kilmer and Bobby Waters but defenses soon figured out that Brodie would always pass, Kilmer would always run and Waters could do either very well. Meanwhile, Hickey had traded Y.A. Tittle who became a Hall of Famer by winning championships for the New York Giants. Of course, you remember the great career of the player the 49ers got in return, Lou Cordileone.
I doubt the read option will become much of a weapon for most teams because it requires a quarterback who is both a very good runner and a very good passer. There aren’t many of those. The single wing was once the dominant offense and it had the same requirements for a tailback, but it was replaced by the T formation because it was easier to find one back who could throw the ball well and another who was a good runner than one player who could do both.
Of course, to stop the read option, defenses must be much better prepared than the Packers were last Saturday. An assistant coach said this week that they didn’t expect Kaepernick to run much. Huh? Did they fall asleep watching the videos of past 49ers games?
What teams have done in the past when a team had an especially good running quarterback is to have a “spy” who goes for the quarterback on every play. If the quarterback gives up the ball or passes it, that’s somebody else’s responsibility, but in theory, the “spy” is supposed to tackle the quarterback if he runs with the ball. That doesn’t always work but it’s certainly more effective than whatever it was that the Packers were trying to do.
JIM HARBAUGH is obviously a very good coach but I have to wonder how long he’ll last before he burns out.
Successful NFL head coaches work very long hours and they’re all very competitive, but Harbaugh takes it to another level. He’s confrontational with everybody, from media to fellow coaches. When the TV cameras follow him on the sidelines, his face is often twisted in rage, usually at an official’s call.
I can’t think of a coach I’ve known who is that intense. Bill Belichick probably is and he’s lasted a long time – and he doesn’t seem to be any more media-friendly than Harbaugh. But, I’ve never even talked to Belichick, knowing him only from long distance, so I can’t accurately explain why he’s lasted.
Harbaugh hasn’t spent long enough at his previous coaching jobs – three years at the University of San Diego, four years at Stanford – to really gauge his potential for longevity. But there is much more pressure on an NFL coach than for even coaches at the top collegiate schools. Also, Harbaugh has set a higher bar for himself with the 49ers because he has taken the team to the NFC championship game each of his two years and may reach the Super Bowl this year. His best year at his collegiate stops was his last one, 11-1 at USD and 12-1, including a win in the Orange Bowl, at Stanford. So, it will be interesting to watch what happens to him with the Niners as he goes down the road.
ON SECOND THOUGHT….One of the scenes I hate to see in the NFL is a coach calling a time out to “ice” a field goal kicker. This works so infrequently, it’s silly to even talk about it. It seldom even works in college football, and a pro kicker who lets that distract him will soon be unemployed.
Nonetheless, Seattle’s Pete Carroll tried it on Sunday. With his team nursing a two-point lead and Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant about to try a 49-yard field goal, Carroll called a time out. He waited so long that Bryant had already started his approach. His kick sailed wide but no matter, because Carroll had called that time out. As it happened, Carroll had only given Bryant a chance to practice and he made his second attempt, winning the game for Atlanta.
HUH? There are reports that teams might be interested in Mike Nolan as a head coach. Didn’t they watch what happened when the 49ers gave him the job? He was more interested in looking like a coach than being one. He’s the only head coach I’ve ever known who took notes during practice so he’d have something to talk about with the media. One story about his possible hiring gave him credit for good drafts but he doesn’t deserve it. According to what I heard at the time, in 2005, he thought he could draft Alex Smith at No. 1 then trade him to Miami to get the Dolphins fifth pick and another later one, at which time he’d take Aaron Rodgers. That’s the type of deal you make before the draft, not during it. Jed York, who was in the room at the time, told me that on a subsequent draft, Nolan had to be talked into taking Patrick Willis by Scot McCloughan. After that, York put McCloughan in charge of the draft, until he left and Trent Baalke took over. They’re the ones responsible for the good drafts.
TWO COLLEGE coaches named Kelly, Chip at Oregon and Brian at Notre Dame, each decided not to go to the NFL. It was the right decision for both.
Chip Kelly has it going at Oregon. The program is well supported financially by alumnus Phil Knight of Nike and the school’s admissions standards don’t keep out any athletes Kelly wants. The revival of Washington’s program has meant that the Huskies are once again getting top athletes from the Northwest but Kelly has recruited elsewhere to get top athletes, and I’m sure he’ll continue to attract outstanding quarterbacks, running back and receivers because of his up tempo offense.
