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To Get Harbaugh’s Quarterback, Baalke Must Do Whatever It Takes

Apr 17, 2011 at 7:08 AM14

He knew, of course. He knew right away.

As soon as he got here from Stanford, he knew that his success or failure would hinge on one thing: his ability to choose and train a quarterback. So he studied the options, and then he knew which one he wanted. Oh, sure, the scouting reports were dubious, snickering that the kid didn't have "great tools, but could eventually start."

And after choosing him anyway, Bill Walsh uttered his famous rebuke: "Few men are qualified to evaluate the quarterback position. Fewer still are qualified to coach the position."

Walsh, of course, was one such man.

And now, at last, we've hired another.

He knows, as Walsh did: it all depends on the quarterback. He's seen the middling scouting reports on this year's rookie crop, but he knows, as Walsh did: HE'S the man who's qualified.

He's studied the options. And now he knows.

Jim Harbaugh knows which one he wants.

The circumstances are not ideal. For all we know, he would've wanted Kevin Kolb, who's ready-made for the West Coast Offense (though certainly not a guaranteed stud). But the NFL's owners decided that the most profitable league on planet earth just wasn't padding their pockets enough, and Harbaugh was forced to look to the draft. Naturally, when business resumes, he'll want a vet to build a bridge (hence his awkward dalliance with Alex Smith, who simply won't just go away). We know, though, what Harbaugh wants most.

As for WHO he wants most, we've got no idea.

Qualified or no, the scouting reports are disconcerting. Gabbert's got awesome physical skills, but he's a spread-offense kid who looks rough under pressure. (Sound familiar?) Newton doesn't know what pressure is, but he also doesn't know what progressions are. Ponder does, and might be best for the WCO, but he seems unable to stretch the field. Mallett won't have any trouble there, but he moves like his feet are stuck in cement. Locker's accuracy is about as scary as Dalton's mechanics; Stanzi's solid but rarely spectacular; and Kaepernick...wait, what's the "Pistol Offense" again?

Clearly there's no obvious choice. But Harbaugh knows which one he can coach. Harbaugh knows which one he wants.

And above all else in next week's draft, Trent Baalke must get him.

Of course, QB isn't our only need. There's still corner and pass-rusher, needs we've struggled with year after year. And given the doubts in this quarterback class, the conventional wisdom on pick #7 has sensibly focused on those two positions. And if, say, the rusher is Miller or the corner is Peterson, none of us would dare complain. But if, say, Harbaugh wants Gabbert, then Miller or Peterson simply won't do. Baalke must trade up, and Baalke must get him.

And if, on the other hand, Harbaugh wants one from the seemingly fungible second tier--Locker, Ponder, Dalton et al.--the machinations get even trickier. The views on those guys are all over the map, so no one knows who'll be gone by the time we're ready with pick 45. If, say, Harbaugh wants Locker, we're free to spend 7 on Miller or Peterson (God willing). But Baalke can't sit there with pick 45. Baalke must trade up, and Baalke must get him.

You might be asking, What's the rush? Why reach for a passer who's just gonna sit? Why not draft for our non-QB needs, bide some time with that serviceable vet, and draft our QB of the future NEXT year? After all, who knows? If we're bad enough, we might be in Luck!

No more of this. If there's one thing we've learned in these woebegone years, it's that it's a quarterback's league. Talent at the other positions is crucial, but by itself it's meaningless. Without the QB, it all goes to waste.

That's why Harbaugh's here, of course. To choose and train a quarterback, just as Walsh did. And that process should begin immediately. Don't be scared off by these kids' imperfections; indeed, don't underestimate Harbaugh's ability to coach those imperfections away. You or I might see a reach, but Harbaugh sees a guy he wants.

Here's the thing, though. Despite all the wondrous ways in which Harbaugh's walked in Walsh's steps, there's one critical difference. Walsh came in as his own GM; he could see who he wanted, and then go out and get him himself. His authority matched the breadth of his genius.

