How competitive is Jim Harbaugh?
On a scale of one to 10, give him a 10-plus.
“Jim’s what I call over-competitive, but I say that tongue-in-cheek,” former 49ers quarterback Steve Young told the New York Daily News in January. “I’ve said many times that he’ll race you to the car door and you love that personality. There’s just a relentlessness to him.”
It’s that competitiveness that may keep the 49ers near the top of the NFL for many seasons to come. Though Harbaugh in his first two seasons as head coach in San Francisco has had remarkable success, taking the team to the NFC Championship Game his first season and the Super Bowl in Year 2, he says he’s actually more driven to succeed now than he was when he left Stanford for his first NFL head-coaching gig.
In a story for ESPN.com this week, Ashley Fox says Harbaugh’s zeal has been fueled by the close loss to the Ravens in the Super Bowl in February.
He told Fox that he has a desire to win – and a work ethic to match – that has only been sharpened by the Super Bowl experience and by what he and the 49ers have been able to accomplish.
“You know, you have it or you don’t have it,” Harbaugh said. “It’s good to assess at the beginning of every season, check to make sure you’ve still got that, and honestly, personally, I feel like I’ve got it more than when I first started this job two years ago. …
“I feel more enthusiastic about it. I feel more energized, competitive. I feel more. I don’t know why. I just do.”
As Fox notes in her story on Harbaugh, the Niners' coach is focused on this offseason and the chance to improve a team that already ranks as a favorite in the NFC going into 2013. With a dynamic young quarterback, great offensive line, solid defense, more draft picks than any other team in the league and a general manager in Trent Baalke who’s helped stock the roster, Harbaugh says he feels he’s in an environment where everyone around him also wants to be the best … which just feeds his desire to work harder.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but the people I’m around with every day throughout the organization, they’ve got the same expectations,” he told Fox. “They’ve got the same talents. They want to be the best.”
Recently, Jason Smith of NFL.com wrote that it may not be possible for the 49ers to maintain the quality of their first two seasons under Harbaugh.
“I can’t see San Francisco maintaining that mental edge that’s needed over the course of the offseason, 16 more games and the playoffs to make it out of the NFC again,” he wrote. “The Niners will keep playing the Super Bowl in their heads over and over, thinking, ‘When we get back this year, we’re going to win it.’ Teams who do that look at their record in December and see 7-7.”
Perhaps Smith is right. It’s hard for any team to keep its edge season after season. But it’s happened in the past, with Bill Walsh and Jimmy Johnson and Chuck Noll and Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. Who’s to say Harbaugh can’t do the same thing?
As David Fucillo of SBNation.com wrote this week, “I can see how there might be a certain amount of mental exhaustion after two seasons of getting so close, but at the same time, Jim Harbaugh is unlike a lot of coaches out there. Coaches are driven individuals, but how many take it to the level of Harbaugh? I don’t know how long he’ll last in the NFL at his pace, but for now he is the right guy to get the team back and gunning this fall.”