Har-Bowl -- the Insiders' story


Har-Bowl -- the Insiders' story

With the Ravens and 49ers playing Thanksgiving night in the much-ballyhooed meeting of the Brothers Harbaugh, CSNBaltimore.com's John Eisenberg and CSNBayArea's Matt Maiocco exchanged their thoughts on the opposing coaches:

I must admit, Ive been around Jim Harbaugh daily since the last week of July, and I cant quite figure him out.

Hes a very emotional coach. In a very short period of time, he has built a tight-knit outfit with the 49ers. He loves his players. And he is wildly popular inside the locker room because of the passion he demonstrates every day.

Yet, Jim Harbaugh claims to have no emotions about facing the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving.

He recognizes that its the first time two brothers have ever faced each other as NFL head coaches. But the historical footnote that, he says, is the most relevant to him is that it is unprecedented for a West Coast team to play on Thanksgiving on the East Coast.

There's no question we drew the short end of the straw on this one, Jim Harbaugh said.


I don't know if John is quite as popular in the Ravens locker room. He has been around longer, been through some ups and downs on a variety of issues, including the coaching. Jim and his players have only experienced success. They should enjoy the ride. Things are never as easy over the long haul.

Don't misunderstand, the Ravens have a ton of respect for John. He has brought a level of consistent success to the franchise that it never had before. And he has done it with an intense style that players like. The 49ers can relate, I am sure. John breathes fire on game days. He is still pretty wild-eyed in some of his postgame press conferences.

He also preaches a family environment. There is a side of him that gets that entirely. But another side preaches tough love. After David Reed fumbled two kickoffs and basically blew a game in Seattle, John didn't cut him, just deactivated him last Sunday. Sent the tough message but also had his back.

His response to the time-zone issue was typical. Asked about it Monday, John said Jim and the 49ers are 4-0 on the East Coast, so get over it. It does appear to me to be a tough draw on a short week, but John is not buying.

The one thing about Jim Harbaugh that hasnt taken long to figure out is that the guy can flat-out coach.

He turned around college programs at the University of San Diego and Stanford. And what he has done with the 49ers without the benefit of an entire off-season to implement his plan has been nothing short of amazing. He could take a vacation for the next six weeks and still be the NFL Coach of the Year.

Harbaugh brought most of his Stanford staff with him to the 49ers, including defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. He got to know Fangio when the veteran coach was on Johns staff with the Ravens. Jim tried for several years to add Fangio as his top defensive assistant at Stanford before finally succeeding before the 2010 season. He did it, of course, with Johns blessing.

Offensively, the 49ers feature a power running game and a passing game that has maximized the production of quarterback Alex Smith. After six seasons of having a defensive-minded head coach, Smith is having far and away the best season of his career under Jim Harbaughs tutelage. That is no coincidence.

The Ravens agree about the 49ers being well-coached. Chris Carr, one of their more analytical players, said this week that the San Francisco offense was the best the Ravens had seen all year.

"Everything they do is so solid," Carr said, and when asked to identify the key to it all, he added: "It looks like really good coaching, a great scheme."

If and when Jim is named NFL Coach of the Year, that will give him a leg up on his brother in that battle. John has never won the award. But John has set a pretty high standard in terms of consistent success. He has a 39-18 regular-season record and has gone 4-3 in the playoffs, all on the road. The Ravens are the only team in the league to have reached the postseason in each of the past three seasons, and it's looking like they'll make it four in a row in 2011.

The brothers are a lot more alike than different, that's for sure. No surprise, I suppose, but listening to Jim's conference-call interview on Monday was just like listening to John's. Neither likes comparison questions. Neither likes questions about injuries. They exude confidence and competitiveness. They're both successful, and they hate to lose.

The loser of Thursday night's game will be in no mood to wax on about what a great occasion it was.

Jim Harbaugh certainly wants no part of the warm and fuzzy storyline. He had this to say about John: This week, my brother is just somebody we're trying to beat.

He downplayed it to the media. And he hasnt even mentioned it to his team.

What Jim Harbaugh continues to stress is that every game is the most important game because its the next one on the schedule. One of the 49ers mantras this season has been to use every practice and every game to get better. The 49ers can clinch a spot in the playoffs this week with a victory and a Seattle loss.

It might not happen this week, but soon enough the 49ers will wrap up the NFC West. That will guarantee at least one Harbaugh will be coaching a team in the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.

I don't think the players are really into the Harbaugh Bowl thing at all.

Terrell Suggs was asked about it and said: "It's going to be fun to be part of a sibling rivalry." But Suggs gets the media, and it felt like he was just saying what he thought he should say. When Joe Flacco was asked if the players wanted to win the game for their coach, he said: "We want to win it because we want to win the game. Obviously, it's a little extra for him, but for a team, it's an important win for us right now, just as important as any win. That's how we're looking at it."

Not exactly a "win one for the Gipper" speech.

John is not mentioning it to his players, either, and he has been careful from the outset to try to lateral the focus to them, not that he can pull that off when the league and media are playing up the family story for obvious reasons.

But, honestly, despite what they say, in the end I think both brothers will find it weird to be standing across the field from each other. It will be more emotional than they expect.

Colts fire GM Ryan Grigson after five seasons

Colts fire GM Ryan Grigson after five seasons

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan Grigson spent tens of millions in free agency, trying to turn the Indianapolis Colts into a Super Bowl contender.

When most of those big investments went belly up, the first-time general manager paid the price.

On Saturday, Colts owner Jim Irsay fired Grigson after five up-and-down years that ended with Indy missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

"It was a tough decision, well thought out and in the end the right decision for the Colts," Irsay said.

Initially, Grigson looked like a genius.

