Harbaugh Likes Gore a Lot, Door Remains Open for Smith

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 07: Jim Harbaugh speaks at a press conference where he was introduced as the new San Francisco 49ers head coach at the Palace Hotel on January 7, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

    The 49ers new head coach sat down for a conversation with fans Tuesday night and revealed more about his offensive approach.

    Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and General Manager Trent Baalke held a phone conversation with fans Tuesday night to answer their questions. Reporters were allowed to listen but they were not allowed to open their mouths.

    Perhaps the biggest revelation out of Tuesday's call was that even though Harbaugh plans to install a version of the West Coast offense, the wheels that make that offense go may not look too different than last year.

    Fans have gotten used to seeing less than stellar play at the quarterback position and they have often taken that frustration out on former No. 1 pick Alex Smith.

    On the other hands, few fans will criticize the production and effort from running back Frank Gore but many would love to see the workhorse take a break for a little change of pace.

    But Jim Harbaugh was quick to praise both Gore and Smith Tuesday.

    "Frank Gore, having studied our team, our personnel and other backs across the league, I really think Frank Gore is one of the best running backs in the National Football League, the most complete back," he said.

    But before fans worry that Harbaugh is drinking whatever Mike Singletary was sipping, the former Stanford coach said he would like to incorporate back up Anthony Dixon into the offensive game plan.

    Harbaugh said he wants to keep Gore on the field as much as possible because he is one of the best backs in the league but he also understands he has to give his star a rest.

    Perhaps more disturbing for fans was Harbaugh's continued praise of Smith. Harbaugh stoked the flames of fans by announcing on a radio show that he thought Smith could be a winning quarterback in this league -- a move that prompted some fans to call KNBR and threaten to commit hari kari.

    Then Harbaugh when further and revealed to Matt Maiocco that he was having regular meetings with the former Utah product.

    Tuesday Harbaugh again left the door open for Smith to return to San Francisco, a move that may make sense if the league has a shortened off season because of a player lockout.

    “Yes, Alex Smith is definitely in (the picture),” Harbaugh said when asked Tuesday night if the free agent quarterback could return next season.

    General Manager Trent Baalke was also on the call. Earlier this off season he said he didn't believe the quarterback of the future was on the current roster but Tuesday he spent more time explaining why he couldn't comment on a trade for Kevin Kolb than if he would welcome Smith back.