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October 17, 2011
Is 49ers win and 5-1 record being overshadowed by coaches ruckus?

By Matt Kawahara

SANTA CLARA - Filling in for Matt Barrows today, and only a day removed from the 49ers beating the previously unbeaten Lions, on the road at Ford Field, with a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback. The team reached 5-1 for the first time since 1998 and all anybody wanted to hear about was a handshake.

The near-scuffle between head coaches Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz was not met with punishment from the league. But each coach spent a good portion of his press conference Monday talking about the incident (more on that in the print story).

The 49ers players who were available to media, for the most part, said they thought the incident had been blown out of proportion. Several said they found it amusing.

"I think it's just two competitive guys," offensive tackle Joe Staley said. "Obviously emotions were running high at the end of the game, the way we finished the game and the way it came down to the final drive.

"It's something you don't see every game," Staley said. "As a player, I was kind of pumped about it."

Anthony Davis, one of the players who separated Harbaugh and Schwartz before the whole thing cooled down, said he thought Schwartz "took the handshake the wrong way."

"Coach was just excited and I think Schwartz took it wrong, so I just wanted to make sure it didn't go any further," Davis said. Asked if he thought the incident would have escalated past words had cooler heads not prevailed, Davis answered, "Who knows?"

Ricky Jean Francois said he was surprised it was the coaches whose tempers boiled over after the game, and not the players. Then again, he also said that Harbaugh sometimes conducts himself almost like a player, referencing the coach's enthusiasm, which his players say they find contagious.

"The coaches were more excited than us," Jean Francois said. "But just to see that, that shows us the coaches got their heart in it. They're not just doing this for the paycheck. He's actually into it. They want to see us win. To see that, you'll go out there every week and do what it takes to win for those coaches. Just to see them coaches that happy, to see the coaches jumping up and down, getting on a four- or five-hour plane ride and have a good time talking to you."

Jean Francois was also the only player to say he was frustrated that much of the national attention on the game focused more on the post-game ruckus than the result.

"We're finally on a roll. We're finally 5-1 for the first time since '98. Talk about that," Jean Francois said. "Don't talk about what was going on with Coach Harbaugh. He was happy. He had seen his guys win. He was happy because we beat Detroit."

-- Quarterback Alex Smith said he saw the video of the incident late Sunday night, but had no idea at the time what was going on near the tunnel. He was busy talking to Lions quarterback, and former 49er, Shaun Hill.

"We had a slightly less physical handshake," Smith said of Hill. "Hugged actually."

-- Asked about his tendency to overthrow receivers, which popped up again at times on Sunday, Smith said that he made a couple of the off-target throws against the Lions to avoid taking a sack, and that a couple others were "just missed throws." He said that on some overthrows, he may not be setting his feet.

"I think when I'm decisive with my feet and eyes, as I look back at the film, I'm throwing accurate balls," Smith said. "The couple of times when my eyes and feet aren't as decisive and my feet aren't as good, that's when you see more inaccuracy, no question."

Perhaps that is something for him to think about during "Improvement Week," which is what Harbaugh has taken to calling the bye week. Players seem to be buying in.

"I love that," said tight end Delanie Walker. "It is improvement week. We don't look at it as getting a couple of weeks off, we look at it as getting better and learning our opponent that we got next week."

One area of necessary improvement for the offense, said Joe Staley, is putting together consistent drives. On 12 of its 16 drives against Detroit, the 49ers offense recorded either one or zero first downs. Two of those drives - both of which began in Lions territory - did yield field goals.

"We need to execute better, be more consistent, not have stretches where we go 3-and-out for two or three drives in a row," Staley said. "We need to have more consistency in our performance. That's the main thing."

Of course, players will also have some time off, helping to nurse nagging injuries or aches and pains. And coaches, Harbaugh said, will have an opportunity to take a few days off if they want.

"And I want them to do that," Harbaugh said. "I want them to get out and spend time with their families."

Harbaugh said he might take a couple days off himself.

"I would like to see my wife and kids, yes," he said. "I think that would be healthy."

-- If you've watched Harbaugh lately, you've probably noticed him untucking his shirt from his pants after wins. He did so after the 49ers beat Detroit, while celebrating with his players, on his way to meeting Schwartz on the field.

Here's his explanation of the gesture:

"It's a mentality that when we work, we tuck our shirts in," Harbaugh said. "When work is over, we untuck them and we win, we celebrate. That's the theme and the message behind that, and it goes back a ways.

"I had some uncles that lived in Ohio that worked a blue-collar job and when they came home from their work, they'd untuck their shirts, sit on the couch, put their feet up on the coffee table and eat some pizza and drink a beer. Those were good times. Those were good times to be a kid and just watch them do that. We're kind of taking that approach, that theme here."

-- Fullback Moran Norris (fibula) was in the locker room without a protective boot on his injured leg Monday. He said it was his first day out of the boot.

Norris said he didn't know if he would be able to practice next week. Asked if he is still feeling discomfort, he replied, "I feel good."


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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