Parsing words with the 49ers' jackhammer

October, 17, 2012
10/17/12
1:30
PM ET
Winning is the ultimate deodorant. It provides great cover.

Winning makes San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh brash and unapologetic, focused only on what matters most to him: outscoring the next opponent. Losing invites another level of scrutiny. No deodorant can mask the smell. Only another victory -- perhaps as soon as Thursday night, if the 49ers defeat Seattle -- can clear the air.

In the meantime, Frederick Wilhelm's take for Football Nation blistered Harbaugh for applying a double standard when criticizing New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride last week.

I found it useful for the observation it makes about Harbaugh possibly being a stickler for language (the Peyton Manning non-pursuit comes to mind). That is absolutely the case in my experience. Conversations and interviews with Harbaugh become awkward quickly in the absence of precise language. He answers questions exactly as they are asked. The benefit of the doubt generally isn't granted even when it should be clear what the questioner really means.

This happened Tuesday when Harbaugh participated in his weekly league-mandated conference call with reporters covering the next opponent, in this case Seattle. Reporters covering the Seahawks aren't accustomed to dealing with Harbaugh. They found the experience awkward and unsatisfying. One exchange captured on audio illustrates why:

Reporter: "Is it weird playing your first NFC West game this late in the season and not really facing any of the teams you're going to play twice a year?"

Harbaugh: "No. I wouldn't call it weird."

Reporter: "What would you call it?"

Harbaugh: "Uh, again, play the games on the schedules -- when, where and with the team that you have."

The reporter wasn't asking whether the 49ers' schedule met all the criteria necessary to be considered weird in the strictest sense of the word. There was nothing supernatural about it. The reporter was throwing a short pass and figuring Harbaugh could gain a few yards after the catch.

To clarify, the reporter wasn't throwing an actual football pass to Harbaugh. That would have been impossible given that they were speaking over a phone line and separated by hundreds of miles. Rather, he was asking a question that he thought might spur a conversational response.

This is where Wilhelm's critique regarding Harbaugh's Gilbride-related comments come in, and it's a fair one:

"Perhaps Harbaugh is a stickler when it comes to language," Wilhelm writes. "I've never seen anyone complain about deploying the 'getting away with murder' phrase. It's not a strict analogy, Jim, more of a colloquialism, although technically it is absurd to compare holding with murder."

Wilhelm then points to comments Harbaugh made describing his work ethic while at Stanford: "I don’t take vacations. I don’t get sick. I don’t observe major holidays. I’m a jackhammer.”

Harbaugh technically is not a jackhammer, of course. He is the 48-year-old highly successful head football coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

Check that. Harbaugh is actually 48.819 years old. Sorry for any confusion.

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