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Jim Harbaugh hired as coach of 49ers

By Janie Mccauley

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 8 2011 3:42 a.m. MST

Jim Harbaugh, left, answers a question as San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke looks on during a news conference, Friday, Jan. 7, 2011, in San Francisco, introducing Harbaugh as the new head coach of the NFL football team.

Ben Margot, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — They rolled out a fresh red carpet for Jim Harbaugh at San Francisco's posh Palace Hotel, then delivered him in a limousine.

The 49ers have their highly sought-after new man and pulled out all the stops to greet him. His introductory news conference began with a music video featuring team highlights.

After a whirlwind few days of talks with the Niners, former employer Stanford and also the Miami Dolphins, Harbaugh finally made up his mind: he's going to coach in the NFL.

With his "unshakable confidence" to boot.

What a week for football's hottest commodity considering it began with the Cardinal's 40-12 Orange Bowl rout of Virginia Tech on Monday night in Miami.

Even with that win — which gave Stanford a 12-1 record — and Orange Bowl MVP quarterback Andrew Luck's choice to stay in school, Harbaugh had a good feeling about making the jump to the NFL and joining the 49ers. This is the same path his mentor and late Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh did more than 30 years ago.

Declaring it a "perfect competitive opportunity," Harbaugh accepted a five-year deal Friday to coach the 49ers and said his goal is to win a Lombardi Trophy for "one of the legendary franchises in all of football."

The successful Stanford coach gets to remain right at home in the Bay Area, making the leap to the pro game after four years with the Cardinal. A longtime NFL quarterback, he replaces fired coach Mike Singletary. ESPN reported Harbaugh's deal is for $25 million.

Harbaugh decided to leave Stanford even though San Francisco has missed the playoffs for eight straight seasons and Luck announced Thursday he would remain in school and play one more season.

"I can feel the enthusiasm coursing through my veins right now," said Harbaugh, who was going to team headquarters Friday night to get to work. "I accept this competitive challenge willingly."

Harbaugh has long admired Walsh and how he made the successful leap from Stanford to the 49ers. Harbaugh knew the man nicknamed "The Genius" for 18 years and once received footwork tips from the coach while playing for the Bears. "Everything that came out of his mind, his heart, his mouth, I hung on every single word."

Walsh thought up the original schemes that became known as the West Coast offense, which Harbaugh plans to run with the 49ers. Harbaugh has a picture of Walsh he looks at each day taped to his computer screen, but says it will be a while before any comparisons can be made of the two.

While Harbaugh said he had all but made up his mind to accept the 49ers' offer following a meeting of more than six hours that went into Wednesday evening, he took a couple of days to hear out his other suitors and do his "homework" — and "do some soul searching" as new 49ers general manager Trent Baalke put it.

"I knew in my heart and my gut the right decision was with the San Francisco 49ers," he said.

After quite a run at Stanford, Harbaugh will head some 10 miles down the 101 freeway from Stanford to turn around a once-proud franchise that is desperate to become a contender again right away. The 49ers were expected to win the NFC West this season, then began 0-5 for their worst start since losing seven straight to begin a 2-14 season in 1979, Walsh's first year as coach.

The 49ers finished 6-10 this year — in the chase for a playoff berth in the NFL's worst division until the second-to-last week — and haven't had a winning season since their last trip to the playoffs in 2002.

"I met this man six or seven years ago at a college All-Star game and I fell in love with his energy," Baalke said. "This is the start of a new generation. ... What we have to do is bring back the culture of winning. He's a guy who can lead the 49ers franchise back to where it rightfully belongs."

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