By Guest Contributor Kyle McLorg
Alex Smith has caused me to feel many different emotions over the last several years. Anger, frustration and confusion come to mind. However, the other night I experienced a completely unique feeling regarding the 49ers’ quarterback.
It began after I stumbled across this piece by Scott Warfe on Post Traumatic Sports Disorder. In it, Warfe documented an attitude change in Jim Harbaugh – one that revealed a lack of confidence in Smith. Given the plethora of pieces I’ve read regarding Smith’s incredible chemistry with Harbaugh, it came as an enormous shock that Harbaugh would suddenly change his tune. It took about four paragraphs to realize that the piece was actually satire — a lighthearted riff on the golfer-caddy relationship that the two developed at the Giants-49ers charity shootout. By the time I figured out Warfe’s angle, it was far too late. Damage had been done – strange feelings had been felt.
The big issue here is not Warfe’s ability to pump-fake me with his words. The fact that Harbaugh might waver in his position on Alex set off number of alarms in my head – and THAT is the problem.
We’ve seen many quarterback changes, especially in recent years. From Alex Smith to J.T. O’Sullivan to Alex Smith to Shaun Hill to Alex Smith to David Carr to Troy Smith and all the way back around to Alex Smith on more time – I’m more than hip to the quarterback carousel. A 49ers head coach turning his back on Alex Smith should not come as any kind of surprise anymore. And yet there I was, falling for Warfe’s literary trickery, and for the very first time I was actually terrified of Alex being benched.
My fears can be traced back to two primary causes, the first being Jim Harbaugh’s character. Harbaugh’s first big move after getting hired was to recruit Smith to come back and play for the 49ers. Just as he became the absolute toast of the Bay Area, Harbaugh essentially led with the chin by pushing all his chips in on Alex. He went as far as to give Smith the entire offensive playbook before re-signing with the team, leaving all regard for organizational secrecy at the door. I suspect that he did this for two reasons – first, to give the team a head start on the new system during the lockout. Second and more importantly, to provide Alex with a strong vote of confidence. This trend would continue.
Harbaugh has supported and protected Smith from the moment the two met. He never forced Smith to do too much and he never hung him out to dry. Even following games where the quarterback play was pedestrian, Harbaugh would heap buckets of praise on Smith. After the season was over, Harbaugh used typical coach-speak when referring to an “open competition” for every starting position, while at the same time making it clear that he desperately wants Smith to come back.
It was Harbaugh’s confidence in Smith that spawned a new Alex. In years past, when coaches used to throw him under the bus publicly, Smith did not believe in himself and he played to that standard. Now, with Harbaugh’s bold praise backing him, Smith is playing like he can do the impossible. That confidence is rubbing off on me. As Harbaugh’s belief goes, so does mine.
That’s explains why Harbaugh’s curious moves that Warfe referred to in his piece filled me with so much concern. The other source of concern, I’ve come to discover, is rooted in something much more baffling.