49ers fans prefer Jim Harbaugh over Kyle Shanahan?

Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

The 49ers are welcoming back Jim Harbaugh as part of the 2012 Super Bowl team celebration on Sunday, and it might be awkward for Kyle Shanahan.

It’s weird to think it’s been 10 years since the San Francisco 49ers’ 2012 team made it all the way to within one infamous play of beating the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.

Yet that team, one which fell just short, is going to be celebrated this weekend during the Niners’ Week 7 home matchup against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs. A number of former San Francisco players are going to return for the halftime ceremony, including linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

But arguably the biggest guest of honor will be former head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Harbaugh’s fall from grace with the 49ers needs little introduction. He and former general manager Trent Baalke didn’t get along, and there were all kinds of friction between Harbaugh and CEO Jed York, too, leading to the “mutual” parting of ways at the conclusion of the 2014 season.

But, wow. Those three seasons prior to 2014 sure were memorable.

Of course, Harbaugh’s dismissal led to the coaching carousel that eventually netted the Niners their current head coach, Kyle Shanahan, albeit it took two full years to finally reach that point.

And while both coaches came to San Francisco under entirely different circumstances and contexts, it’s fair to question whether or not Harbaugh is actually the better head coach over Shanahan.

Were 49ers better off with Jim Harbaugh than Kyle Shanahan?

Harbaugh took over one of the better rosters in the NFL in 2011, albeit one that was poorly coached in previous years under Mike Singletary. Shanahan inherited one of the league’s worst rosters in 2017 and turned over more than 70 percent of it in year one.

So, it’s not totally fair to suggest Shanahan fell short by not making it to the NFC Championship game his first two years like Harbaugh did. And Harbaugh’s four-year run with that inherited roster churned out one of the best winning percentages in franchise history, as Niners Nation’s Rob Guerrera pointed out:

"From a pure football standpoint, Jim goes down as the third best coach in the history of the 49ers behind Bill Walsh and George Seifert. His .695 winning percentage trails only George in franchise history, and his 44 regular season wins rank sixth in 49ers history – two above Kyle Shanahan, in 23 fewer games. Harbaugh remains the only head coach in league history to reach the conference title game in each of his first three seasons, and he was arguably a penalty flag away from winning a Super Bowl."

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Harbaugh’s winning percentage with the Niners was .695, while Shanahan is currently at .483. Both coaches made it to one Super Bowl, and Harbaugh has the slight edge over Shanahan in NFC Championship game appearances, three to two.

Of course, the wins and losses don’t tell the whole story. Neither does the fact Harbaugh started off with a solid roster whereas Shanahan had to help build one from scratch.

Harbaugh’s personality was off the charts, unique and frequently controversial, so much to the point that former San Francisco offensive guard Alex Boone once referred to his former coach as “clinically insane.”

Shanahan might actually be more standoffish, yet few (if any) of his former players have openly called him out on anything.

In a numbers business, though, it’s still possible to acknowledge the fact the 49ers got it right with Shanahan in 2017 but probably had it better with Harbaugh between 2011 and 2014.

Hopefully, Shanahan doesn’t have to engineer a game plan on Sunday with Harbaugh’s shadow lurking over him.

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