Despite the breadth of his OWN genius, Harbaugh must count on someone else to do the getting.

Even now, it's hard to believe. Baalke had never been a general manager. He hadn't been part of a winning organization, in ANY capacity, for more than a decade. He wouldn't have been a contender for any other GM job. Yet somehow, after being handed the keys to our beloved Niners--and after ensuring that he, not the coach, would possess complete personnel control--he landed Harbaugh, the biggest fish in all the sea.

Talk about starting off with a bang. A shocking, inexplicable bang.

Now, though, Baalke must prove himself again. He must use those 12 picks--the league's most--and reward Harbaugh's curious faith. He can't forget who the star is here. Oh, sure, Baalke's in charge, but his job is not to build his OWN team, which Harbaugh then will happen to coach; his job, in truth, is to build Harbaugh's team. And above all else, Harbaugh's team needs Harbaugh's QB.

Harbaugh knows which one he wants.

Whatever it takes, Baalke must get him.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Telecat
    If the 49ers get Peterson or Amukamara at 7, they should try to trade up and take Andy Dalton. Guy is the best QB in the draft. Ice water in his veins. Poise is important. Dalton has it.
    Apr 22, 2011 at 7:59 PM
  • Johnny
    None of this matters until at least 2012. I'm sure we are going to have a season this year but we might as well call this season now. We aren't going to do ANYTHING with a rookie head coach and zero days of training camp. Teams like us are completely screwed because of the lockout. I say just wait until you can make a push for Luck because the 2011 season is gonna be a "lost season" if you will. If the players n coaches do hit their stride at any point it won't be until mid-season anyway, too late.
    Apr 20, 2011 at 1:59 PM
    Response: I understand your point, Johnny. But even if we lose out on training camp, our rookie QB will be able to do plenty of developing during the season (in meetings and practices if not in games). True, in terms of contending for the playoffs, we'll be behind the teams that aren't starting from scratch. But that's no reason to waste a year of QB development, which at least would allow us to hit the ground running in '12. I still say, let's get started this year, not next.
  • louie
    I'm still skeptical (no surprise). I have very little reason to have faith in Baalke, who, let's not forget, is part of the same "promote people from within who've never done the job before" tree as the incompetent know-nothings that came before him. It's convenient to give him credit for "landing" Harbaugh but we have no idea if Harbaugh ever intended to not take this opportunity to stay in the bay area with his family and walk in Walsh's footsteps. And to be a complete half-empty sourpuss I would add that Harbaugh hasn't proven/shown he can do anything at all at the NFL level. Walsh was a longer, proven, talented NFL assistant coach before he went to Stanford. It would be great if Harbaugh and Baalke can fulfill all our hopes and dreams, but there's a long, hard road ahead to get back to where this franchise belongs (the only two players I wouldn't trade are Patrick Willis and Justin Smith). And I have no faith that Prince Jed has the talent, courage or brains to pull it off. No harm in hoping, though.
    Apr 20, 2011 at 9:31 AM
    Response: As you know, Louie, I'm with you on Baalke; he's completely unproven as an organization-builder, and that's a serious concern. I even agree that Harbaugh was predisposed to become a Niner, such that he was a relatively easy sell. But surely Harbaugh would've walked away if he'd thought that Baalke couldn't be trusted, so Baalke deserves at least SOME credit for sealing the deal. Like I said here, though, now he's gotta keep it going. As for Harbaugh, I know I'm taking a leap of faith. But if Baalke does HIS part, I'll be utterly shocked if Harbaugh's a bust. I just can't imagine it.
  • Old Joe
