It’s the one place that remains a mystery in today’s hyper-televised NFL. All practices during the season are closed off these days, but several offseason practices are open to the media until the second preseason game. But unless a team is convinced to take part in HBO’s Hard Knocks (and good luck getting the San Francisco 49ers to do that), meetings are the one area where players and coaches spend a great deal of time in private.
Most teams’ meetings probably include the same activities, such as watching film, installing new plays and reviewing an opposing team’s tendencies. However, when the 49ers coaches talk about how the team had a good week of practice, we can picture almost completely what that would entail: crisp offensive execution, excellent communication on defense, a minimum of mental errors and maximum effort throughout.
But what goes on during meetings intrigues me — I’d love to be a fly on the wall during any of the meetings, whether they’re run by Jim Harbaugh, one of the coordinators or a position coach like Jim Tomsula or Tom Rathman — so today I asked Harbaugh a question that caused him to perk up a little and give some insight into what we don’t get to see.
Q: Greg Roman said yesterday that you had some of the best meetings of the entire season. Great practice, you’d think it would be good execution. What goes into having a great meeting?
Harbaugh: Well, that’s an interesting question. It starts with a well-thought out, well-planned, well-executed presentation by a coach. And then the players, sitting up tall in their seats, feet flat on the floor, eyes open, ears open and listening. Also, interaction. Give and take, questions being asked, questions being answered. And if you get players to give the input during a meeting as to the gameplan, that elevates the meeting more.
Harbaugh’s many personality quirks are dissected ad nauseam — his demeanor during press conferences and on the sideline, for instance. But at heart, Harbaugh is as much a teacher as anything else. In the rare cases we see the team practice, Harbaugh never yells. His whistle may be loud, but his words are measured and encouraging. His comments about meetings, in particular the body language he wants to see from his players, says a lot about his style as a coach and the way he likes his team to behave.