I’ve attended somewhere around a dozen Jim Harbaugh press conferences, but none quite like Friday’s. First, it was drizzling. No more of the beautiful Santa Clara weather we experienced throughout the Summer and early Fall. There were also more reporters present than usual inside the media tent, including more columnists than usual.
The subject matter was different, which everyone expected after Harbaugh missed part of Thursday’s practice for medical reasons. Harbaugh seemed pretty chipper and smiled more than he usually does when facing the media. Maybe he was trying to show the world that everything is okay, or he’s truly happy that the strange feelings in his chest weren’t indicative of something more serious.
When the 49ers made their statement that Harbaugh had “a minor procedure done at Stanford Hospital today for an irregular heartbeat,” I asked a doctor what that could mean.
“Probably a cardioversion for atrial fibrillation. Shock the heart back to regular rhythm,” he said. “Happens a lot to high stress job people.”
Sounds like that’s exactly what it was.
Why am I posting these videos a day after the press conference? That wasn’t the plan, but due to WiFi constraints or some other reason, YouTube took five hours to upload the first video. I broke up the videos into three parts and removed the Q&A portions where he talked about stuff not relating to his condition and absence.
I was a little surprised that Harbaugh fielded so many questions relating to his condition. I heard Kyle Bonagura with Damon Bruce on my drive home from Santa Clara, and he brought up the idea that Harbaugh may have been happy to talk about anything other than football and how the 49ers are preparing to face the Chicago Bears. Sounds feasible.
- Harbaugh said he had an ablation 13 years ago when he was playing for the Chargers which caused him to miss a practice or two.
- He was advised to eat better and cut down on caffeine.
- He won’t tone down the way he coaches or face a situation where he feels burned out.
- He said he’ll have to “pay a couple fines” for missing practice.
Full transcript follows the videos, including questions on the Bears and Alex Smith’s status (not much to report there).
It must be great to get back to work I would imagine?
“It is, yes. It is. Sorry I missed you yesterday and thanks for rescheduling for today. Definitely good to be back. Driving over here yesterday and you’re not here and the rest of the team’s out here practicing, that’s not a good feeling. It’s like, I’ve had that dream before many times where it’s like you’re supposed to be taking a test, or the team’s out there practicing and you’re not out there. So, just glad to be out here.”
Do you have any limits?
“No. No limits. Going about everything as normal. Yeah, had a little irregular heartbeat. I’ve had it before. And now they have a procedure, a cardiovert. It’s amazing. Gets the heart rate back to normal. So, it’s great that they have that technology to get that done. But, the atrial flutter is something that I’ve had for a while, probably pretty close to all my life.”
So you’ve had this procedure done before?
“About 13 years ago I had, when I was playing football, had an ablation to deal with the atrial flutter.”
What did you feel Wednesday night that made it different that made you want to go to the hospital? What did you experience?
“Well, you know off the experience. It’s just the heart rate’s not beating normally. You don’t know that unless you get it checked by a doctor. So, it just felt like it was beating faster than normal Wednesday, Wednesday evening.”
Was that your decision, or did you have to be convinced to go in?
“No. No, the doctor said you need to go in and you need to get this done, this procedure done. So, you’re not going to be stubborn like a mule and do what the doctors tell you.”
How important just for your life, the education of it and for you today getting the word out to the people that you can reach? About your condition and about other people might be having the same condition, is that important to you?
“Yeah, I suppose so. If you’re not feeling right you need to see a doctor. I don’t know that I can make a grand statement about it.”
You said no limits. Does this mean on the practice field and on game day we’re going to see the same Jim Harbaugh, or are you going to tone down and be a little less stressed?
“No, I don’t feel like that’ll happen.”
When you had the ablation 13 years ago, was that during the season and did it affect any of your activities in a different way?
“It didn’t much, no. I remember I was playing with the San Diego Chargers and it was during training camp. And I think I missed maybe a practice as well, maybe two. It was in August training camp.”
Were the symptoms different than the one you experienced now? Better, worse, milder?
“Then, I think they may have been a little worse then, yeah.”
Did you talk to the players and how did they take?
“They said I got to make it right. I’ve got a couple fines I’ve got to pay for not being here.”
Did being away affect your game planning for Chicago at all?
“Not too much. Missed yesterday basically and tried to catch up on that last night at home and today. Feel like we’ll be caught right up soon.”
The doctor didn’t tell you anything in terms of changing the way you do things in any way, shape, or form? The doctor didn’t say take a nap at a certain point in the day, or anything like that?
“No. No, nothing like that. There are some of the suggestions with diet. So, I’m listening.”
Can you take drugs to regulate the heartbeat from this point forward? Drugs in your, prescribed you drugs?
“Yeah, gave me some aspirin and a couple other ones.”
What about meditation?
“Didn’t talk about that. I’ll talk to [LS] Brian Jennings about that. Brian Jennings will be my go-to guy there [laughs].”
Are you coachable with this stuff?
“Sure, absolutely. Yeah.”
You said you came in here yesterday while practice was going on?
