C.J. Spillman

Harbaugh’s comments in Wells Report show fundamental difference between 49ers and Dolphins

Jim Harbaugh Justin Smith Ray McDonald

Richie Incognito said the “the truth will set me free.” A lot of the truth came out via the Wells Report, which was released yesterday morning, and in this case “free” could mean Incognito’s status as a free agent becomes permanent. There’s a chance an NFL team will overlook his harassment of Jonathan Martin and female volunteers at team golf outings, as well as racist comments toward a team employee. But that team certainly won’t be the 49ers.

Matt Barrows went through the report and pulled the sections relating to Jim Harbaugh, who coached Martin at Stanford.

“(Harbaugh), told us that he had never doubted Martin’s tenacity, work ethic and dedication to the game, and that he had never seen Martin exhibit problems with social adjustment,” the independent report says. “Coach Harbaugh told us he believed that Martin likely could continue to have a successful career in the NFL. It appears that Martin was up to the challenge of dealing with physical or verbal intimidation by opposing players during NFL games, but fell victim, at least in part, to persistent taunting from his own teammates.”

The full report can be read here.

It says that while there was ribbing inside the Stanford locker room and that Martin dealt with bouts of mild depression, he felt comfortable there. Furthermore, Harbaugh told Wells that he didn’t think the 49ers’ locker room was all that different than Stanford’s.

“Although initially quiet, he became a vocal leader on the team by his final year,” the report reads. “Coach Harbaugh emphasized that he never doubted Martin’s physical or mental toughness, and he believes that Martin can continue to have a successful career in the NFL. Coach Harbaugh also said that the atmosphere in the Stanford locker room, in his view, was not materially different from that of the San Francisco 49ers’ locker room.”

Barrows goes on to suggest that the 49ers could be a potential landing spot for Martin. I have no idea whether or not that’ll turn out to be the case, but what’s clear is that something like what happened in Miami would never happen in either the 49ers’ current or soon-to-be-opened locker room (which I took photos of on Wednesday) in Santa Clara.

The last sentence Barrows quoted tells the story. Some NFL teams foster an environment where scuffles and harassment are encouraged to foster camaraderie. Alright, that’s complete hogwash. It’s all about making the players tougher.

Harbaugh is more rigid than Pete Carroll — who probably wouldn’t tolerate any of the garbage that was allowed to occur in Miami, either — and he’s by no means loved by every player he has coached (let alone opposing coaches/players, officials and certain members of the media). But as far as making his players tougher, Harbaugh is all about clean competition. In-house fighting is strictly prohibited, as we saw during training camp.

Michael Thomas and C.J. Spillman, two backup safeties fighting for reps (Thomas actually landed on the Miami Dolphins roster midseason), got into a fight between plays during an 11-on-11 drill. Everything happened so fast, yet because it occurred during a practice in the first two weeks of August, the media was present and got to see what transpired. Harbaugh was in the mix within less than a second, tumbling to the ground with both players in an attempt to break up the fight, which didn’t last very long.

I asked Harbaugh the next day about his thoughts on the fight in a big picture sense:

Q: There appeared to be a bit of a skirmish yesterday during practice. (Harbaugh nods) Do you feel like that can actually help a team bond or increase competition, or do you feel like that’s something that really has no place in practice or training camp?

Harbaugh: I think it’s something that has no place in practice or training camp.

Would Joe Philbin have handled the situation in the same way? Probably not, considering the environment in Miami we keep learning more about.

Harbaugh frequently mentions “the team, the team, the team,” and in certain ways Santa Clara is like a bunker. “Trusted agents” inside the facility are to be supported, and different personalities are respected and celebrated. In Miami there were different factions that battled each other in hopes of getting those who were supposedly weak to assimilate. Harbaugh believes it’s difficult enough to get an edge over one’s competition, and the mission is made even tougher when teammates waste energy fighting each other.

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