Colin Kaepernick did his part Monday night to create a healthy quarterback debate. And coach Jim Harbaugh added a little fuel to the discussion when he refused to say those words he had said so many times when there was even a sliver of doubt.But Harbaugh did not say, "Alex is our guy." And that is important to note.So now there's an honest-to-goodness quarterback decision that faces Harbaugh and his coaching staff. There was no debate until Monday night. But Kaepernick's exceptional play forced the issue.And, right now, there can be no quarterback controversy until there are two healthy quarterbacks. Alex Smith must first be medically cleared to play before there's any true debate within the 49ers' coaching ranks.Smith was cleared to practice last week. And he went through multiple normal days of practices until, apparently, some concussion symptoms presented themselves over the weekend.Kaepernick did not get the full week of practice, as would be expected for any starting quarterback. But he made it a moot point. Kaepernick was outstanding in the 49ers' 32-7 victory over the Chicago Bears.Here are the three options Harbaugh must consider:This week, Kaepernick starts: This is the equivalent of deferring the real decision until a later date.In order to give the 49ers' starting quarterback all the reps during a week of practice to face a surging Saints team, Harbaugh could declare that Kaepernick will start Sunday against the Saints. This decision would be made because of the uncertainty of Smith's condition."It looks like he will be (cleared) before the week is out," Harbaugh said Wednesday morning on KNBR's Murph and Mac Show. "But not as of now. I'm sure he will be."Harbaugh could take the stance that he does not want to get stuck in a situation similar to last week. It would prevent the possibility of Smith taking the majority of the practice time and then not being well enough to play. If Smith experiences any symptoms after the flight to New Orleans, he would not receive final clearance to play against the Saints.If the 49ers declare Kaepernick as the starter for this game only, it would give the team another sample from which to base their ultimate decision of which quarterback starts Dec. 2 at St. Louis . . . and for the remainder of the season.Long term, Smith starts: With Harbaugh's statement that he usually goes with the "hot hand," it's easy to forget just how hot Smith was before he exited the 49ers lineup Nov. 11 with a concussion.In his past two games, Smith completed 25 of 27 passes for 304 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 153.2. He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his Oct. 29 performance against the Arizona Cardinals.The 49ers are 20-6 since the beginning of 2011 in games in which Smith started (not including the tie against the St. Louis Rams).Smith won the job convincingly in the offseason. And he is having far-and-away the best season statistically of his career. Smith's passer rating of 104.1 ranks third in the league behind Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. He leads the NFL with a 70.0 completion percentage.Long term, Kaepernick starts: He made throws Monday night that Smith would not even attempt. Not only did Kaepernick throw those passes, he delivered them on the money -- repeatedly. The offense did not stall early. It looked explosive and impressive.Kaepernick pushed the ball down the field. He got tight end Vernon Davis involved from the beginning of the game. And he made a fourth-quarter throw to Davis between two defenders that Davis said looked like something he would see from Tom Brady.Kaepernick also seemed to have a very good handle on all of his responsibilities at the line of scrimmage. Harbaugh said after the game he could think of only one pre-snap misread. Kaepernick seemed to regularly get the 49ers into plays -- run and pass -- that were successful against what he saw from the Bears' defense.The 49ers' practices have been closed to the media since midway through the exhibition season. Up to that point, Kaepernick did not demonstrate the kind of accuracy one would expect from a starter.But, clearly, Kaepernick has gained a better understanding of the offensive system. It looked as if the game was coming easy to him Monday night. If he's more comfortable, it is going to be reflected in the accuracy of his throws.If Kaepernick has been practicing like he played Monday night, then this could be the long-term call for the 49ers' coaching staff.
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.
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.