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Thursday, November 22, 2012
Around the NFC West: 49ers must be right?

By Mike Sando

There is a smart reaction to Jim Harbaugh's seemingly high-risk quarterback decision and it goes something like this: Successful people don't make decisions such as these without knowing they're right.

It's the same as when a highly successful stock trader shifts his money to an obscure company. Do we call him crazy? Of course not. We assume he knows more than the rest of us could ever know about the investment.

Harbaugh is not quite Warren Buffett, but he's been right on the major decisions since taking over the 49ers in 2011. One of those decisions was to name Alex Smith the starter when analysts thought the team could never win with Smith. The 49ers then went 19-5-1 with Smith as their starter.

Just as Harbaugh knew the team could win with Smith, he must know Kaepernick gives the team a better chance to become even better. Otherwise, why make the move he appears to be making by promising first-team reps to Kaepernick heading into Week 12?

This is not to say there's no room to question a successful coach. Harbaugh could be wrong in this case. But if the team struggles down the stretch, how do we know the team wasn't going to struggle anyway or to a greater degree if the team had stuck with Smith? We don't know that. Harbaugh has a better chance of knowing that, and that is the point.

There are other examples in the division. Many were surprised when the Seattle Seahawks selected Bruce Irvin in the first round of the 2012 draft. Had the Seahawks made a massive blunder, or had the analysts simply whiffed on Irvin as a first-round prospect? I think it was the latter.

The Seahawks also seemed to be taking an unnecessary risk when they named rookie third-round choice Russell Wilson as their starting quarterback over Matt Flynn. Were they crazy, or did they know something others did not know? Again, it was probably the latter.

None of us knows how well Kaepernick will perform as the 49ers' starter. But when Smith hit the free-agent market last offseason, were other teams scrambling to sign him? They were not. If Kaepernick had instead been the one to hit the market, you can bet teams would have gone after him aggressively.

When decisions are made unexpectedly, it's always smart to include in the analysis who is making those decisions, what they're in position to know and how often they've been right in the past.