SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Jim Harbaugh is suddenly experiencing all the anxiety that comes with being a first-year NFL coach. One who has been forced into hurry-up mode because of the lockout.
This isn't so different from his Stanford days, preparing college players in a matter of weeks. Just higher stakes, of course.
After the national hype surrounding his hiring more than six months ago — he was wooed away from the Orange Bowl-winning Cardinal on a $25 million, five-year deal to replace the ousted Mike Singletary — Harbaugh finally gets to begin for real with a franchise counting on him to turn things around at last. And right away after the embarrassment of eight straight seasons without a winning record and no playoffs since 2002.
"Hello, it's on," a smiling Harbaugh declared Monday upon taking the podium in the team's defensive meeting room. "Yeah, I'm nervous. I'm worried. That's a part of my job to be that way. Me personally, it keeps me on my toes. Anxious, all those feelings, to get started and get going. That's the good news: We can now start."
As one of a handful of rookie head coaches, the former NFL quarterback also will be a mentor to the QBs. Among one of the team's first orders of business in a busy week will be bringing back 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick and free agent Alex Smith.
The incumbent Smith, who gathered players together this summer for what was deemed "Camp Alex," has been declared by Harbaugh as the favorite to win the starting job. That after Smith struggled through an inconsistent season and fell out of favor with Singletary last year and wasn't even expected to be back with his only team. Everything changed with the work stoppage and the delay of free agency.
Smith will compete in camp with rookie second-rounder Colin Kaepernick, the former Nevada star who is coming off surgery on his lower left leg. David Carr is the other quarterback in the mix.