Harbaugh makes the right call

Getty Images

Yes, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly has informed Alex Smith that Colin Kaepernick will be the starting quarterback on Sunday against the Saints.

It was the right decision, and it was the right time to make it.

Smith has played well under Harbaugh’s tutelage, but months before Harbaugh even had a chance to meet with his new team (due to the lockout) he had selected Kaepernick at the top of round two of the draft, one spot behind Andy Dalton.  The fact that Smith achieved a level of performance he hadn’t been able to reach in six prior seasons delayed the switch to the talented youngster.

But after the 49ers “evaluated” Peyton Manning in the offseason, the writing was on the wall.  Eventually, the job would be Kaepernick’s.

Now it is, thanks to a concussion that kept Smith from getting cleared to play on Monday night.  And that gave Kaepernick a chance to show what he can do.

The challenge for Harbaugh becomes getting the most out of Kaepernick, and getting him not to worry about making mistakes.  It will be easy for Kaepernick to look over his shoulder.  It won’t be easy for Harbaugh to persuade Kaepernick not to.

After all, that’s the only flaw in the approach.  By making the move from Smith to Kaepernick, Harbaugh necessarily is retreating from all the good things he previously said about Smith.  Harbaugh will now start saying plenty of good things about Kaepernick.  And Harbaugh will need Kaepernick to believe them.

Harbaugh also will need the rest of the locker room to accept the decision unequivocally, and not to wonder whether the good things he has said about them are genuine, or just part of a coach’s effort to get players to play at a high level without worrying about being replaced.

Perhaps more importantly, Harbaugh also may need to once again repair his relationship with Smith, if Harbaugh decides to switch back to the veteran or, as Harbaugh suggested on Wednesday, to use them interchangeably from game to game, quarter to quarter, drive to drive, or even play to play.

Though an outsider would say it’s a good problem to have, Harbaugh likely doesn’t feel that way, deep down.  But he’ll manage the situation as best he can — and he’ll likely find a way to make it work.

69 responses to “Harbaugh makes the right call

  1. If this is true Smith should demand a trade or sign else where in the off season… I know he’s not expected to sling 30 passes a game but he’s been really efficient but he gets his job taken away after 1 good game by a first time starter?

  2. Yea right now its the right call but if he dares to have a bad day or a bad stretch, run away on give up him… just like you did with wilson after he wasn’t having the best time ever, and newton this year… anyways smith doesn’t need this he goes 16-5 and after one game where he has the audacity to get injured he gets bench after the backup has one good game… he should go else where or come to arizona to be the backup or possibly the starter… people will say it’s all harbaugh but i believe smith is part of the o’s success by making smart decisions and being efficient …next season with an improved oline and smith things will good here in az

  3. Can’t argue with the logic here. I’ve seen it before when Montana, Bledsoe and Trent Green all went down. In came Steve Young, Tom Brady, and Kurt Warner and won Super Bowls.

  4. Interesting decision. Playing in New Orleans won’t be easy. They can throw up points quickly and you’ll many times find yourself playing catch up or keep up. Didn’t Alex Smith beat the Saints last year?

  5. Bad move, I agree kaepernick is the future but don’t make a mid season switch while in the hunt for atop playoff spot.

    This puts keap in a terribly high pressure situation that could damage him in the future if (when) he struggles.

    This also destroys smiths confidence, good luck if (when) it is time to turn back to smith sometime down the road.

    Mark my words, this will hurt the niners this season

  6. This is a very risky move. . This can go either really good or really bad. . I dont like risking loosing the locker room or my coach gambling away his character if this goes bad. . Hope it doesn’t. . Go Niners

  7. How about we get through Sunday first and see how he does before getting too carried away. Yes he played great against a great defense but lets pay mind to the fact they kept 9 in the box all night and left Vernon Davis in man coverage

  8. How do you know it was the right decision, Florio?

    You won’t be able to answer that until after they play

  9. It’s fine to say your opinion is that Harbaugh made the right call. But, the way you write it, it’s as if it’s a fact that this was the right call. That’s an opinion that will be proven one way or the other in a few weeks.

  10. Kaper has a stronger arm. More accurate. Is faster, more athletic. Sees the field better. Definitely the right call…

  11. Yep, a quarterback controversy is always a good thing to have, but especially as you head into the home stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.

    How could he not pick Kaepernick after one career start in a lopsided game at home without any pressure on him to bring the club from behind late in the game.

