Among the many people not surprised to see Jim Harbaugh turn the 49ers into a winner is Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, who played three years at Stanford under Harbaugh and watched him do the same thing there that he has for the Vikings' Sunday opponent.
Harbaugh took over a Stanford squad that was 1-11 in 2007 under the previous coach, Walt Harris, who had recruited Gerhart. Harbaugh then proceeded to improve Stanford's record each season -- going from 4-8 in 2007 to 5-7 in 2008 to 8-5 in 2009 (Gerhart's final season at Stanford) and then 12-1 in 2010 before Harbaugh left.
In San Francisco, Harbaugh took a team that was 6-10 the year before he took over to a 13-3 record last season, and coached them to within one game of making the Super Bowl. And this year the 49ers are considered the best team in football so far and are a favorite to make the Super Bowl.
"He's a great coach,'' Gerhart said. ''He gets the best of his players, is extremely confident, stirs the pot and gets the best out of his players.''
What's his secret?
"I just think the confidence he instills in his players,'' Gerhart said. ''He makes them work hard, it's all about being intense, being physical. He just brings out the best in his guys.
''He's pretty tough. He'll definitely want you doing things the right way. It's all about football. He loves football. If anything takes away from that he'll definitely take disciplinary action."
Gerhart said he wasn't surprised when Harbaugh left Stanford to take over the struggling 49ers, but it did surprise him some that the rookie head coach was able to do so well with the lockout limiting preparation time.
"He came to Stanford and turned that program around, and the next step was to move onto the NFL,'' Gerhart said. ''I think that was his dream and aspiration, and he got a chance and now he's making the most of it.
"He got [Stanford] from 1-11 to 12-1. He completely turned the record around, turned the program around and made Stanford a football powerhouse.''
Gerhart is looking forward to playing against Harbaugh and the 49ers, who are seven-point favorites.
"I'm excited. It's going to be different lining up on the opposite sideline of him instead of being on the same sideline," Gerhart said. "But they're a good team, and we feel like we're a good team and we're excited to see how we match up against them. He has his team out ready to play every week. They'll be ready to play, but so will we."
Gerhart said Harbaugh is running basically the same offense that he ran at Stanford.
"Very similar. I watched them the other night on TV and a lot of the stuff they're doing is the same concepts, same kind of schemes we ran," Gerhart said.
"We feel we can match up with anybody. We had a good week of practice so far, and we'll see what happens Sunday."
A year ago the Gophers won three games, including two conference matchups late in the season against Iowa and Illinois.
No doubt those victories gave the Gophers confidence that carried over to this year and are a reason why Jerry Kill's guys are 3-0.
Senior linebacker Mike Rallis, a real team leader, said he believes the success is due to "just a mindset. I think we've done a good job of building confidence in the season, and during the offseason with our hard work. We just have to keep building on that and getting better."
Rallis also credits the coaching staff and the fact that the same group is back two years in a row, something that didn't happen under Tim Brewster.
"The coaching staff has done a great job creating a culture where we expect to win, and it has been really helpful for us this year," Rallis said. "Continuity does make a big difference; you get comfortable within the staff. You know what to expect, and they know what to expect from you. It just makes everything a little bit easier."
Rallis said he doesn't believe the team has proven anything yet by beating UNLV, New Hampshire and Western Michigan.
"We haven't done anything yet," he said. "We're just going to keep preparing and trying to keep getting better every day we go out on the practice field."
Rallis said Syracuse will give the Gophers their toughest game to date.
"They're a good team,'' Rallis said. ''They have a lot of good players out there, and we're going to have to play our best game. It's going to be a fun atmosphere under the lights," he said.
• The Vikings signed John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million contract (only $9.1 million guaranteed), but in the first two games the former Notre Dame tight end hasn't caught a pass.
"We're going to try to give Carlson the ball more," Vikings quarterback Cristian Ponder said. "He's a great player, and we need to do a better job of getting the ball to him, and we will. He's really good. He's so physical and so tough and such a dynamic player. We're trying to give him the ball, and we'll keep doing it."
The former Litchfield star has been plagued by injuries the past two years but caught 55 passes his rookie year and 51 his second year with the Seahawks.
• It's interesting that two top local pro teams -- the Vikings and the Twins -- are dealing with more no-shows than ever before. The on-street scalpers are complaining about fans' lack of interest in paying regular prices these days. The Twins even are having trouble selling tickets for next week's games with the Yankees.
• The Syracuse Post-Standard reports that the NCAA has turned down Syracuse redshirt freshman John Raymon's waiver application, so the former Iowa defensive end, a transfer this year, will have to sit out the season. That means that senior Deon Goggins will be playing defensive tackle instead of defensive end, which he had switched to in the preseason.
• Former Twin Michael Cuddyer was named the Rockies 2012 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, a nomination the Twins also bestowed upon him in 2011. It's an award that recognizes sportsmanship and community involvement in baseball. Justin Morneau was given the Twins' nomination this season, and former Twin Johan Santana was also nominated by the Mets.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org