All Part of the Plan, Harbaugh’s Era Truly Begins

Apr 30, 2013 at 9:36 PM

When the Savior arrived—two years (or was it a lifetime?) ago—the plan was in place. And the key component, we knew, would be patience. Oh, sure, amid the euphoria that surrounded the hire, we had crazy visions of immediate greatness. But the plan was in place, and the plan would take time.

First things first: the Savior would draft a quarterback. This, of course, would be the key, the kid who'd take us to Super Bowls. But once again, it wouldn't be soon. Young QBs take time to grow, so while he grew, we'd need a bridge, a grizzled vet from whom he could learn. Preferably, a proven winner, but one whose tank was running low.

And then here's how the plan would work.

Year One would be The Year of Installation. The vet would play, the kid would sit. And the goal would be merely installing the system. For a franchise coming off eight years of losing, learning the Savior's winning system would be like learning to speak Japanese. If these guys could simply master the schemes—a task that the lockout would make even tougher—then mission accomplished. The few wins we could get, figure six at the most, would be largely irrelevant.

Year Two would be The Year of Transition. Maybe halfway through, the vet would prove he'd maxed out, so it'd be time to put in the kid. The results, of course, would be mixed; he'd provide some flashes, but ultimately his inexperience would show. So the goal would be showing him everything once, so when we were ready to take the next step, he wouldn't be subject to any surprises. The record again would be meaningless, but eight-and-eight would sound about right.

Year Three would be The Year of Contention. The Savior's system would be up and running, the roster would be the Savior's guys, and the kid, under the Savior's wing, would be the best young ace in the game. The playoffs would be a certainty. And with a little luck, the Savior's Year Three would end just like the Genius's did: with a Super Bowl title, which would launch a dynasty.

The plan was in place. And believe it or not, as we enter Year Three, it still is.

Oh, no question, there've been some glitches. Going into Year One, the "grizzled vet" wasn't supposed to be Mike Nolan's quarterback, with all that heavy baggage of his. But, as planned, the installation proceeded. The season featured some surprising drama, but the key point was, the foundation was set.

In Year Two, as planned, the vet was phased out. (The transition wasn't supposed to require an injury, so the plan might've gotten a bit lucky here.) The kid went through the predictable ups and downs (and a whole lot of unpredictable ones). But ultimately, he saw it all, and he established himself as the league's most dynamic offensive weapon.

Meanwhile, as planned, the Savior's guys have loaded the roster. With its comprehensive dynastic potential, the Year One draft, a few years on, could look like Pittsburgh's in ‘74. For now, it was deep enough to allow the Niners to draft essentially one year ahead. The Year Two draft was redshirted almost entirely, and much of the Year Three draft will be too. What this strategy lacks in immediate impact, it more than makes up with the prospect of sustained organizational excellence.

Indeed, the Year Three draft was definitive proof: after years of wandering around in the dark, the Niners have retaken their place as the league's most soundly-run operation. Trent Baalke manipulated the board so skillfully, the "GM" in his title should stand for "Grand Master." In the first round, going in with more picks than any of his peers, he traded up for the one starter he lacked. Then, in the second, he traded down and still got first-round-quality depth where he needed it most. Solid depth followed at tight end, outside ‘backer, and wide receiver. At the end of the fourth, he used a compensatory pick on a rusher who would've gone in the top five, but for two blown ACLs. (Just ask Frank Gore if he wasted that choice.)

All told, he spent 11 picks, addressing every conceivable need. (And this isn't including the sixth-round pick he spent on playoff-hero Anquan Boldin, an unquestionable #2 at last.) And he'll likely have at least that many in next year's draft. Not bad for a man once dismissed on this page as just another York Family lightweight.

Undoubtedly, the plan is in place. We're all set up for The Year of Contention.

What's that you say? You say we've already been contending? Ah yes, the part that didn't go nearly as planned.

Even now, it's hard to believe. In Year One, we did the installation, but somehow we won, and kept winning, all the way to the NFC title game. In Year Two, we made the transition, but somehow we won, and kept winning, all the way to the Super Bowl. Truly unbelievably, going into "The Year of Contention," we could've been going for a championship threepeat.

Naturally, those shocking successes raised our hopes, and seeing them dashed was the worst kind of pain. But if only to hold my sanity close, I choose to focus back on the plan. Year One went on longer than anyone had a right to expect, but in a way it ended precisely as planned: with the grizzled vet revealing his ceiling. Year Two saw the kid do more than we'd ever seen fit to dare to imagine, but in the end, again as planned, a seasoned D—with only 15 feet to spare—simply exploited his inexperience.

We almost stole a title (or two), and heaven knows I wish we'd succeeded. But the fact remains, all of this was merely prologue. A prelude leading to this year, the year when everything comes together.

The Savior's era truly begins. A dynasty comes back to life.