    And if Kaepernick should throw a couple of picks in the first quarter and his team falls behind, we know that he’ll just shrug it off and get back to catching up. And the fans, we won’t hear a thing from them.

  12. Personally, I disagree. Smith gives you a better chance to win a Super Bowl this year. Wait until Kapernick has a 2 turnover game and the calls for Snith will begin. Naming Kapernick the starter, for this year (if that’s even what’s been determined: right now it’s just 1 game.) provides little benefit and opens Harbaugh AND the locker room to controversy and the whole situation is begging for media thirst. In my eyes, not the right move.

  13. It over for Smith,he will be traded for draft picks,likely team he will go to is the Chargers,as Rivers days are numbered.

  14. I highly disagree with the timing. They drafted him high and continued to go with Smith on an exorbitant contract. The time to make the decision was before the trade deadline when they could have really taken advantage of another team by trading Smith for max value at that juncture. But they missed a MASSIVE opportunity to have their cake and eat it too, while also saving money for the future for an additional bonus.

    Horrible timing in San Fran.

  15. This is a terrible call.

    You only make big changes like this during the season because you have to due to injury or really poor production. Smith has done a good enough job that he should be allowed to finish this season through before the Niners move on. Show him some respect.

    The only way this doesn’t go bad is if Kaepernick is great the rest of the way. He’s fully capable of it, but if it goes wrong Harbaugh is going to get killed by the media and create confusion in the locker room.

    I feel like this is the NFL version of being friend zoned…think about it.

  16. What’s the issue? Kid did good he gets 1 more…Smith is good but hardly brings true versatility and isn’t as accurate. Let it all play out

  17. Coach H. is a former NFL QB. He knows how to handle this “situation”.
    And what a tough pickle it is (not).
    Although it does become a LITTLE more dramatic if Smith gets cleared to play Sunday.

  18. The niners are playoff bound,so they need Smith,why would they want to trade him if Kap goes down,Smith can come in ,they are potential super bowl team with both on the team.

  19. good call. despite the saints recent success their secondary is garbage…

    i wish people would be a little more honest about alex smith… while his record is superb, he’s riding the coattails of a good defense like sanchez and flacco. kaepernick puts them in a better postition to win if the team theyre going against can exploit the 49ers defense… which the saints are more than capable of doing.

    as a falcons fan who wants the saints to lose, i truely feel keapernick gives them a better chance of winning and im gonna watch this game now.

    even though the 9ers owned the falcons when the falcons were in the nfc west… i will be rooting for the 9ers come sunday wearing red and gold.

  20. First off, I think this is a terrible decision. Smith has done everything asked of him and then some, turning in some terrific games on the way to helping make the 49ers one of the best teams around.

    But this is terrible in another way, too. What message does this move send? It sends one clear message: if you get a concussion, you will lose your job. All the NFL’s safety measures designed to reduce concussions have just taken two giant leaps backwards thanks to this boneheaded move. Forget about self-reporting now. Forget about anything approaching honesty about the effects of hits.

    A loyal QB who got his team within a few breaths of the Super Bowl in a coach’s first year – and who torched the Saints with clutch play after clutch play – is now dumped in the rematch because this kid has one good game against a hobbled Bears team.

    It’s disgusting, disloyal, and sends a terrible message about concussions and about what’s important in sport.

    I’ve defended Harbaugh through all the stuff that’s been lobbed at him since he entered the NFL, from handshake-gate to all the controversial quotes. But this is going too far. I am no longer a fan of this guy.

  21. Ladies and gentlemen, we are living history as we speak. This might be the most controversial decision ever. Remember, Alex Smith has been confirmed that he is healthy enough to play next week. This decision is strictly because Harbaugh believes Kaepernick is the best choice for this team. People always remind others that we shouldn’t overreact over one game, well I believe someone should have told Harbaugh this. Over the span of two years, Alex Smith is 19-5 with this team and led them to a NFC Championship game. Even though I am not a big stat guy – I find them somewhat misleading – Smith has the best QBR rating. It doesn’t at all mean that he is the third best QB in the league, but it does have merit behind it. He also has the highest completion percentage in the league of 70 percent and is averaging 7.98 yards per throw. And except for a Superbowl, Smith has been to every big game in the NFL. Kaepernick hasn’t even played a game on the road yet, which means no one knows how mentally tough he is.

    I truly believe Kaepernick will be the better QB. I love his mechanics, how he steps up strong in the pocket, his tight spiral, and his ability to extend plays with his legs. However, I don’t believe he’s ready yet for the big stage. After all, the Bears played a vanilla cover two Monday. Nobody knows how well he will do when he sees exotic coverages that he’s never seen in his live. If Smith started to struggle, sure, then you can decide to bring him in, but there aren’t any signs of that happening. Smith has been constantly effective this year.

