INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been an eventful trip to Lucas Oil Stadium for Jim Harbaugh. Sure, the 49ers head coach is familiar with the city’s layout having played for the Indianapolis Colts. But being back this time around means more. A lot more.
With this visit, Harbaugh has now fulfilled a lifelong dream. He returns to the Scouting Combine not as a player or as an assistant, but as a head coach in the National Football League.
Harbaugh is well-known in this region of the country and is honored in the Colts’ Ring of Honor. But now he’s known as the 49ers head coach and is one of the most talked about names here at the combine.
Really, Indianapolis is almost like a second home to him. His brother-in-law is Tom Crean, head basketball coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, and that’s where he spent his Wednesday evening, watching the Hoosiers lose a close rivalry game to Purdue.
But once Thursday morning came around, Harbaugh was penciled in to speak to the media masses. With many eyes and ears focused on him, the coach calmly and gracefully interacted with everyone who wanted a moment of his time.
“It’s a bit of memory lane because those were signature years of my life,” Harbaugh said, referring to his playing days with the Colts from 1994-97.
Harbaugh was here as a player some 25 years ago, he’s been as an assistant coach for the Oakland Raiders and now he’s back as the head man of the 49ers.
He’s also sharing some of the spotlight with older brother John, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. While the older Harbaugh took his turn at the podium, the younger brother calmly waited in the wings intently listening with his arms crossed, almost studying his brother’s mannerisms.
John complimented Jim saying his younger brother didn’t need much advice entering the coaching ranks.
“He’s a proven football coach,” John said.
When it was Jim’s turn to speak at the podium, he too was positive about his brother, specifically their unique relationship.
The brothers shared a room growing up and often played on the same sports teams, but never were coworkers.
“At heart, we’ve always been on the same team,” Jim said. “At least that’s the way I feel about it.”
Now they can be considered to be on the NFL head coaching team, but the two will be pitted against each other next season when the 49ers travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens.
“It’ll be extremely competitive, a must-win type of game for the San Francisco 49ers,” Jim said.
But more than hashing out old family memories with his brother, Jim Harbaugh has a lot on his plate this week in Indianapolis.
“It’s the opportunity to get knee-to-knee and eyeball-to-eyeball with these guys,” he said. “In some instances it might only be 15 minutes or five minutes, but that’s valuable time.”
Both Harbaughs will watch the field drills together in the bleachers of Lucas Oil Stadium. But the 49ers head coach said he wasn’t planning on revealing much more than that in his first go-around at the combine.
“I’m just not going to talk a lot about what we’re looking at and what we’re trying to do or how we’re going to do it,” he said. “I’m going to lean to the side of keeping the cards close to the vest. I think that’s probably the smart way for me to go through this.
“Once I get a little savvier down the road it’ll be a little different. I’ll be like the guys on the poker channel with the shades on.”
The hardest part for Harbaugh might not be the talent evaluating, but disclosing information. However, he did inform the media of the ongoing discussions between the team and the agent of soon-to-be free agent quarterback Alex Smith.
“I’m about as transparent as a baggie,” he joked at one point. “What you see is what you get.”
What Harbaugh hopes to see are players competing, that much he informed the media.
“You want guys to show everyone there’s no fluke to this, I can come out here and do this, throwing the football in Indy, I can do it back on my campus and I can do it for your organization,” he said. “That type of attitude is one you certainly look for.”
While Harbaugh has a firm belief in the type of players he wants to bring in, he also has a fair understanding of the players he’s inherited.
Though he’s unable to fully coach up the current roster, Harbaugh has spent time with players at the facility who come in for non-mandatory workouts and treatment.
“A lot of our guys have done that and it’s good to see their desire to work out and rehab,” he said.
Harbaugh looked at the team through a “key hole” last season, watching some of their games due to his proximity coaching at Stanford. He came away impressed with the group, saying there’s marquee players and players with experience.
“I’m extremely excited to work with our football team and see how we can make that jump,” Harbaugh said.
“The bar is set high and where else would you want it set? That’s the kind of stuff that gets me fired up.”
Baalke Talks Current Players
“He’s a hard, hard worker,” Jim Harbaugh said. “There hasn’t been too many days where I drive my car into the parking lot and his car isn’t already there… We’re talking pretty early in the morning.”
That car belongs to 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. As for the 49ers draft car, that’s driven by Baalke with Harbaugh in the front seat.
Like Harbaugh, Baalke held court on Thursday to comment on combine topics as well as the current state of the 49ers roster.
Baalke liked the depth of the offensive line group in this year’s draft, but in general, didn’t want to get into specifics on all position groups.
“I think the draft is going to be a good draft,” he said. “It’s going to be a deep draft at a lot of positions, and I think there will be good players to be found throughout it.”
Baalke said there’s been a lot of planning at team headquarters. With labor uncertainty, the team has to be ready for any and all outcomes. “You have to be prepared for any scenario that comes up right now because there’s a lot of unknowns. That’s exactly where we’re at, prepared for whatever scenarios take place.”
A late free agency period won’t influence the 49ers to draft a quarterback, though the team will have only one quarterback on the roster at the start of free agency.
Baalke said he’ll rely on Harbaugh’s quarterback expertise. “He’s proven that he can develop the quarterback in places he’s been. He’s also proven in his short time in the league that he has an eye for that position. So, with that in mind, we’re going to use all of our resources.”
As for current players, Baalke said the team will continue to rely on running back Frank Gore. “Definitely a bell cow,” Baalke said. “We’r
e going to take every advantage in using Frank, like we have over the years.”
The team will also develop younger running backs. Baalke said the team is pleased with the progress of Anthony Dixon, but will also look to supplement the position moving forward whether it be in free agency, a potential trade or through the draft.
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