Colin Kaepernick/Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke/Greg Roman/Vic Fangio/ Jim Tomsula/Michael Lombardi; Richard Sherman/Michael Crabtree; Mike Montgomery/Johnny Dawkins
AS THE 49ers lick their wounds over their crushing loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the question is, have they peaked? My answer is yes. In this period of the salary cap, teams have a small window of opportunity and I think that noise you heard is the 49ers’ window closing. One reason is that they can’t keep this team together. Another is the crushing injury to linebacker Navarro Bowman, a great playmaker who won’t be able to play again until mid-October and won’t be at his best then.
But the biggest reason is that Jim Harbaugh’s faith in Colin Kaepernick was misplaced. It’s easy to see why Harbaugh liked Kaepernick because he is very talented, but his mindset is not that of a championship quarterback.
The local writers seem to love him; Ann Killion is the only Chronicle writer who has had any misgivings, though Kevin Lynch has had good analyses on SFGate. Otherwise, everything I’ve read praises him because the new wave of writers thinks it’s important to throw the ball 50 yards down the field. They’re too young to have seen Bill Walsh’s 49ers with Joe Montana throwing short, accurate passes to Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Brent Jones that were turned into big gains when the receivers ran with the ball. And, in the four Super Bowls the 49ers won with him at quarterback, Montana didn’t throw an interception. Neither did Steve Young in the one he won.
Kaepernick is nothing like that. He loves to throw the ball far downfield, and he’s made spectacular plays that way. He also threw two fourth quarter interceptions, the last on the final 49ers play of the game, that cost the Niners the chance to move on to the Super Bowl.
He’s young but he’s actually been in the league a year longer than Russell Wilson, the Seattle quarterback. Wilson had his problems in Sunday’s game, too, with two fumbles, but he didn’t throw an interception. I believe he’ll continue to grow as a quarterback.
I’d like to believe that Kaepernick will but I doubt it. He enjoys the role of gunslinger and rebel, not wearing long sleeves in the cold in Green Bay because that would cover up his tattoos. He’s stubborn and won’t change his ways. In last year’s Super Bowl, he threw three times to Michael Crabtree in the end zone. Having scouted him, the Ravens knew his tendencies so they triple-covered Crabtree, so all three passes were incomplete.
You’d think that would have taught Kaepernick a lesson but apparently not. When the 49ers seemed about to score the winning touchdown on Sunday, he targeted Crabtree again, even though he was covered by Richard Sherman, everybody’s choice as the best cornerback in the league. Sherman got a hand on the pass and linebacker Malcolm Smith caught it for an interception. Game over.
Targeting Crabtree when he was covered by Sherman was stupid, because Kaepernick had two other very good targets, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Readers have assured me Kaepernick is smart but intelligence doesn’t mean anything if you’re too stubborn to recognize reality.
Of course, Harbaugh can be very stubborn, too. He’s seeking an extension on his contract and a raise, which he should get, so it will be interesting to see if he’ll continue to put his faith in Kaepernick or whether he’ll try to get GM Trent Baalke to look for another quarterback in the draft. Harbaugh and Baalke don’t like each other but that wouldn’t stop Baalke from doing what’s best for the team.
One reason for Harbaugh’s success is that he knows how to put together a strong staff. That starts with the coordinators, Greg Roman for the offense and Vic Fangio for the defense.
With pro teams, the assistants do the coaching and the head coach sets the tone for the team. That started with the New York Giants under Jim Lee Howell in the ‘50s. Of course, he had Vince Lombardi running the offense and Tom Landry running the defense.
Roman and Fangio are not quite in that class but they’re both very good. I’ve seen criticism of Roman’s playcalling but I don’t agree. I seldom make specific criticisms of playcalling because it’s difficult to know what would work when you don’t know what defenses a team is facing. There are some obvious exceptions. One recent one was Hue Jackson when he was with the Raiders and called passes from punt formation, which everybody in the stadium knew what was coming.
Roman has been good at strategies which are unexpected. Having Kaepernick run in the first half Sunday was an example of that. Fangio seems to have a knack of calling blitzes at just the right moment – and with enough variety to keep from being predictable. That was one reason the Niners were able to put so much pressure on Wilson.
Both coaches have been mentioned in connection with open head coaching positions. My impression is that Fangio is not interested in moving up but Roman probably would be. The 49ers success has limited other teams from approaching him but that won’t last forever.
Apparently, the Cleveland Browns are also interested in defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Cleveland’s general manager is Michael Lombardi, who worked for the Raiders when Harbaugh was an assistant there. I was impressed by Lombardi, a good source as long as I didn’t quote him. Al Davis never wanted to share the spotlight, though he talked to the media only at well-scripted news conferences. (For a time, he also talked to the Oakland Tribune’s Monte Poole but, as Monte told me when we were both on the Comcast sports show, when he had a mild criticism of Davis, that relationship ended.)
A READER chided me for not writing about the 49ers upcoming game last week. I told him I’d done that in the Examiner, but the fact is that I’m a different writer now than I was when I was a columnist for The Chronicle. Then, I had excellent contacts and interaction with coaches and players that gave me special insights. I lack that now but my years of experience enable me to evaluate players, like Kaepernick, as younger writers cannot – or will not. But, there was nothing to evaluate last week, beyond what I wrote for the Examiner. And, you couldn’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV without being overwhelmed by news about the game. I had no desire to contribute to that overkill.