    Surely Harbaugh has more wits in his pinkie than I do in my brain about football. But I just don’t comprehend the logic of this decision.

  22. thestrategyexpert says: Nov 21, 2012 11:40 PM

    I highly disagree with the timing. They drafted him high and continued to go with Smith on an exorbitant contract. The time to make the decision was before the trade deadline when they could have really taken advantage of another team by trading Smith for max value at that juncture. But they missed a MASSIVE opportunity to have their cake and eat it too, while also saving money for the future for an additional bonus.

    Horrible timing in San Fran.


    You don’t know what you are talking about. All of Smiths guaranteed money was for this year. His contract is basically a 1 year 9 million dollar deal. 49ers will be in better position to trade him in the off season when teams have more cap space. Not before the trade deadline when most teams were up against the cap. Do your homework before you open your mouth.

  23. ^ Sorry, I meant to say one of the most controversial QB decisions ever. I’m sure this won’t be more controversial than the Civil War. And, Smith has the third best QB rating, not the best.

  24. While it’s true, Smith went almost perfect in his last start ….. that’s not the issue. The problem is that he leaves guys WIDE OPEN downfield or in the end zone. I’m having trouble remembering the last time AS hit a guy in stride.

  25. Good call

    Smith will get an oppty outside of SF. MN, AZ, NYJ, KC & maybe even Philly come to mind.

    Such is life in the NFL. You can get replaced any given Sunday

  26. This game has to be one of the more anticipated games of the week if not the season after last year’s very exciting divisonal round playoff game. It’s a lot different of a situation for Mr. Kaepernick when you’re starting on the round so I’m not so sure he’ll have the success he had playing at home last week or against he Ram’s. The Superdome is extremely loud.

  27. To all the people who doubt this, keep it in mind this guy made many QBs look good in college and made Alex Smith a bust by most standards look terrific at the same time a game manager, franchise QBs have something secial about them. But i also agree this will cause some discord in the locker room as well as his relationship with Smith.

  28. Seems like everyone just assumes QB’s, particularly Smith, have these fragile egos and are going to be all broken hearted and pouty with every perceived sleight. They are grown men and professional enough to realize the best course is to make the most of the opportunities they are given, and not read too much personal into business decisions that can reverse quickly if you stay ready to play.

  29. Football’s version of being Wally Pipp’d. From now on, when an NFL starter loses his position to a youngster after being forced out with an injury, it’ll be called “being Alex Smith’d.”

    For those of you who don’t know, Wally Pipp was a very good first baseman for the New York Yankees. Pipp was actually the AL home run champion two years, 1916 & 1917. Well, in 1925, Pipp sat out a game because of a “headache” (a/k/a concussion), and a unknown player named Lou Gehrig filled in as his replacement. Well, Gehrig went on to play in 2,130 consecutive games & Pipp never got his job back. Therefore, when a player goes down from an injury & loses his starting position to his replacement, even when he’s healthy, it’s called “being Wally Pipp’d.”

  30. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise if you follow the breadcrumb trail.

    Observe —

    1. During Harbaugh’s intro press conference, 49ers GM Trent Baalke looks white as a ghost as Harbaugh openly campaigns for Alex Smith. Baalke is nervous about Alex, but knows with the lockout, has no choice.

    2. Alex is molded and turns into a high functioning QB. He remains unspectacular but efficient. He is one of many reasons the 49ers reach the title game.

    3. Harbaalke, knowing they could do better at QB, work out Manning. Smith is upset, but ends up signing for the exact same contract the 49ers offered him before he know about Manning. This means the 49ers told Alex “take it or leave it.” This tells you Alex needed the 49ers more than they needed him.

    4. Kaepernick is inserted into the flow of games, mostly in wild cat formations, but never in garbage time. This gives him a taste in the huddle and to kill real-time nerves.

    5. Due to injury, Kaep is given a gameplan and Harbaugh/Roman leave off the training wheels. They prepare him, but essentially throw him to the wolves and he shines.

    Bottom line, Alex has always been a product of Harbaugh, period. Take a QB with gobs more potential and now you have a truly frightening juggernaut in the 49ers.

    And what Kaep lacks in experience, he’ll make up for in production and big-play value.

    The 49ers should be able to withstand a couple bumps in the road.

