Jim Harbaugh's unguarded moment

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Jim Harbaugh's unguarded moment

Three days later, it's an image I still can't get out of my mind.Jim Harbaugh, for the first time since becoming 49ers coach a year earlier, unexpectedly revealed a part of himself he had gone to great lengths to hide.He tried as best he could to obscure the pain of the 49ers' gut-wrenching overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game a day earlier.
But at the end of his 22-minute press conference on Monday, his eyes reddened and watered. He wiped his right eye, and then he abruptly exited the podium.

The snapshot in my mind that I'll remember about the end of the 49ers' season won't be Kyle Williams in the locker room accepting words of encouragement from teammates, coaches and others.
RELATED: Kyle Williams -- the day after
It won't be Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes and his teammates celebrating on the field while a stunned Candlestick Park crowd fell silent.My lasting memory will be Harbaugh's brief emotional moment a day later that went unnoticed by many at his season-ending press conference.From my from seat, less than 10 feet from where Harbaugh stood, it was obvious that a simple question prompted Harbaugh to lapse into unspoken introspection.How did you spend your time after the game? What did you do last night?Harbaugh paused. And then he tried his best to deflect the question and change the subject as his eyes told that the true answer would reveal more than he was willing to share."Is it just California that everybody just wants to know how you feel? Care about what you thought, what you did, how you felt, how your pinky feels," Harbaugh said, trying to turn light-hearted. "Is that just a California thing? Back where I come from, nobody really cares. In my opinion, it is a California thing."Actually, it's a human thing.People are emotionally attached to their team. Part of the media's job is to bring the people on the TV sets to life for the general public. People want to root for individuals with whom they can relate.Harbaugh does not want to "peel back the onion," as he likes to say, for fear that he'll show weakness. He often speaks of the "mighty men" in the 49ers' locker room. Perhaps Harbaugh believes the leader of these mighty men must be the mightiest of them all."This team's not defeated by any stretch of the imagination," Harbaugh said just minutes after the 49ers' season-ending loss. "A man can be destroyed, but he can't be defeated as long as this team knows that there's hope."Harbaugh borrowed the thought from Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Harbaugh is a football coach, but there's a lot more there, too. A week earlier, he spoke of Candlestick Park as a fortress, a clear reference to the work of Homer, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey.When speaking about the advantages of practicing in the same weather that the 49ers might play in Sunday at Candlestick Park, Harbaugh said, "Admiral Bull Halsey once said, 'If you're going to fight in the North Atlantic, then you've got to prepare in the North Atlantic.'"(It's difficult to pin down exactly whom first used that quote, but it has been attributed to Admiral Chester Nimitz.)As the season wore on, Harbaugh became more relaxed around the handful of media members who were around his team every day, though you might not have seen any evidence of it when he was standing in front of the group answering questions.Harbaugh began making regular stops inside the locker room to make small talk with reporters during the second half of the season. There was another time early in the season when Harbaugh broke out of coach mode around the media. It was the day the 49ers were leaving Youngstown, Ohio, en route to Philadelphia for their Week 4 game. Three reporters who cover the team shared with Harbaugh their plan to spend that Friday in Gettysburg.Harbaugh seemed genuinely excited to share his thoughts, in great detail, when asked if he had any advice on what to see and what to do. Harbaugh and his family visited the Civil War battlefield several months earlier. A few days later, he followed up with questions of his own about the reporters' visit.We've seen a lot of emotion from Harbaugh this season. He gets excited on the sideline. He gets upset. He can be defiant, stubborn. He's fiercely loyal to his players. And it's difficult to find anything he did wrong during his first year as 49ers head coach.After all, he took over a poorly coached 6-10 team, assembled a strong staff, put a plan into place during the lockout, managed to get the players to completely buy into his program, and he changed the culture inside the 49ers building.The 49ers were a couple mistakes away from playing in the Super Bowl. As a player, he experienced it. As quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, he got tantalizingly close to the Super Bowl, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-16, in the AFC Championship Game in January of 1996. Harbaugh, as well as anyone, knows how difficult it is to get this far.It was an emotional loss for players and for fans of the team, to be sure.After the game, Harbaugh tried to hide his own emotions. He made his rounds inside the locker room to inform all the players of a final team meeting set for 1 p.m. the next day. He tried to handle it with a business-as-usual approach.But that evening, Harbaugh spent time with his family. A day later, his eyes told a story about the pain of the defeat. It's a story he did not want to share with the public.Still, there was something there. He showed the human side -- if for just a brief moment. And it made me feel something about Jim Harbaugh that I had not felt since I began covering him.Maybe it is just a California thing.

