Jim Harbaugh has an NFL pedigree and a high-voltage personality the 49ers hope will jump-start an underachieving roster and energize a fan base that's soured after eight non-winning seasons. But Harbaugh's appeal to the team also is practical in nature: He's shown he knows how to find and develop a quarterback, something the 49ers have failed to do in the last decade.
According to multiple reports, team President Jed York met with Harbaugh this afternoon. Joining them was newly promoted general manager Trent Baalke, who officially will make the hire. If Harbaugh takes the job, he will inherit a roster that is strong - and built similarly to his Stanford squads -- at most positions, but bare at the most critical one.
The 49ers appeared to cut ties with their youngest prospect, Nate Davis, earlier this week when they did not offer him a future contract as they did most of his fellow practice-squad teammates. Doing so would have locked him down for the 2011 season. Instead Davis becomes a free agent. Two other quarterbacks, Alex Smith and Troy Smith, also will be free agents when the league year ends March 3. The only passer under contract for next season is David Carr, who has another year left on his deal.
Quarterbacks, meanwhile, are Harbaugh's specialty. He was a first-round pick at quarterback by the Chicago Bears in 1987 and played 15 years in the league. After retiring following the 2001 season, his first NFL job was as an offensive assistant for the Raiders where he worked with Rich Gannon.
"I have vivid memories of him entrenching himself in an office and doing everything he could to learn," Gannon said. "He was willing to do the grunt work. He was the quality control guy but he was staying until three in the morning pulling the game plan together, the QB quick tips ... He would be exhausted the next day." Harbaugh was an offensive assistant in 2002 and the team's quarterbacks coach in 2003.
Can he develop a young quarterback? Exhibit A was on display Monday night in the Orange Bowl. As Stanford's head coach, Harbaugh went to Houston before the 2008 season to recruit Andrew Luck, and three years later Luck, should he declare himself eligible for the draft, is a shoe-in to be the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Nowadays many of the top quarterback prospects work out of the shotgun in spread offenses, and NFL teams must first teach them how to drop back and read defenses. Harbaugh, however, has operated a pro-style offense at Stanford, and Luck already is well-versed at the skills he'll need - taking snaps from center, dropping back, play action - at the next level.
Harbaugh had another success story earlier in his coaching career with Josh Johnson, a lightly recruited quarterback out of Oakland. Johnson played at the University of San Diego, a Division I-AA non-scholarship program. There he spent three seasons learning from Harbaugh who doubled as head coach and quarterback coach for the Toreros.
In 2006, Harbaugh's last year at San Diego, Johnson led the nation in passing efficiency and he did it again the following season. Johnson left the school with 11,563 yards of total offense and was a fifth-round pick by the Buccaneers in the 2008 draft.
The 49ers have the seventh pick in the 2011 draft.
-- Matt Barrows