On Nov. 28, the San Francisco 49ers were 8-2-1 and quarterback Alex Smith had completed 25 of his last 27 passes for 304 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He led the NFL in completion percentage and ranked fifth in passing efficiency. Smith had led the 49ers to within one game of the Super Bowl the season before and to the top of the NFC West standings again in 2012. Smith had missed the 49ers’ wins over Chicago and New Orleans the previous two weeks and, though he was cleared to play, head coach Jim Harbaugh announced back-up quarterback Colin Kaepernick would remain the team’s starter.
On Dec. 10, the Baltimore Ravens were 9-4 on the season. They were coming off of back-to-back losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins, but still, 9-4 is 9-4. However, head coach John Harbaugh made the decision to fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Craig Bohl has been the head coach at North Dakota State since 2003 and, with back-to-back FCS national titles, knows what it takes to win it all as a head coach.
But, Bohl says, he didn’t get there until he came to this realization: “When your instincts tell you something, you need to move then. Don’t wait for the data to back up your intuition.”
I can’t prove Bohl imparted that nugget of wisdom to each Harbaugh individually, but the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming.
“The rationale is we have two quarterbacks that we feel great about as a starting quarterback,” Jim Harbaugh said in November. “Both have earned it, both deserve it — Alex over a long period of time, Colin by virtue of the last three games. It tips the scales. Colin we believe has the hot hand. We’ll go with Colin.”
“It would be real easy to go the route that says, ‘It’s the result of something and somebody is taking the blame for something.’ It is not that. People are going to believe what they want to believe,” John Harbaugh in December. “It’s what I believe is best going forward for our offense and for our football team. Cam was doing a heck of a job here. He did a heck of a job here for a long time. I believe that and I also believe that right now at this time, the timing says that this is the best thing and this is what we’re going to do.”
In both situations, the data could have easily talked both coaches into sticking with the status quo. But the results have proven both calls, tough as they may have been, to be the right ones. Kaepernick has led San Francisco to a 7-2 record in nine starts (including playoffs) as the second-year signal caller has thrown for 2,221 yards and 13 touchdowns, while rushing for 506 yards and five more scores, since Smith’s injury.
In Baltimore, the Ravens actually dropped two of the first three games since replacing Cameron with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. The offense has clicked in the playoffs, however. Quarterback Joe Flacco has hit on 51-of-93 passes for 853 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions, while the running game has contributed 446 yards and three scores on 104 rushes. Both sets of numbers represent improvement from the regular season.
John and Jim Harbaugh share lots of traits as brothers. They share another with Craig Bohl, a fearlessness for doing what is necessary to better their teams.