Several years ago, Notre Dame boosted both its admissions standards and academic program for athletes, which caused a downturn in its football program. But it still has the singular advantage it has had for more than half a century as the only Catholic school playing big-time college football. Once, there were many smaller Catholic schools, including USF, Santa Clara and St. Mary’s in the Bay Area, but all of them dropped football because of the cost of the program. So, Notre Dame has no competition for good athletes who want to go to a Catholic university, and Kelly was able to coach this year’s team to a spot in the “championship game”, though it was embarrassed by Alabama in that one.
In general, it’s a mistake for college coaches in consistently successful programs to go to the NFL because the demands of the jobs are much different. In college, it’s all about recruiting, and a coach at a successful program has a built-in advantage. In the pros, you have to build through the draft and there are no quick-fixes. Just ask Reggie McKenzie.
LOU SPADIA celebrated his 92nd birthday on Friday, surrounded by his family in the convalescent care facility at which he’s staying. I wished him a happy birthday in a short telephone call.
I first knew Lou as the president of the 49ers, which he was for many years when the Morabito widows owned the club. He was a visionary, working with Pete Rozelle to start NFL Properties, which has become very lucrative, and the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams on the first computer scouting system in the ‘60s. Unfortunately, that system worked a lot better for the Cowboys than the 49ers.
But it was after the De Bartolos bought the team that Lou made his most important contribution, starting the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, dubbed “The hall without a hall” by his close friend, former Chronicle sports editor Art Rosenbaum. Lou chose to use all the money raised for youth sports programs. No money was paid for a hall – the plaques of those elected are in airports and various sports facilities in the area – and all the work done on behalf of BASHOF is gratis. Ken Venturi, who runs a fundraising golf tournament, said Spadia’s nickname should be “Crime” because “Crime doesn’t pay and neither does Lou Spadia.”
For years, I voted for Tony Morabito for BASHOF, as a favor to Lou. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are any voting members who ever knew Morabito. I didn’t, either; all I know of him is what I heard from Lou but I respected the fact that he created the 49ers franchise and took personal financial losses, along with his brother, Vic, to keep it going. He’s the 49ers owner who should have been honored by BASHOF, not Eddie D. But, I finally gave up that hopeless quest and voted for Walter Haas Jr., for whom I’ve written the bio for his induction this May.
HGH TESTING: Major league baseball took a major step last week when the players union agreed to allow blood tests for the human growth hormone which is what players have been taking because it was undectable in urine tests.
Ironically, the sport which really needs that test is pro football, but the NFL still only takes occasional tests for steroids, with a four-game suspension for the few who are caught. That’s doing nothing to address the real problem for the players: the damage they’re doing to their bodies.
These drugs, whether steroids of HGH, have allowed football players to become both bigger and faster than ever, which makes the collisions that much more damaging. The NFL is facing lawsuits from former players over the lack of concern about concussions – not incidentally, an examination of Junior Seau’s brain after his suicide showed extensive damage from those football collisions – and concussions are going to be even more common if this unnatural physical growth continues.
There is no such danger in baseball because players don’t run into each other. But many in and out of baseball worship statistics, as if they are the only way of measuring a player’s accomplishments, and until they get realistic, the sports will always be dogged by talk of drug-users
PET PEEVES: Announcers who use phrases like “bubble screen” without explaining what the play is. They’ve gotten those names from talks with coaches but TV watchers don’t have that opportunity. Those announcers also need to drop the constant use of “football” as in, “He’s a good football player,” or “This is a great football game.” We get it guys, we’re not watching basketball…The overuse of quarterback ratings. This is only one way of measuring a quarterback and not always the best but the stats passed out in the press box on game day show quarterback ratings after each quarter! Wretched excess…NCAA statistics which count quarterback sacks against a team’s rushing yardage. That makes no sense at all.
PREDICTIONS: The New England Patriots saved me from a shutout last weekend, as the only winner of the four teams I expected to advance to the league championship games. The 49ers, of course, were among the teams I expected to lose.
I learned early not to bet on my predictions. When I was a freshman at UC Santa Barbara, the Los Angeles Examiner ran a weekly contest in which the newspaper readers could pick college games. There were 20 games listed and readers could pick any number from three to 20. If you got winners on every game you picked, you got a monetary reward, the size of which depended on how many games you picked. I started out picking 10 and didn’t come close so I gradually cut back on the games until I got to the minimum of three but I couldn’t even pick all of them!
So, you 49ers fans should be warned that my pick for the NFC Champinship game in Friday’s Examiner will be the 49ers. I hope you haven’t booked flights to New Orleans.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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