The 3-1 st
art was cute. But after the 48-3 unloading of Tampa Bay on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers are beginning to look deadly serious. And it's all due to Jim Harbaugh.
Coach Harbaugh inherited a team went 6-10 last season, and finished 24th in offense, and 16th in defense. The idea for many was, and perhaps it was too speculative, that the Niners would have another down season, and Harbaugh would look to rebuild around a young quarterback, ideally his own recruit Andrew
Clearly, Harbaugh had different intentions.
With what is essentially the same roster as last season's team, the 49ers have jumped out to their best start in nine years. That team in 2002 was led by Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens, and coached by Steve Mariucci. When you hear that, nine years begins to sound a bit longer than it actually is.
Much has changed in those nine years. The Niners have used five different quarterbacks in that span, though Alex Smith has been the mainstay most of those years. They've also gone through five different head coaches. Mariucci, Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, and now Harbaugh.
None, until Harbaugh, have been able to unleash this team's potential. And it's no surprise that he is the man to do it.
Harbaugh began his head coaching career at the University of San Diego in 2004. The little known Toreros of the Pioneer league went 7-5 under Harbaugh that season, and improved to 11-1 the next season.
In 2006, Harbaugh recruit Josh Johnson threw 34 touchdowns, and ran for 11 more en route to the teams first top 25 appearance, and an 11-1 record once more. Johnson would go on to be drafted by the Buccaneers, becoming the first Torero ever drafted into the NFL.
Harbaugh's success continued after accepting the head coaching job at Stanford. He recruited Andrew Luck, who many have called the best college prospect since John Elway, also from Stanford.
His last season at Stanford, the Cardinal went 11-1, losing only to BCS runner-up Oregon. They earned an invitation to the Orange Bowl, where they crushed Virginia Tech 41-12.
Now the coach's expertise, particularly with quarterbacks, are on display in a city spoiled by the legends of Montana and Young. Though the name Alex Smith is not likely to be mentioned positively in any breath with either of those two, Harbaugh's 49ers are 7th in the league in total offense, with virtually the same personnel.
Smith is completing nearly 66% of his passes, and has thrown just one interception to seven touchdowns.
Defensively, they are even better. Through the first five games, San Francisco has given up only 15.6 points per game, second best clip in the league. They have a +10 turnover ratio, also good second in the league.
"We're not putting any limitations on ourselves," Harbaugh said after his victory on Sunday.
By now, he must have his players believing that as well. After all, everything Harbaugh touches turns to gold.
That may soon include Super Bowl hardware.