Jim Harbaugh’s midseason decision to change quarterbacks – replacing Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick – was one of the most dissected and critiqued moves of the NFL season.
At the time, the decision put Harbaugh in the crosshairs for criticism, but the 49ers run through the postseason has the move drawing praise across the board.
“Jim made a gutsy, gutsy call,” 49ers Owner Jed York said after the NFC championship. “And I don’t know that there’s any other coach in the league that would have made that call.”
Well, one coach who probably would is John Harbaugh.
John made a similarly bold move in Week 15, promoting Quarterbacks Coach Jim Caldwell to offensive coordinator and dismissing Cam Cameron after four and a half years on the job. The Ravens offense responded by playing its best football of the season en route to the Super Bowl.
“It was a move that was the best move at the time, we felt,” John said. “That’s what we said at the time. We said that was the best thing for our football team.”
Both Harbaughs’ decisions were put under the microscope for being bold – or risky – approaches.
At the time the 49ers decided to bench Smith, he was the NFL’s No. 3 rated passer. He had a 20-6-1 record in his last two seasons as the starter, and Kaepernick was an unproven second-year quarterback out of Nevada.
Kaepernick had shown flashes of big-play potential, but he had a small sample size of game action. There were also significant questions about how a midseason quarterback benching would be received in the locker room.
In a similar vein, the Ravens were 9-4 and coming off a game where the offense put up 28 points when John decided to replace his close friend Cameron. John described it as the “hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a coach” and quarterback
While John acknowledged the significance of the midseason coordinator change, he shifted the focus back to his players.
“It was an important move,” John said. “But, Joe made some bold throws. Anquan [Boldin] made bold catches. The defense made bold plays. There were bold hits. Look at