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Thursday, November 29, 2012
Jim Harbaugh has done this before

By LZ Granderson
ESPN.com

There was a USA Today story out this week looking at how Colin Kaepernick snatched Alex Smith's candy, told through the eyes of one of his former college teammates, Virgil Green.

Jim Harbaugh
Jim harbaugh hasn't made many bad decisions since he's become a head coach.

"I already knew. … Kap is one of those guys who, once he got a hold of it, it was going to be hard to get it back," said Green, a tight end for the Denver Broncos.

Many of us knew, as well, even if we didn't like it.

We watched Smith's struggle from 2005 to 2010 as he bounced from head coach to head coach, offensive coordinator to offensive coordinator, system to system. To see him play like a quarterback worthy of the No.1 pick these past two seasons -- even outplaying Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees in their matchups -- was gratifying for those of us who like nice stories. Yet, after the Kaepernick-led 49ers destroyed the Bears, we knew Smith was done.

If not from Kap's history of snatching jobs, then certainly from his coach's history for doing or saying things he's not supposed to. Make no mistake, the quarterbacks involved in this intriguing saga are supporting characters. The true star is Jim Harbaugh, the man courageous/crazy enough to bench the NFL's No. 5-rated QB for an unproven player while the best record in the league remains in reach.

"What tips the scales is Colin has the hot hand," Harbaugh said Wednesday.

I think what tips the scale is Harbaugh, a guy who trusts his own voice so much that he would bench a guy who went 20-6-1 for him and was 18-for-19 with 3 TDs and no interceptions in his last full game.

I don't know whether there's another coach out there who would rock the boat like that.

Nor should there be.

You're not supposed to do that … mess with a winning formula.

But that's Harbaugh, writing his own story.

His Stanford Cardinal -- 41-point underdogs to No.1 USC in 2007, his first season as a college head coach -- weren't supposed to win, but they did, 24-23.

He wasn't supposed to go from a college coach of the year to NFL coach of the year in 12 months. In his first season as 49ers coach, he wasn't supposed to stick with Smith because, well, Smith sucked for years before Harbaugh got there. After a successful debut season, he wasn't supposed to work out Peyton Manning because he said Smith was his guy.

He did all of the above.

And he continues to do just whatever it is he wants to -- and come out on top. That last part is pretty important. Pro sports are filled with cocky and rebellious personalities who suck up oxygen but have little to show for it. When Harbaugh speaks, he's serving up meat and potatoes, and that's an admirable trait he has shown for quite some time.

Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh has been backing up brash statements for a long time.

His senior year at Michigan, he guaranteed the Wolverines were going to go to Columbus and win. Michigan-Ohio State is arguably the most heated rivalry in college football. The Buckeyes don't even refer to Michigan by name on the schedule. And here was Harbaugh providing his opponent with quotes to hang in the locker room and practically begging for an extra earful in the Horseshoe.

The final score: 26-24 Michigan.

So of course Kaepernick is the 49ers' starting quarterback.

He's more mobile, has a bigger arm and makes the kind of electric plays out of the pocket that a quarterback needs to make to win in February.

Remember that crazy sequence in Super Bowl XLII when Eli Manning is scrambling for his life, hurls the ball downfield and David Tyree catches it with his helmet? Smith cannot make that play. Kaepernick can. Not that miracles are in the playbook, but I don't recall many championship teams that didn't need one from time to time.

But that's not why Smith lost his job. He lost his job because Harbaugh has the guts to make that call. Just about anyone else in his position would've stayed with the safe choice because that's what you're supposed to do. Given Harbaugh's successful history, we should've known what was coming.