You see, it's all a part of the plan.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • WhiteBird
    49ers are going to the SB for years to come! I have full faith and no doubts...broncos vs 49ers!
    May 6, 2013 at 12:12 PM
  • Allen
    Screw the naysayers, Jeff. Keep up the good work.
    May 5, 2013 at 6:10 PM
  • onemoretime
    Still too many intangibles to call it a lock. There is some quality opposition out there. I hope they at least sweep the rams, one thing nolan was able to do. If they go 8-8 and get to and win the S.B. its good. All the icing on the cake is secondary. Be great if they went 19-0 but I wouldn't bet the ranch. What kind of article would you write next year if they did go 8-8 and then win it all?
    May 3, 2013 at 6:41 PM
    Response: An ecstatic one.
  • Terry B.
    Ed, you need to learn the difference between an article and a column.
    May 2, 2013 at 8:27 AM
  • D
    It should be the years of heartbreak. Year one lose NFC championship game. Year two lose Super Bowl. Year three watch team underachieve? (I really hope this doesn't happen) At least when the 9ers sucked they weren't crushing my 9er dreams bc I already knew they were going to suck.
    May 1, 2013 at 3:25 PM
  • ed
    article sucks. wish you took a more journalist approach - had good points but delivered poorly.
    May 1, 2013 at 1:29 PM
  • geomega27
    Great read, but the domino effect to greatness got started when Trent Baalke took over. I would say the turning-point move was the Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati picks. The 49ers had a lot of underrated talent. The problem was that Frank Gore had such small holes to squeeze through there was not a lot of light. Alex Smith was statistically given the shortest amount of time to pass in the NFC. (I think that's why later in his career with the 9ers he developed more of a dink and dunk approach.) After the two linemen were drafted all that was needed was a good, preferably the best, HC available. Right guy, right time, we lucked out. That's why we won right away, we were on the verge with an underrated QB in Smith, RB in Gore, TE in Davis, WR in Crabtree, Willis and more. Expect a lot more out of last year's rookies with this year's to sit. Trent Baalke brought us the right HC and the right players. Good Job!
    May 1, 2013 at 11:56 AM
  • JDB49
    Great column Jeff, you always seem to echo what i'm thinking and feeling as a Die-Hard 49ers fan. While revealing some things also. For example, the comment about Kaepernick being finally exploited. It was hard for me to accept because throughout the season he conquered all of the obstacles that he was faced with.
    May 1, 2013 at 10:45 AM
    Response: It was hard for me too, JDB. Kaepernick seemed superhuman, and it was shocking to see him come up short. Trust me, I was a zombie for weeks. But eventually, the truth rises. In a situation that he hadn't really experienced, the Ravens got him to do precisely what they wanted him to. A smart D just outwitted the kid. But you can rest assured: now that it's happened, it won't happen again.
  • Terry B.
    Saying that last year's draft class "redshirted," and that this is a sign of Baalke's brilliance, reminds me of Phil Simms watching Tim Tebow throw a ball ten feet over the receiver's head and then saying, "that was a good throwaway right there."
    May 1, 2013 at 7:48 AM
  • mayo49
    Nice read, man. Keep up the good work. Go Niners!
    May 1, 2013 at 1:31 AM
  • Tim
    seriously? Thanks for the links to the articles and all... but lmfao!!!! lol
    Apr 30, 2013 at 10:55 PM
  • Steve
    And so, he emerges from the offseason shadows...welcome back, Jeff. I was glad to stumble upon your latest piece as I try to fight a mild bout of insomnia and get to sleep. Another finely crafted dissertation, sir. I agree wholeheartedly. As much as the sting remains from the Super Bowl (as I know all too well, considering I was sitting above mid-field in the Superdome), I choose to look forward and remind myself that those two seasons, albeit heartbreaking, were really more than any rational person could have expected from SF. I don't think I can recall being so satisfied with a draft from the get-go in my 21 years as a fan. I wanted Carradine in the first; the boy wonder not only grabs him in the second, but accumulates a 3rd and 7th rounder in the process. Unreal. As you so eloquently outlined, the beauty of it all is the fact that Baalke bolsters the team for both the here-and-now and the future; all in one fell swoop. Counting down to September, but wishing it wasn't the farewell tour for the 'Stick (am I the only one who holds that lovable landfill near-and-dear to my heart?).
    Apr 30, 2013 at 10:21 PM
  • Monsterniner
    Great read Jeff and all I can say is that I'd like to read your articles every week so don't stop writing in the off-season please.
    Apr 30, 2013 at 10:09 PM
  • NinerForever
    Cue in Star Wars theme* The time for rebuilding has passed, it is time for the big boys to put on their shoulder pads.
    Apr 30, 2013 at 10:06 PM
  • DonnieDarko
    "Grand Master"...i like that.
    Apr 30, 2013 at 9:59 PM

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