Fly on the wall: Harbaugh learned from prep coach


Fly on the wall: Harbaugh learned from prep coach

Pete Lavorato was watching the 49ers on Thanksgiving night when he saw something familiar flash across his TV screen.Receiver Ted Ginn, in motion from the right side of the 49ers' offensive formation, received the handoff from quarterback Alex Smith at near full speed. Ginn got a block from fullback Moran Norris to get to the outside. On a night when it was difficult for the 49ers to move the ball against the Baltimore Ravens, the play gained 9 yards.NFL Network play-by-play man Brad Nessler referred to it as an "end around." Analyst Mike Mayock, more precisely, described it as a "jet sweep." The 49ers know it as the "fly sweep" -- a new addition to the ever-expanding playbook.The 49ers ran the same play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams and it netted 16 yards. On Monday, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh gave full credit to Lavorato, who has used the Fly offense for each of his nine seasons as Sacred Heart Prep's head coach."Thanks to Pete Lavorato over at Sacred Heart Prep -- the 'fly sweep' master," Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference. "We had a great fly sweep clinic about two and a half years ago. He learned us up on the fly sweep and it's paying dividends for us."Lavorato, 59, does not consider himself the master of the offense, rather a conduit. The origins of the offense are most-often traced to late Delano High coach Gene Beck. Lavorato first saw the system as a Hollister assistant coach when his team played Norm Costa's squad at Palma High."We had to defend that," said Lavorato, a native of Canada who spent 10 seasons as a free safety with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL. "I remember saying, 'If I ever become a head coach, I want to run that offense.'"When Lavorato asked Costa for some tips, Costa generously sent him the entire Palma playbook. Lavorato also spent time studying the offense at North Monterey High, where Phil Maas and Roger Sugimoto installed it.Armed with a firm grasp of the Fly, Lavorato became a head coach in Canada and won a provincial high school championship before returning to Northern California to excel as coach at Sacred Heart.The nation's best-known Fly master is Mark Speckman, the longtime coach at Willamette University. Lavorato's teams have attended camps at Willamette to sharpen their execution of the timing- and speed-based offense.The basic idea behind the Fly, is that the ball carrier is able to build up momentum to outrun a defense that must pursue from a standing start. A typical running back is stationary at the snap of the ball.
"I could be faster than you," Lavorato said, "but if you get a running start, that gives you a big advantage in a race."The slot receiver is coached to go in motion at about 90-percent speed, Lavorato said. The ball is snapped around the time the eventual ballcarrier hits the guard-tackle gap. With a clean handoff, all the runner needs just one block to get to the edge and potentially gain big yards.If the defense starts to slide their linebackers to the outside to account for the speed of the player in motion, it becomes vulnerable in the middle of the field to a counter or power run, Lavorato said.. Also, play-action pass could be effective if the defense tries to compensate for the fly sweep.And those could be the next pieces of the puzzle that 49ers' opponents will have to guard against in the coming weeks.Lavorato does not do clinics -- other than the one session he held at Harbaugh's request. Lavorato and his assistant, former Stanford lineman Matt Moran, agreed to meet with Harbaugh a couple years ago. The Sacred Heart campus is four miles from Stanford."I'm sitting there, thinking I'm going to talk to Jim about the fly sweep," Lavorato said. "And he said, 'Are you ready, Pete?' Next thing I know, every coach on his staff comes in and they all take out notepads. Talk about being intimidated. Here's this little high school coach talking to the entire Stanford football coaching staff."During the lockout, Harbaugh watched video of almost every play of every game from the 2010 NFL season. He said most of the fly sweep concepts he saw were from "Wildcat" formations."Mostly it was used as an eye distraction to run," Harbaugh said. "The running back steps back, fakes the fly sweep and then runs power off tackle. I can't recall seeing it as a handoff."It's understandable that the Fly has not taken flight in the NFL because of the amount of time required to get the ballcarrier in sync with the center and quarterback. One minor breakdown could easily result in a turnover.
Said Lavorato, "If you're going to run that fly sweep offense, you have to put the time in. But when you think about it, when teams have to defend it, they have to be able to learn it in practice in two days to run it."Ironically, Lavorato has been victimized by variations of the offense on several occasions, he said. Five years ago, then-Salesian High speedster Jahvid Best took a handoff as the flyback and romped for a touchdown on the first play of a section playoff game. Best, of course, starred at Cal and is now with the Detroit Lions.But Lavorato has certainly swatted down more than his share of opposing defenses with the Fly. Sacred Heart won the Central Coast Section Division IV title last year, and lost in the semifinals this season."I'm not the fly sweep guru," Lavorato said. "I took something that I saw that was successful, and I learned about it. And that's one of the great things about Jim Harbaugh. I don't think he will ever get to the point where he'll think he knows it all. And that's why he'll be successful."