  31. Didn’t I just see Kap suck in a overtime tie game a couple weeks ago? Harbaugh is crazy to do this. Shocking.

  32. And to anyone who truly thinks that Alex was a key reason for their success — believe me, he would not do as well with another team. Anyone who has followed this team and all of Alex’s career understands he is limited QB, in countless ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

    Alex Smith was a babysitter for the franchise QB from the second Harbaugh was hired.

  33. grantgoodman93 says:
    mayorsils49 says:
    Nov 21, 2012 11:22 PM
    smith played his ass off against new orleans last year. 26 for his last 28 attempts…i hope this is a joke


    And produced NO points in the first quarter against the Rams. The bulk of his completion run was 2-5 yard throws that the receivers turned into big gains.

    He routinely misses wide open guys downfield, preferring to dump it off to a back or shallow route WR. There are all kinds of issues with his game that simply don’t show up on the stat sheet.

    If you think Alex can make the throws CK was hitting on Monday night, you’re need to drink more.

  34. Nowhere does it say that Kaepernick is the starter for the rest of the season. I think he is just deciding about this weekend. It is a short week coming off a MNF game with Thanksgiving thrown in as well as a fair bit of travel. One guy just came off a stellar performance against a great defense under the bright lights. Give him another opportunity while Smith recovers from his concussion. Nothing is set in stone. If Kaepernick shreds NO like he did CHI then you may have to make a more firm stance on who the starter is going forward.

  35. This is really bad timing. They were winning with Smith, forget for a minute what this does to Smith.

    Let’s think about Kaepernick, he sees that even if he is winning he could get pulled. It is one thing to do badly and get pulled, but to lose your job when you have been playing well? What level of security can Kap get out of that?

    Then you are shooting Smith for the 2nd time this year, you can’t go back to him now, he won’t trust you.

    I hope it works for Harbaugh, but he is playing really high stakes poker, with really slim chances.

  36. Volkswagen or Mercedes??? The NFL is in the business of making money; as we know from the prices of the jerseys, and the best product is going to be on the field. That said, Colin make us all believers…

  37. You may remember that JH tried to trade over Cincy to get Dalton. So Kap, like Smith, is the backup plan. Personally, I prefered Kap and am a big fan of Alex. Looking forward to Sunday’s game.

  38. Last time I checked Smith was top 5 in the league in QB rating and had the green light to check-in and out of any play he wanted to. Colin went up against a dead Bears team that had no tape on him. Spags isn’t as good as he once was and neither is the Saints D but that crowd still is and so is that high scoring offense that he will have to go shot for shot with. On the road against a Saints team that feels hot right now just doesn’t seem like a good scenario. Both Harbaughs baffle me.

  39. LOL Smith is not accurate?
    OKA, he doesnot pass deep balls, but he is already number1 in %complet. – 70% = best in league!

    next season see him in Arizona, and it kill me, because i hate Arizona and like Alex.

  40. Bad move. It’ll come back to bite the Niners this year. I can understand if this is the preseason, but here you have a guy who has been pretty efficient all year, but he just got backstabbed by his own coach. Been a Niners fan since Steve Young’s era, and something about this move is not feeling right. Hopefully I’m wrong.

  41. As a guy who HATES Jim Harbaugh, I’m eager to see this train wreck. Jimmy is a lying A-hole who is vastly over-rated as a head coach. It’s not often you root for someone to fail, but in Jimmy’s case I find it easy. Hope Brees and co. wipe the turf w/Jimmy’s smug face.

  42. this is a ballsy move, if it works harbaygh will be seen as a genius, if not a donkey. i’m thinking a donkey… if kap struggles and cost’s the niners a game, switching back and forth lose’s credibility in the locker room, time will tell.

  43. I hope smith has a headache this weekend and will not be available should the 49er’s need him. guess his team mates will know how valuable he is when they need him and he is not there won’t they?

  44. I don’t understand why if you’re in the division lead why you switch QBs. He played one good game! Now you’re putting him on the road in a loud, loud dome and making him keep up with Brees? What happens on the plane ride back after this week’s loss? If the 9ers were like my Jags, a QB switch makes sense to me. But, a couple weeks ago, the coach was lobbying the NFL to make Smith the most efficient passer ever in a game. Did he forget that? Impulse ride in S.F. Sorry 9ers fans.

  45. I just don’t get!
    I realize Kaepernick is “his guy” but he’s replacing a guy who has one of the highest QB ratings in the league. I think the saying goes
    ” If it aint broke, don’t fix it”!