Did you go out to the practice field?
“Yeah, the doctor said I could go by. So, I did.”
Did you do any coaching, or was it just a visit?
“More just watched about an hour of the practice.”
So, for those that aren’t familiar with the procedure could you tell us how long it took and did you have an overnight stay, so you had the procedure actually Wednesday night?
“No, there was some tests were done Wednesday night. The procedure was done Thursday late morning. And then I was released after that.”
So, you stayed the night?
“No, I didn’t stay in the hospital overnight.”
Is this something you may have to have again? Or do they think this one will do the trick?
“So far this one they’ll evaluate it as it goes.”
How’s QB Alex Smith feeling? Does it seem like he’s about his wits getting better as the days go on?
“Yeah, seems like things are progressing as it does. And then the same thing we’ve always said is, again, it’s in the doctor’s hands and they’ll evaluate him as the week goes. There seems to be some progress.”
There’s some doubt about QB Jay Cutler’s situation as well. How do you guys game plan for it? How are they different without him?
“Well, Jay Cutler’s a great player. And also, [QB Jason] Campbell’s a pretty good player, too. Jason Campbell’s an experienced veteran guy, big-armed guy that can move. So, you watch them both. You prepare for both of them. But, there are some similar styles to their game.”
The Bears said that Campbell’s going to play.
Yeah, the Bears announced it that Campbell’s starting.
“Yeah, right. Cutler’s out, right?”
Will Alex Smith start Monday night?
“We’re still going through the process of that, the process.”
Does he have another visit with the neurologist scheduled?
“Yeah, it’s part of the progression.”
Doctors say stress doesn’t have anything to do with it, or, the heart condition?
“I didn’t hear that. You’re talking about back to me now?”
Yeah, back to you, sorry. Stress in any way a factor, or been given any advice on stress?
Do your dad or brother have any advice about this kind of stuff, or how to work your way through it? The diet? Coaches lead a very interesting lifestyle. Did they give you any advice about how to work through this stuff?
“Yeah, listen to the doctors and eat right. Yeah, they’ve said those things.”
Have your brother or you father ever experienced anything similar?
“Not that I know of, no.”
As a follow up to that, is there anything, any dietary restrictions that have been added to your lifestyle now or that were 13 years ago? Also, I understand that this may be too personal a question, but is there anybody in your family that you’ve had to reassure that it’s ok for you to go to right back to work after this?
“No, I haven’t had to reassure anybody. As far as the diet, cut out some of the caffeine and eat better.”
How do you feel about all the attention surrounding this?
“It’s quite a bit. I’m fine, fine.”
I was going to ask you about Bears CB Charles Tillman, obviously he among other things, his ability to strip the ball, which is pretty unique. Anyone else come to mind as far as having that type of ability?
“He’s probably the best that anybody has ever seen. [Packers S] Charles Woodson is a guy that could come to mind, great ability, strength to strip the ball, not just punching the ball but going in with some real leverage and strength and some power behind the blow. He’s another person that would come to mind.”
Obviously you emphasize ball security all the time, did you have to do anything differently or was it just noted on the scouting report that these guys are pretty good?
“Yeah, noted in the coaching and in the scouting report. Just have to pay extra attention and emphasis on it.”
Is there a common thread between all of his strips or does he do it in different ways? For instance, coming from behind and punching out or is there something that he really relies on, his go-to move?
“He’s got quite a few, it’s a great question. Haven’t documented all the strips but yeah, he could be the first guy in and lawnmower it out. He could be the second guy in, that the ball carrier doesn’t see and clubs it or rips it or punches it out. He’s put the helmet on the ball. He’s got a lot of the techniques.”
Will the decision about Alex Smith go down to say Sunday or even Monday night? Are you still giving QB Colin Kaepernick more first team reps than maybe you normally do?
“Yeah, Colin’s getting a little bit more work than normal.”
How do you view assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Brad Seely’s ability to step in when you need a little time off and how is his style maybe different than yours?
“Probably more similarities than differences. The biggest thing is, we’ve got a great staff here. I’ve always said that and always feel comfortable that they’re going to do a great job.”
I’m hearing a lot of short answers from you about this all, but when you’re in there in the hospital and all those people are dealing with this stuff, doesn’t it after a while give you a little –set you back a little bit and think about the humanness of this? The vulnerability about this? Do you ever give yourself a big picture look about it all?
“No, I didn’t really. I hope my answers haven’t been short. I feel like I’ve been real forthcoming, telling you exactly everything I know about this, even emotionally how it feels and what not. Just glad to be back at work, glad to be preparing for this ball game. I’m fine, fine and ready to go to work.”
So you will not be a victim of burnout?
“I don’t foresee that, no.”
I think I know what he was asking. I had a heart problem and it sort of makes you think big picture.
“Big picture. Peel back the onion and get a little introspective. No, I really haven’t. I really haven’t. Just want to do what I’m supposed to do and get back to living.”
Did your wife and kids have any tips? Did your daughters say anything to you that stuck?
“The biggest one, ‘I love you.’”