MOST OVERDONE story of the week: Richard Sherman’s blast at Michael Crabtree to sideline reporter Erin Andrews. Forty-Niner linebacker Ahmad Brooks had the most sensible comment: “He was just hyped up, man. He was excited. That’s the nature of a competitor.”
Exactly. After talking to coach Pete Carroll, Sherman apologized for his comments the next day. He can be a hothead but that’s part of what makes him a great player.
WHY I DON’T listen to radio sports talk shows: A reader tells me that Larry Krueger defended Roman’s playcalling on Monday, then called for his firing on Tuesday.
HAVE YOU bought your tickets to the Super Bowl yet? Only $3,000. Of course, if you wait until game time, when it’s freezing cold in New Jersey, they’ll be cheaper. The only relatively good news is that the snow is hitting that area this week instead of next.
This is all a far cry from the start of the Super Bowl, when the plan was to have it in warm weather cities. The first one was in Los Angeles, the second in Miami and then New Orleans got into the mix. Even New Orleans can be cold at that time of year. I covered one Super Bowl there at open-air Tulane Stadium when it was 43 degrees. I couldn’t type my story, so I had to go back to the hotel and finish it in my hotel room. But now, they have a dome, which would make it a perfect Super Bowl site.
A JUDGE halted the proceedings to settle a suit brought by former players against the NFL for its gross failure to protect former players against post-career problems because he thought the money wouldn’t be enough when more players bring suits against the league.
Apparently, the message hasn’t gotten through to NFL commissioner Roger Goodall, who now wants to add two more teams to the playoff schedule. And, of course, the Thursday night games are a big hit with the networks bidding for them, though they’re the worst news for players. It takes players a week to recover from Sunday games, those who aren’t knocked out by injuries, and playing in Thursday night games increases the possibility of injuries. They’re no bargain for discerning fans, either, because they’re hardly the best the NFL has to offer.
But, they bring in more money, and that’s all the owners care about. Never forget that an NFL commissioner is doing what the owners want.
MEANWHILE, THE possibility that football will become the ultimate TV game is coming closer and closer. Even some playoff games didn’t sell out this year, though that was obviously not a problem in Seattle.
Ticket prices to pay for new stadiums are going through the roof; those 49ers fans who are upset about the team moving to a stadium in Santa Clara should check out those ticket prices. They wouldn’t be going to games if the new stadium had been built at Candlestick, because the ticket prices would have been the same.
Meanwhile, the TV technology has improved immensely. When I go to a game in person, I can see TV replays in the press box, but fans can’t, so there’s no question they can see much more of the game on TV.
Now, the NFL wants to encourage teams to build stadiums, so the new Giants/Jets stadium gets this game, the 49ers new stadium in Santa Clara gets the second. It’s too bad the New Jersey stadium wasn’t domed but I guess the Giants and Jets didn’t have enough money to do that. (Cue laugh track).
It makes no difference to me because I haven’t been to a Super Bowl since 1995 but I think it’s ridiculous to play the biggest game in American sports, one which is televised wordwide, at stadiums where the weather can be awful.
FOR THE postseason games, the NFL selects the best individual officials during the year and puts them together in teams. But, they’ve never worked together before.
I think this is a mistake, and the officiating in the postseason games has proven that. I believe it would be much better to select the best crews and let them work the games.
READY FOR some college basketball? The Cal Bears are off to a surprising 5-0 start in Pac-12 play and go south this week for games against USC and UCLA. Stanford will play the same two teams in reverse order.
Cal’s start is surprising because they were rated as a middle of the conference team in media predictions before the start of the season, but I’m never surprised when a Mike Montgomery team does well. When he was at Stanford, I thought he was the best college coach I’d seen up close since Pete Newell. Nothing he’s done at Cal has changed my opinion.
When he left Stanford to coach the Warriors, though, he was a bust, as I’d predicted. The only similarity between the college and pro sports is the basketball they use. The college game is much more diverse – and enjoyable, to me – and the players listen to their coach, because they want to keep their scholarships. There’s one exception to that rule: The one-and-out players who are there only until they’re old enough to play in the NBA.
One point Montgomery always makes: Players have designated roles. As he told me one time when he was at Stanford, “This is not an equal opportunity offense.” With the Collins twins, for instance, Jarron was the shooter, Jason was the rebounder and defender. Another point: Those who practice well and carry that into games get more minutes.
Montgomery’s preferred style of play is to pound the ball inside to big men, but he’s also been able to adjust his style when he’s had guards throwing in three-pointers.
He was lost with the Warriors, though, because the pro game is much more individualistic, and no coach is going to change a player’s style. Montgomery also had problems when he scheduled morning workouts on the road. As one former player told me, “After games on the road, players go looking for women. The last thing they want is to have to get up early the next morning.”
Typically, the most successful NBA coaches have been former players. Mark Jackson is like that with the Warriors. He suggests things to his players but otherwise, acts as a cheerleader. With few exceptions – Phil Jackson being the most obvious – that’s how pro coaches work
Now, though, Montgomery is back in his milieu. He has the Bears playing well, even without prized freshman Jahari Bird, who has missed the last four games with an ankle injury, the Bears have prospered. It’s a long season but it appears Cal is headed for the NCAA tournament at season’s end.
Stanford? They’ve looked good at times but I have little faith in coach Johnny Dawkins, a great player and good recruiter but….
OH, DARN, I got all this way and didn’t even mention the Mavericks surfing. Terrible oversight.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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