When Jim Harbaugh was hired as head coach at Stanford in 2006, he told the assembled media at his press conference, “I vow I will attack this endeavor with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
Over the top? Of course. But it also was accurate. And, after leading Stanford to prominence, Harbaugh has played a huge role in doing the same thing with the San Francisco 49ers.
Since moving to the Niners, Harbaugh has led the team to back-to-back NFC West titles, the NFC Championship Game in Year 1 and the Super Bowl in Year 2.
And, say NFL observers, the 49ers are not a comet that will soon flame out.
This week, a panel of NFL analysts at ESPN.com put together its annual “NFL Future Power Rankings” that evaluate how a franchise should fare over its next three seasons. Last season, the 49ers ranked No. 4. Now, the 49ers are No. 1.
Teams are evaluated in five areas: overall roster strength (minus the quarterback), with an emphasis on players who are 27 or younger; the quarterback; the strength of the 2013 draft and its available future picks; the front office; and the coaching staff. The Niners are the only team in the NFL to be ranked in the top three in all five categories by ESPN.com’s panel that consists of former NFL coach Herm Edwards, draft expert Mel Kiper, NFC West blogger Mike Sando, Matt Williamson of Scouts, Inc., NFL Insider correspondent Field Yates, former NFL scout and college coach Gary Horton of Scouts, Inc. and former NFL GM Bill Polian.
The only problem (for the 49ers) is that the NFC West as a whole is considered a division on the rise, and it will be tough for the Niners to continue to win championships. The Seahawks are ranked No. 3 and the Rams are No. 8. The Arizona Cardinals are ranked No. 26.
In the ESPN analysis, the 49ers’ roster is considered deep, young and talented. At quarterback, San Francisco has a true franchise player in Colin Kaepernick, who, it was noted, “was arguably the best player on the field in five of his 10 regular-season and postseason career starts.”
General manager Trent Baalke also was rated excellent for his 2013 draft class and his ability to stockpile more selections for 2014. Baalke and Harbaugh also were rated an excellent leadership team.
In addition, Harbaugh’s ability to keep an excellent coaching staff together spells good things for long-term stability. On Wednesday, in fact, the 49ers signed offensive coordinator Greg Roman to a two-year extension while also signing star defensive Justin Smith to an extension.
“This team doesn’t beat itself and the lack of turnover both among coaching staff and personnel shows the commitment and focus this team has,” wrote Edwards. “The 49ers will be a powerhouse for years to come.”