    "Few men are qualified to evaluate the quarterback position......" Walsh quote. Why is this (in this man's humble opinion)? A QB unlike any other collegiate player must make a mammoth jump to succeed in the NFL. QBs must jump the Grand Canyon. RBs, WRs must jump a small creek. Most players drafted in the late third round have the same chance of "making it in the NFL" as a first round QB. 75% of all 1st rounders make it. QBs drag this number down significantly. Each additional round QBs have even a worse chance. It's a myth (and conventional wisdom) that college QBs coming from an NFL-like system have a better chance. No data supports this. Not factual. But sounds logical. If Tom Brady or Joe Montana played in the Pistol or Spread that would have been sound judgment to pass on them? How do we ascertain or measure the potential of the future "jump"? That knowledge is worth millions to the NFL. Pistol: Nevada's Ault invented it. UCLA has visited here the last two years and wants to adopt it. They just stole Nevada's O.C./RB coach. Bet on next year UCLA running it. Ault has received interest from 33 different colleges THIS year asking if they can visit and learn.
    Apr 19, 2011 at 8:27 PM
  • Lucky Phil
    2010 was a long season for 49er fans. I call it our "Running with the Bulls" season. I wrote a comment on it last yr. after Thanksgiving. As well as a large number of other comments, Jeff Kaplan knows well, under Lucky Phil, Team York and others. The reason I bring it up is because I feel good this yr. SING'S GONE!!! It's a new season a couple of months away. That light I see at the other end of the tunnel? Could be the bright headlight of another train about to hit me in the face. But, I don't think so. I think that's the bright light, fresh air and sweet smell of salvation. I have faith and hope, so I feel good right now. Sing also had faith in Jesus, the 49ers and Himself. And he was "All Nuts, No Brains". But this season is different, I feel it. This year we will no longer be the 49er Faithful, we will be 49er Just Shoot Me In The Face! Just joking. This season will be special.
    Apr 19, 2011 at 10:26 AM
    Response: And I'll take this opportunity to thank not just Phil/Team/etc. but also everyone else who let me know that I wasn't alone in my dismay about the last regime, and my undying hope that soon it would end. (Not everyone's comments were as amusing and somewhat disturbing as Phil's, but they all were appreciated.) And I think that Phil speaks for all of us when he says how excited he is for what could very well be the start of a new age of glory. Let's enjoy it together. We've certainly earned it.
  • Team York
    Nice to see you back, Jeff. This may be a bit off topic but I am amazed to hear that the rumors of Carolina possibly taking Cam Newton may be true. This guy has never stayed in one football program for more than one yr. in the last four yrs. Got thrown out of his first college for cheating, also had stolen laptops in his possession. His dad pimped him to Auburn for over 200k supposedly. But Cam didn't know anything about it. RIIIIGHT!!!! Why would anyone be interested in him. Period. Being a great QB is all about hard work, and the mental component (Brady, Manning, Brees) that makes them great. Newton is all about getting something for nothing (stealing computers, cheating, taking money under the table) and mentally, I doubt this kid ever challenged himself in school. I should be happy when I hear guys like Newton, Locker and Mallett getting the headlines because I'm hoping Kaepernick falls in our lap. Big Time Player! And Kap is going to get all the acclaim three yrs. from now.
    Apr 19, 2011 at 8:53 AM
    Response: I'm with you on Newton; for all the reasons you mention, I can't imagine Harbaugh having the slightest interest. Kaepernick, on the other hand, might be the one, but my point here is that Baalke can't afford to hope that Kaepernick, or any of the others, "falls in our lap." Whoever Harbaugh's choice is, Baalke must be aggressive.
  • Dan
    Hey Terry glad to see you haven't gotten over me yet. There's a VikingsWebZone? I have to make sure not to pay them a visit. Distinction: building shrines and not being a hater; learn it. You have to stick to what you're good at though, so keep it up. I'd be disappointed if you were to stop. Anyway I might just donate a few things to Jeff's Harbaugh shrine if he solves this offense so misinterpret my shrine comment. I know it's hard for you to understand....
    Apr 18, 2011 at 3:48 PM
  • Frank
