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.