49ers trade up, select QB C.J. Beathard in third round of 2017 NFL Draft

49ers trade up, select QB C.J. Beathard in third round of 2017 NFL Draft

C.J. BEATHARD
Position: Quarterback
College: Iowa
Height: 6-2
Weight: 219
Selection: Third round, No. 104 overall

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers traded back into the end of the third round to select a quarterback to join Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley on the 49ers' roster.

General manager John Lynch's fourth trade of the draft netted the team the grandson of legendary NFL personnel man Bobby Beathard. His grandson, C.J., joins the 49ers after a four-year career at Iowa. Beathard completed 58.6 percent of his passes last season with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Beathard was not generally expected to be chosen within the first two days of the draft. He was the sixth quarterback selected, falling behind Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Deshone Kizer and Davis Webb.

"They won't regret it," Beathard said on a conference call with the Bay Area media.

The 49ers traded up with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings had the No. 104 pick, and called the 49ers to see if they were interested in a trade. After some consideration, the 49ers decided to move up from No. 109 while also giving the Vikings a seventh-round pick at No. 219.

"Might he have been there at 109? That’s what we had to weigh," 49ers John Lynch said. "But at the end of the day, we felt like it was worth it to be able to go to bed knowing that we had a player that we liked and want the opportunity develop at the quarterback position."

And that's what coach Kyle Shanahan plans on doing. He said Beathard is not coming to the team this season to compete with Hoyer for the starting job.

"We’re bringing him in here to develop him and give him a chance, but just like any other position, everyone competes," Shanahan said. "Brian is our starting quarterback and, right now, Matt Barkley is our second. And I look at him to come in and be our third with us only having three on the roster.

"By no means did we come into this draft thinking we’re going to get a guy to compete with Brian."

Shanahan said Beathard and Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman were the two quarterbacks in the draft who ran offenses in college most similar to the offense he will install with the 49ers.

"One thing that helps is being able to see guys play the way you’re going to ask them to play," Shanahan said. "It helps being at Iowa and watching the system he’s in. It’s easier to see to watch him over the years. He’s a three-year starter. He’s led his team to a bunch of wins, especially in 2015 when they had a better team and he played unbelievable."

As a junior at Iowa, Beathard completed 61.6 percent of his pass attempts for 2,809 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. 

"He’s a leader. He’s tough. He processes very well," Shanahan said. "He's extremely accurate and he lives and dies football."

49ers select CB Ahkello Witherspoon in third round of the 2017 NFL Draft

49ers select CB Ahkello Witherspoon in third round of the 2017 NFL Draft

AHKELLO WITHERSPOON
Position: Cornerback
College: Colorado
Height: 6-2 3/4
Weight: 193
Selection: Third round, No. 66 overall

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers selected Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, a Sacramento native, in the third round of the NFL draft with the No. 66 overall pick.

“Being close to home is an incredible opportunity, as well as the type of defense they play -- press man, up in your face,” Witherspoon said. “When I came in for a visit, they were asking me if I’ve adopted that role and if I’d be willing to continue that. And I said, ‘Absolutely.’

“It’s an opportunity to play for such a great organization, close to home, with such a savvy defensive mentality. I think it’s going to be a great place for me.”

The 49ers were also scheduled to have the next pick, but traded the selection at No. 67 for the New Orleans Saints’ second-round pick in next year’s draft, as well as a seventh-round selection (No. 229 overall) this year. The 49ers now have 10 picks in next year’s draft.

The Saints used that pick at No. 67 to select Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara.

Witherspoon began his college career at Sacramento City. He played his final three college seasons at Colorado. He started 12 games last season and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors.

Witherspoon led the nation with 22 pass breakups. He recorded one interception -- a game-saving pick in the end zone to preserve a 41-38 victory over Oregon. A pre-med student majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, he said he aspires to be a doctor after his football career.

But Witherspoon said he is committed to football and promised the 49ers during his visit to Santa Clara that he will make huge strides over the next few years as he continues to develop as a player.