    Jeff...agree with you and I believe Baalke will do whatever Harbaugh wants/needs. I think they're tied at the hip, which is essential to have a very good draft.
    Apr 18, 2011 at 2:28 PM
  • Terry B.
    Dan, I'm surprised to see you back. Didn't you know that Mike Singletary was with Minnesota now? I expected to see you over at VikingsWebZone. Jeff may indeed be building a shrine to Harbaugh a little too early but doesn't that still make more sense than the shrine you built to Singletary and refused to tear down even while he wrecked the franchise?
    Apr 18, 2011 at 1:02 PM
  • Dan
    Jeff, how many days after the Harbaugh hire went by before you had a full-fledged Jim Harbaugh shrine? I do like the optimistic version of you. Over the top as usual, but in a good way this year. I'm in agreement with the concept of trusting our coach to pick the right quarterback. I wouldn't mind if he drafted a couple or a few since we're so thin, and rookies are always a gamble. Before the combine I was hearing a little chatter that Devlin was a very accurate passer. Maybe he has all the right imperfections? Like Pat says rounds 4-7 sometimes hide a gem. I would be more at ease this preseason if we were trying out two rookies. Hopefully Harbaugh is the guy you think he is and can turn water into Gatorade, or rookies into gunslingers.
    Apr 17, 2011 at 10:38 PM
    Response: I do think we're likely to draft two QBs, one high and one low. (Kind of like the legendary Carmazzi-Rattay combo.) It'll be interesting to see who the low choice is, but you'd assume, of course, that the high choice is the one who's really "Harbaugh's guy." That's the guy who'll carry our hopes for the better part of the next decade.
  • shobbrobb
    Jeff i'm happy Harbaugh's the coach, but let's not forget he's a rookie coach and hasn't accomplished anything. let Jim Harbaugh's work speak for itself before we put him in the same sentence with Bill Walsh.
    Apr 17, 2011 at 7:35 PM
    Response: Can't help it, Shobb. Too many eerie similarities. On the whole I'm still a realist, but I've gotta admit it: when it comes to the Walsh-Harbaugh connection, I'm a total sucker.
  • Patrick
    We're putting a lot of stock into some of these well-known QBs that are projected to go in rounds 1-3 (from Gabbert and Newton to Stanzi), but what if it's someone we're not expecting? Jim Harbaugh has been made famous for the QB scouting reports he did during his time with the Oakland Raiders. My point is, What if we select someone who is a relatively unknown prospect? After all, if my memory serves me correctly, Jim Harbaugh had Tony Romo rated as a 2nd round QB. And as we know, Romo went undrafted that year. So maybe Harbaugh is targeting a guy in rounds 4-7 who isn't getting much attention? I think a lot of people around here would be mad if that happens. Either way, I have faith that Harbaugh knows what he's looking for. He'll find us a winner!
    Apr 17, 2011 at 7:32 PM
  • longtime49erfan
    Do not ever forget that Joe Montana was picked up in the third round of the draft. So much for the suggestion that second round QBs do not amount to much.
    Apr 17, 2011 at 3:49 PM
  • Alden Brown
    Yes, it's a quarterback's league, but the problem is, it's very difficult to get your franchise QB in the second round. And trading up into the first to get a second round QB does not transform him into a first round talent. Here's the list of second round QBs from the last decade. Drew Brees is the exception rather than the rule. Jimmy Clausen Pat White John Beck Brian Brohm Chad Henne Drew Stanton Kellen Clemons Kevin Kolb Tarvaris Jackson Drew Brees Quincy Carter Marques Tuiasosopo. We better hope Harbaugh knows what he's doing.
    Apr 17, 2011 at 10:37 AM
    Response: Indeed, but it's my confidence in Harbaugh that convinces me that his QB--whoever he is--will succeed. It's no coincidence that Brees (and, you could add, Kolb) are the only guys on your list who've gotten top-flight coaching. And of course, Walsh proved that a top-flight coach can take a player who isn't perceived as a "first round talent" and turn him into something great. I trust Harbaugh to do the same with his choice. My only fear is that Baalke will put too much stock in the opinions of unqualified draftniks and won't be aggressive enough to get him.

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