He hit it big on his first four draft picks - quarterback Andrew Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and receiver T.Y. Hilton - and used a series of shrewd, cost-effective moves to deliver one of the greatest turnarounds in league history.

But when Grigson's costly misfires like first-round bust Bjoern Werner in 2013, trading a first-round pick for Trent Richardson in 2014 or loading up on a group of aging, high-priced free agents to make a Super Bowl run in 2015 and an anxious fan base, Irsay had no choice.

The timing, almost three weeks after the season ended, was strange - and comes after many thought the delay meant Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano were both safe.

Each agreed to contracts last January that was supposed to keep them together through the 2019 season.

Thirteen months later, Grigson is gone and Pagano's fate may rest in the hands of a new GM.

Grigson, by trade, was a gambler who refused to play it safe.

"I think the guys that sit on their hands, they've got to live with themselves and look in the mirror and realize they didn't take any chances," he once said. "They've got to look at themselves and say, 'Did I even deserve this opportunity?' If you just sit on your hands and say, 'I'm going to play it safe all the time,' you might be middle of the pack. But if you don't take a swing, you're never going to hit it out of the park."

Irsay appreciated Grigson's unconventional style and penchant for taking chances.

What he didn't like was the underwhelming payout.

In five seasons, Grigson made 15 trades for players and only one, Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis, played in Indy's season finale. Grigson also drafted 38 players - 18 of whom finished the season with the Colts. Eleven were out of the NFL.

Then there was free agency, where Grigson signed dozens of expensive players. Only 11 were still on Indy's roster when the season ended, 18 others were out of the NFL.

With an estimated $60 million to spend in free agency this year and a chance to get the Colts righted for the prime years of Luck's career, Irsay couldn't afford to roll the dice again with Grigson so he made the change.

The 44-year-old Purdue graduate's blunt personality didn't always mesh with coach Chuck Pagano. Irsay even acknowledged last summer that the two men needed to resolve their differences before he gave them the extensions.

Players didn't always get along with him, either.

"Thank God. 'Unwarranted Arrogance' just ran into a brick wall called karma," Pro Bowl punter Pat McAfee posted on Twitter after word first leaked.

Grigson also drew the wrath of Patriots' fans by tipping off NFL officials that Tom Brady was using improperly inflated footballs during the 2015 AFC championship game. The Deflategate controversy eventually led to a four-game suspension for Brady as well as a fine and the loss draft picks for the Patriots.

And despite Irsay's repeated pleas to better protect Luck, Grigson, a former offensive lineman, never quite figured it out.

Luck missed 10 games because of injuries over the past two seasons and was sacked 41 times last season. The first real glimmer of hope appeared in December when the Colts held Minnesota and Oakland without a sack in back-to back games - the only times all season they didn't allow a sack.

When Grigson arrived, the Colts were coming off a 2-14 season and were about to release Peyton Manning and several other aging veterans in a salary cap purge.

So Grigson cleaned house.

He fired Jim Caldwell, hired Pagano and revamped the roster with low-budget free agents to work with the cornerstone of the future, Luck.

It worked. The man once dubbed by a previous boss as a "great" expansion team general manager, turned the Colts into a surprising 11-5 playoff-bound team.

Indy finished 11-5 each of the next two seasons, too, and advanced one step deeper in the playoffs each season.

The steady progression turned the Colts into a trendy Super Bowl pick in 2015, a trek that was derailed by a litany of injuries that forced the Colts to use five different quarterbacks just to finish 8-8.

Waiting for Shanahan could be a good thing for 49ers

Waiting for Shanahan could be a good thing for 49ers

The 49ers were willing to be patient in securing their next head coach.

Depending on the outcome of the Atlanta Falcons’ game Sunday against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game, they could be required to wait another two weeks.

The other five organizations with vacancies after the regular season have filled their head-coach positions with four assistants from teams that did not qualify for the playoffs and former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, whom the Denver Broncos hired after his team was bounced in the AFC wild-card round.

Early in the 49ers’ search to replace Chip Kelly, the top targets appeared to be Josh McDaniels and Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinators for two of the top-three scoring teams in the NFL.

The coach-general manager team of McDaniels and New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio was the runaway favorite to be the package deal, according to sources close to the 49ers’ coaching search.

But when Caserio chose to remain as Bill Belichick’s top personnel lieutenant – just has he has in the past when other opportunities presented themselves – the job became less attractive to McDaniels, according to those sources. McDaniels announced on Monday he would remain with the Patriots for at least another year.

With McDaniels out of the picture, Shanahan became the clear favorite over Seattle assistant Tom Cable. And once Cable publicly stepped aside due to suspicions he was only being used to secure a commitment from Shanahan, only one candidate remained for the job.

Since the middle of this week, Shanahan has been the presumptive coach of the 49ers. Falcons coach Dan Quinn was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator two years ago when he was officially hired just hours after the Super Bowl. He knows he drill. And this week he announced to the Falcons staff that Shanahan would be the next coach of the 49ers, according to the NFL Network.

Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game, the 49ers will be allowed to interview Shanahan next week – most likely, Tuesday in Atlanta. Shanahan will be involved in the process to hire the next general manager. Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton appears to be the favorite. The 49ers expect the general manager position to be filled early in the week.

If the Falcons lose, the 49ers would be able to hire Shanahan on their own time frame. It would not be expected to take long.

But if the Falcons win, the 49ers would have to wait until after Feb. 5, when the Super Bowl will be played in Houston, to hire Shanahan.

There is an advantage to being forced to wait. In the long term, the 49ers could benefit from their next head coach gaining the experience of a Super Bowl week and calling a game on the biggest stage in all of sports.