As the Vikings gauge Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh's interest in their head coaching opening — including an interview scheduled for Wednesday in the Twin Cities — here are five things to know about Harbaugh's previous stint in the NFL as head coach of the 49ers from 2011-2014:
1. 49ers landed a dynamic quick-fix artist.
No coach in America was hotter than Stanford's Jim Harbaugh in 2011. He had taken control of a 1-11 team in 2007 and turned it into a 12-1, Orange Bowl-winning national power in 2010. Seizing on Harbaugh's itch for a greater challenge, 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York lured him to the nearby NFL team as the big-fish hire who would work his quick-fix magic on a downtrodden franchise that hadn't had a winning season or a playoff berth in eight years. Baalke started out as a college scout and got to know Harbaugh through visits to Stanford. Those who know each man say they both come with their own set of quirks in their areas of expertise. Eventually, they would butt heads, but they certainly were a great match initially as Harbaugh set an NFL record by reaching the conference title game in each of his first three seasons.
2. Rookie coach outworked lockout season.
The 2011 NFL lockout essentially erased all of Harbaugh's first offseason with his players. He wasn't happy. He became even angrier and more determined while out to dinner during one of the league gatherings. He was with some other head coaches, including brother John, head coach of the Ravens, and Jim Schwartz, then head coach of the Lions, when Schwartz started preaching about how all the first-year head coaches had no chance to succeed because of the lockout. Fast-forward to Week 6 at Detroit. On their way to a 13-win regular season, the 49ers beat the Lions 25-19 at Ford Field. The postgame handshake became legendary when Harbaugh grabbed Schwartz's hand violently, slapped Schwartz on the back and gave him a little push. Schwartz reacted by turning and rushing Harbaugh as bystanders fought to get control of him. The 49ers improved to 5-1. The Lions fell to 5-1.
3. QB whisperer gets Alex Smith on board.
Quarterback Alex Smith's first six seasons in San Francisco were a well-documented case study in how not to treat a No. 1 overall draft pick. His contract was up when Harbaugh arrived and he was going to leave. Harbaugh convinced Smith that he didn't have to leave to get a fresh start. Smith bought in and had by far the best year of his career to that point. During a brief break in the lockout, Smith gathered Harbaugh's playbook and teaching points and organized off-site workouts with teammates that became invaluable when the lockout ended. When the 49ers reconvened in training camp, Harbaugh worked the players harder than any of them could recall ever working in camp. But they bought in. A Week 4 win over an Eagles team dubbed the "Dream Team" also went a long way toward convincing the players that Harbaugh's demanding leadership was making them a well-conditioned force late in games.
4. Controversial move brought Kaepernick magic.
Colin Kaepernick was the 36th overall pick in Harbaugh's first draft with the 49ers. He knew the young quarterback was too raw to play as a rookie, so Kaepernick threw only five passes that year. A year later, when Smith suffered a concussion, Harbaugh ignored the traditional thinking that a player can't lose his job because of an injury. Kaepernick's electric starting debut in a "Monday Night Football" rout of the Bears convinced Harbaugh of the futuristic skill set and higher ceiling he now had at the position. Smith and his 6-2-1 record and career-high 104.1 passer rating was out. Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl with help from a top-three defense. He walloped the Packers with a QB-record 181 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a 45-31 playoff win. Smith was upset but didn't complain and actually worked with Harbaugh and Kaepernick to tailor each week's game plan to the new starter.
5. Baalke and Harbaugh mutually parted ways.
It's no secret Harbaugh has a strong personality and is considered a high-maintenance presence that burns brightly but is hard to sustain long-term. His 49ers contract was initially set to run through 2015 when things turned sour between him and Baalke in 2014. The fire was gone on the field, too. The 49ers missed the playoffs at 8-8. Within five minutes of Harbaugh's last game-day news conference, the 49ers issued a news release saying the two sides had mutually agreed to part ways. The last year of Harbaugh's contract was voided. A day later, he was introduced as Michigan's head coach. The 49ers fell to 5-11 and 2-14 under Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly in 2015 and 2016. Baalke, now in Jacksonville, is searching for his fifth head coach in five seasons as a GM since Harbaugh's last year in San Francisco. Harbaugh's NFL coaching record, all in San Francisco: 49-22-1, including the playoffs.