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March 23, 2011
Jim Harbaugh: I love uncharted waters

****UPDATE**** Please join me for a 49ers chat on Thursday at 11 a.m. (PST). Alex Smith, Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, a 49ers fine (?), Kevin Kolb, Jim Harbaugh, the No. 7 pick, Patrick Peterson's Wonderlic, Von Miller's lawsuit, pro-day performances, prospect visits, Joe Nedney's right leg and more are topics. If you're worried about your boss, just squint at your computer and act annoyed. He'll/she'll think you're busy. www.sacbee.com/live.

The longer the NFL's labor mess goes on, the bigger the disadvantage for a team like the 49ers. Jim Harbaugh doesn't disagree with that assessment. But at the same time, he is striking a decidedly optimistic tone. And he says he might be uniquely built to deal with the uncertainties that an extended impasse will bring.

"Everybody seems to agree that it's a disadvantage for first-year coaches," Harbaugh said yesterday at the owners meeting in New Orleans. "It probably is. But we'll find a way to overcome it. I love the uncharted waters, I really do. I just love being in uncharted waters. There is something about it. There's more of a challenge to it. Maybe it's because I grew up in 12 different towns before I graduated from high school, I don't know. Something about it, I just feel more comfortable when it's the uncharted waters."

Harbaugh was talking about what it was like growing up as a coach's son, one whose dad moved from job to job and town to town throughout the 1970s. Jack Harbaugh cited the same dynamic in a profile I wrote about Jim Harbaugh earlier this year, and he said he suspected that was what made his son so competitive.

There is a chance that the labor issue could be resolved after a court hearing on April 6, or at least that free agency and trades would be allowed shortly thereafter. If so, it likely would alter the team's draft plans. For instance, if the 49ers traded for, say, Carson Palmer or Kevin Kolb, they would be less likely to take a quarterback at the top of the draft. On the other hand, if the draft is the first opportunity to add a quarterback, then it's a safe bet the 49ers would select a quarterback in the first two rounds of the draft. (Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton - take your pick).

"It'll come. It'll happen," Harbaugh said. "In the meantime, though, I'm not going to get frustrated. I'm going to work on the draft and really get to know the draft prospects even that much better. But they'll be back. We'll be back with them."

****************
One of the quarterback possibilities continues to be Alex Smith. Harbaugh's interaction with Smith - remember, he admitted to Matt Maiocco in February that the two had met and tossed the ball around - may have gotten the 49ers in a bit of hot water.

Yesterday, commissioner Roger Goodell reported that the league had fined five teams for having illegal contact with players prior to the lockout. The NFL did not reveal the teams, but there is speculation that the 49ers are one of the five.

The 49ers declined to comment, and it's unknown at this point the amount teams were fined. My reaction is that it's probably money well spent. Given the 49ers' quarterback situation - one player, David Carr, under contract - Harbaugh had to get to know Smith to understand whether he was a plausible possibility should the labor situation grind into late summer.

No word yet whether the team is trying to recoup any possible fine money from Maiocco, whose attorneys have not returned repeated calls made by The Bee.

****************
The Eagles have a private workout with Kaepernick, who threw for Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke on Friday. You can see the hamster running inside the Eagles' collective head. That is, if they trade Kolb, they'll need another young, mobile quarterback with a strong arm to develop behind Michael Vick. In a few years, they'll probably trade Kaepernick -- or Vick -- for a mess of draft picks, and the cycle begins anew. Sigh. Some teams have their you-know-what together (even if their trophy case is empty)

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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