The Builder: How Jim Harbaugh Constructs Programs to Last

The Builder: How Jim Harbaugh Constructs Programs to Last

Following a 6-10 season in 2010 and the dismissal of Mike Singletary, the San Francisco 49ers turned to the Jim Harbaugh, who had just rebuilt the Stanford football program, to lead the 49ers through a rebuilding process back toward the top. However, the 49ers skipped rebuilding and went straight to winning as Harbaugh led San Francisco to a 13-3 record and a narrowly missed a Super Bowl appearance. 

In his second year, Harbaugh has not disappointed and has the 49ers back in the NFC Championship game. They play at the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. This sudden turnaround and incredible success does not surprise University of San Diego Athletic Director Ky Snyder, the man who hired Harbaugh for his first head coaching position. Snyder told Breitbart Sports that “Jim’s going to perform at the highest level. That’s who he is.”

Snyder was hired to lead the Toreros Athletic program in December of 2003 with a major task already on the docket: hire a new head football coach. 

“They had whittled it down to four,” Snyder told Breitbart Sports. “And the decision was waiting for me when I was brought on board.”

Harbaugh, a former starting quarterback in the NFL, likely stood out among the four candidates just by virtue of his name; however, his interview was wildly impressive. Snyder recalls, “Jim came in with a plan, he knew what kind offense and defense he wanted to run, he had a plan for the staff he wanted to bring in, and he brought in detailed practice plans. He knew how he wanted to run things.”

Looking back, Snyder remembers seeing “the whole package” in Jim Harbaugh. 

“He’s a unique coach who’s not only a motivator, but outstanding at X’s and O’s.” Snyder said. 

Snyder, who played football at San Diego State, appreciated Harbaugh’s football background. 

“I know football and quarterbacks are a coach on the field,” Snyder said, adding that “few remember that his last years in the NFL, he had helped out with his dad’s program at Western Kentucky” before ending his career and coaching briefly with the Oakland Raiders.

Hiring Harbaugh turned out to be an incredibly easy and rewarding decision. 

“So much of building programs is knowing who you are. He’s looking at this from every angle, and he began executing his plan immediately,” Snyder said. 

Harbaugh immediately built the program, going 7-4 in his first year then going 11-1 with conference championships his next two seasons.

Snyder touched on a theme–Harbaugh elevated those around him. 

In hiring Harbaugh, Snyder’s goal was to “elevate our athletic program.” This elevation is something we have seen throughout Harbaugh’s career, not only at San Diego, but at Stanford, which has always been primarily known for academics.

Now, Harbaugh has taken San Francisco, which was considered an underachieving franchise stuck oft-criticized Alex Smith, the quarterback taken first in the 2005 draft over Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers. Harbaugh, seeing the potential of current quarterback Colin Kaepernick, took a chance on the former Nevada quarterback in the 2011 draft by drafting him in the second round. 

What may be the most incredible about Harbaugh’s success is the way he has left the programs in better shape than he has inherited. 

The Toreros followed his departure with two two loss seasons, and Stanford is coming off two straight BCS bowl appearances, including a win in the Rose Bowl this year.

Snyder points to Harbaugh’s ability to create a system players will buy into, see the whole picture, and, the oft-forgotten ability to build a staff. 

“One thing that’s overlooked is how good he is at building his staff and identifying the people he wants around him to support him, and go in the direction he wants to go,” Snyder said. 

For Harbaugh’s career and his reputation, which has him considered among football’s best current coaches, the direction Harbaugh’s going is clearly up. 

Snyder says “Harbaugh changed the way we defined success.” With the school coming off their fifth consecutive West Coast Conference Commissioner’s Cup, given to the school with the best overall athletic program, it appears that the definition Harbaugh established is, much like his own coaching career, is a refusal to accept anything except performance at the highest level.