  46. As a NY Giant fan I’m sad to see this change. I know we can best 49ers with Smith at helm. I’m not so sure about the result under Kaepernick. He is much scarier.

  47. Wow, that’s a ballsy move as we get closer to the playoffs. Bottom line, no matter how efficient Smith has been, he just does not have those dynamic skills that these younger QB’s have. This game is changing before our eyes, and how they now protect QB’s, alot of teams are now looking of those athletic QB’s who are cerebral, and can be that duel threat. These QB’s give defenses fits when you are preparing for them. My only question is the timing. Remember people, this is not a feel good league, it’s a heartless business, and teams don’t care about their players feelings, they just want to win.

  48. Here in the bay area – we’re simply tired of Alex Smith the NFL QB. We’ve swallowed him for 8 years! He’s all class and a great team member but he’s simply average on the field. Mike Nolan made the wrong choice drafting him #1. We’ve seen every aspect of his game and it’s the same old story – he’s simply dreadful on 3rd down – the money down. I realize he won the playoff game for us vs the Saints. That was his crowning moment but that’s one game in 200 we had to choke down.

    Colin Kaepernick can and will throw the ball to beat you and with OC Greg Roman’s dominant running game and bizarre littany of scheme’s – Niners just got way harder to game plan.

    I’m so excited by this announcement I’m unable to sleep. Thank you coach Harbaugh.

  49. Two things, first THIS is why players try to hide injuries.

    Second, why does harbaugh have to improve the “relationship”. They are men, they are professionals, they are footballers for crying out loud, they don’t have to have a relationship.

  50. I feel like this is a reason for a locker room not to trust their coach.

    This was Alex Smith’s team, he was playing the best ball of his career… then has the carpet ripped out from under him.

    There is plenty of time for Kaepernick in the future, starting in 2013. But 2012 was Smith’s team. And unless the locker room truly wanted a change, I believe this is a mistake.

  51. This makes Seattle fans very happy indeed. Merry Christmas Seahawks we have a full blown controversy in San Francisco. What ever happened to Alex is our guy Harbaugh? What a douche.

  52. Poor Alex, you spurned the Dolphins in the offseason and returned to the 49ers. Now you have no job when you could of been the man in South Beach. I dont blaim Harbaugh anyways, I watched this kid in Nevada for two years before the Draft. He killed it at Nevada, its not just he was in a Pistol Offense people.

  53. His team, his call. I disagree with replacing a healthy Alex Smith. He has done what has been asked of him and he has excelled. But for a back-up returner muffing a pair of punts Smith would have started last year’s Super Bowl. He is very efficient and has a very good win/loss record under Harbaugh. Kaepernick has potential but is unproven. Last week’s game was very good but he was garbage in extended play in a previous game. Yanking the starting QB in the midst of a playoff/home field advantage run sends a poor message. If Smith is healthy (now) and is then needed later on, how will he respond? What about the rest of the team? Much more could be lost vs gained THIS year. If the 49ers start to slide, look no farther than this decision.

  54. Why would you start a game manager over a potentially great QB after an injury had allowed the latter to show his stuff?

    If the 49ers were a lock for the Super Bowl with Smith at QB then obviously you start him even if you think Kaepernick might be much better.

    I’m sure Wally Pipp was an acceptable first baseman.

  55. IMHO, I don’t see this as a bad move at all. I have the utmost respect for Alex Smith as a player and even more for how he handles himself off the field. The kid is a class act. I’d be content to let him attempt to lead us to the Promised Land.
    That being said, I believe what my eyes tell me. Whenever I watch AS, there simply isn’t any “ooomph!”. I always find myself watching the games and wondering what this 49er team would be like if we had a QB that was just a little more gun-slinger. So, in comes Kaep. T’was hard not to slobber over a performance like that, but it is only one game I tell myself. ( I talk to myself a lot apparently.)
    The advantages of Kaep starting in NO, as I see them:
    -Further evaluation of Kaep’s talent
    -Lets Smith have more time to recover from a head injury
    Worse case scenario is that he stinks up the place and we know he needs more time as a backup. Harbaugh will do the typical coach thing and say (lie) that they kept AS out as a precaution.
    I don’t believe any of tht nonsense that it ruins team chemistry. The NFL isn’t about hurt feelings. You earn your spot when you get the opportunity however it comes, due to injury or otherwise. If Kaep starts lighting it up, he deserves to be the starter. If not, we have the Methusulah Alex Smith.
    Either way, if Kaep starts, the arguement will be over Sunday. Go Niners!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.