When Alex Smith suffered a concussion in November, Jim Harbaugh watched Colin Kaepernick shred the Chicago Bears – at that time the best defense in the league – on a remarkable Monday night. When Kaepernick won his second start against the New Orleans Saints, Harbaugh made the decision that the human tattoo parlor from Nevada, not the Utah game manager, would be his starting quarterback moving forward. It was not that Harbaugh did not believe Alex Smith was capable of winning games. Of course he is. But just winning games is not enough for teams and coaches with title aspirations.
And you saw Saturday night, against the Green Bay Packers, what that decision meant. San Francisco has one of the league’s top defenses and they STILL needed 32 points to beat the Packers. They did so with ease. They did so because Dom Capers had no answers for Kaepernick’s legs.
John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens have title aspirations. And with three games to go in the regular they also had an offensive coordinator who’d lost the locker room, a majority of the fan base and his favorite bar stool at Bertha’s in Fells Point. Harbaugh’s Ravens were in the pole position for a division title but that wasn’t enough. Cam Cameron was fired Monday morning, December 10th.
Since that firing? The Ravens embarrassed the defending Super Bowl champion Giants in Baltimore and won two playoff games on the strength of their offense and off the hot hand of their oft-maligned quarterback, Joe Flacco. With Cameron calling the plays they were a lifeless entity warbling towards the postseason. With Jim Caldwell assuming those duties the Ravens are on the precipice of reaching the Super Bowl.
Lovie Smith won games. He won twenty more than he lost as head coach of the Chicago Bears. But on the day after the end of the 2012 regular season Phil Emery embraced The Harbaugh Mentality. Winning games is not enough. Winning championships is all that matter. And winning championship in the modern NFL requires a potent, powerful offense.
This was not a popular choice nationally.
Neither was the decision to bench Alex Smith off an injury. Neither was the decision to fire Cam Cameron with three games to go. The difficult decision are often not the popular ones. But the unpopular decisions are often met with the greatest results.
The essence of Emery’s decision to remove Lovie was on display this weekend in San Francisco and Denver. To be great an organization must be willing to abandon being consistently good enough.