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Jim Harbaugh’s Emotion is Exactly What the NFL Needs: A Fan’s Take
Jim Schwartz, chill out.
Jim Harbaugh, don't change a thing. The NFL needs more head coaches like you.
To set the stage, the undefeated Lions, off to their best start since 1956, hosted the 4-1 49ers who, under first-year NFL coach Harbaugh, are accomplishing something magical, leading the NFC West after not seeing the north side of .500 since 2002. What would traditionally be thought of as a hapless slap-fest between two nerds at recess was suddenly a hard-fought battle between two NFC division leaders in 2011.
Detroit jumped out to a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, San Francisco roared back with 12 unanswered points in the second frame. The two teams went back and forth throughout the second half until the Niners scored 10 points in 49 seconds after the two-minute warning and escaped the Motor City with a victory. As you hear in the video, San Fran is now 5-1 for the first time since 1998.
If you're a 49ers fan—or their head coach—that's pretty darned exciting.
As the final gun sounds, Harbaugh goes bananas, jumping up and down, yelling, and fist-pumping. He briefly considers ripping off his fleece in celebration until it occurs to him that he's not wearing a jersey and pads, and he starts to chest-bump his own offensive lineman, Alex Boone(notes), before remembering that Boone probably outweighs him by 100 pounds. About three hops, two whoops, and five yards later, he arrives at Schwartz, shakes his hand, pats him on the back, and lets out what looks like a "WHOO!" as he starts to jog to the locker room.
Then all heck breaks out.
Schwartz claims that he heard an obscenity after Harbaugh shook his hand. Having followed Harbaugh for years, I know he is an emotional guy who gets fired up when his team exceeds expectations, but I haven't seen him flagrantly inflame other coaches before. If Schwartz heard an expletive out of Harbaugh's mouth, it probably rhymed with the name of a common waterfowl and ended in "YEAH!" and was a continuation of the excitement he felt about his team, not anything directed toward Schwartz and the Lions.
Watch the post-game press conference composite video. You can still see jubilation just oozing out of every pore in Harbaugh's skin. Meanwhile, Schwartz grouses about hearing a curse word—never heard one of those before in the NFL, coach?—and cites "a protocol that goes with this league."
I can see Schwartz's perspective. He just suffered his first loss of the season, fell out of first place in the NFC North, blew a 10-point first-quarter lead, and choked in the final two minutes—in front of his home fans, no less—and the snot-nosed punk head coach from the other team doesn't humbly bow before him and walk silently with his head down to the locker room.
So naturally, Schwartz teaches Harbaugh about the proper protocol that goes with this league by… um… chasing him down and shoving him? Are we in third grade?
Harbaugh's antics were a result of exuberance about his team's improbable and heart-stopping win. Schwartz's antics were a result of a frustrated coach immaturely lashing out. There's a difference.
Harbaugh empowers his teams with emotion and attitude. Think like a winner, and you'll stop being a loser. It worked for him at the University of San Diego. It worked for him at Stanford. It's working with the 49ers. He takes teams that have been pushed around and infuses an entirely new aura that transforms them from pushovers into forces to be reckoned with.
"It fires me up a lot," Harbaugh said. "If that offends you or anybody else, then so be it."
This league full of stuff-shirts, the No Fun League, could use a lot more emotion and exuberance like Jim Harbaugh displayed in Detroit.
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