Harbaugh takes blame for 'premature celebration' during 2011 incident

Harbaugh takes blame for 'premature celebration' during 2011 incident

It was Jim Harbaugh's first season as head coach of the 49ers.

The 4-1 49ers were in Detroit and scored 10 points in the final 5:29 to beat the Lions 25-19.

An excited Harbaugh got a little too agressive during his postgame handshake with Lions coach Jim Schwartz. The two had words for each other and had to be separated.

Six years later, Harbaugh took the blame for what happened and said that he and Schwartz have patched things up.

"I went in too hard on that, too aggressive on the handshake. I've since changed that. Not doing that anymore. Can't blame him. I went in too hard. And you respect him for taking exception. We've talked, and we're good. We're back to friends. There is a protocol in a postgame handshake. I've been there as the winner. I've been there as loser. You just, 'Hey, nice game,' then go celebrate. Premature celebration there, in the wrong," Harbaugh said Tuesday on Barstool Sports' Pardon My Take podcast.

Harbaugh sounds like he's learned his lesson from that incident with Schwartz.

"The postgame handshake isn't the place for anything. If you're bitter, than change the I to an E. Don't get bitter, get better. Nothing's really changing at the postgame handshake. Just professionally shake hands and go on your way," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh moved on from the 49ers to coach the Michigan Wolverines. Schwartz coached the Lions through the 2013 season and currently serves as the defensive coordinator for the Eagles.


49ers head coach Shanahan: Lynch going in the right direction

49ers head coach Shanahan: Lynch going in the right direction

SANTA CLARA -- General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan sat down with 49ers pass-rusher Aaron Lynch shortly after assuming their new roles to give him an outline of what was expected.

Aaron Lynch entered the NFL in 2014 as a fifth-round draft pick despite having the talent worthy of a much-earlier selection. There were concerns about his commitment and character.

Lynch showed plenty of promise in his first two seasons. He tied for the club lead both seasons with six and 6.5 sacks, respectively. Last year, Lynch reported to the offseason program 30 pounds overweight. He was suspended four games for violating the league’s policy of substances of abuse. Then, he missed considerable time with an ankle injury. In seven games, Lynch recorded just 1.5 sacks.

John Lynch and Shanahan told Aaron Lynch his past transgressions would not be held against him, but he had to work hard and prove himself. As Lynch enters the final year of his original four-year contract, his spot on the 49ers' 53-man roster is anything but a certainty.

“Basically, everybody on this team, no matter what has happened before you came into the league or when you’ve been in the league, they’re not holding that against you and it’s a new clean slate,” Lynch said. “So I need to do everything I can to make sure I have a clean slate with them.”

Lynch is currently working with the second unit at the “Leo” position on the 49ers’ defensive line, behind Arik Armstead.

“’Leo’ is a lot of damn fun, so, yeah, I like it a lot,” Lynch said. “You get to set the edge and go get the quarterback.”

Lynch said he is in better physical condition than he was a year ago at this time. He said his target playing weight is in the 260-270 range. He said he is currently in the 280s.

“I came in heavy, but I’ve been working my (butt) off to get down to where my coach wants me to get down to, and where I feel I would be best to give everything I can for my team and do what I can for my team,” Lynch said.

While the 49ers did not witness any improvement in Lynch's commitment at the beginning of the offseason, things seem to be turning around. Shanahan said Lynch has missed only one day of the team's voluntary offseason program -- an excused absence to deal with a situation concerning his wife.

“There’s no doubt Aaron’s going in the right direction for us," Shanahan said. "He came in in the offseason, we challenged him hard with just the way we worked and stuff. He hasn’t shied away from any of it. He’s jumped in on all of our stuff.

"So he’s gotten better each day. He’s gotten more in shape each day and I’m seeing it on the field each day.”