NEW ORLEANS — A comedian Jim Harbaugh is not. Or at least that is the perception that many who spend time observing him generally take away.
He’s obviously a pretty serious individual who doesn’t suffer fools when it comes to communicating. Maybe he’s a little different behind closed doors or when not performing his job as the head coach of the 49ers. But when he talks about his team in postgame press conferences, he’s generally pretty to the point and avoids giving too many details.
Maybe there’s something in the air in New Orleans, but Harbaugh appeared loose at times when he addressed the assembled media at the New Orleans Marriott on Monday afternoon. Please note the "at times" proviso in the previous sentence. He did cast a perplexed look occasionally when asked a question he didn’t fully understand or appreciate. But there was progress, and he earned some big laughs with a few of his answers.
One of the bigger story lines that foreshadowed Super Bowl week was President Barack Obama’s comments on whether he would allow a son of his to play football, given growing concerns about the long-term health effects the sport can have on players.
Harbaugh referenced his own four-month-old son, Jack, in the answer.
"Well I have a four-month old, almost five-month old son, Jack Harbaugh, and if President Obama feels that way, then there will be a little bit less competition for Jack Harbaugh when he gets old," the coach said, drawing laughs from the assembled media. "It’s still early. Like I said, Jack is only five months old. He is a really big kid. He has an enormous head. We don’t have a 40 on him yet, but his wingspan is plus one, and as soon as he grows into that head he is going to be something. It’s early, but expectations are high for young Jack."
Harbaugh was asked about his habit of wearing "necklace" with a pen attached, which is always visible on game days.
"Well, I take great offense that you call it a necklace," quipped Harbaugh. "It’s a whistle. It’s a coach's whistle that coaches have long worn around their neck. I believe every coach should have a whistle. It’s hard to imagine going out to practice without a whistle. Then I just put a pen onto the whistle string. It’s not complicated at all. If I need a pen, it’s just right there."
As referenced earlier, Harbaugh wasn’t all jokes and smiles. If there was a question he wasn’t interested in answering, he was perfectly happy to offer a simple, one-word answer, as he did when asked whether he is better able to handle personal slights or criticism than he was earlier in his career.
"Possibly" was his short answer, before looking away from his questioner to field a new query.
Of the 19 questions asked, just two referenced the team he will be facing on Sunday, one about his team being prepared to face the Ravens’ pass rush, and the other about the recent impressive play of QB Joe Flacco.
"It’s a big challenge and a big task against the Ravens pass rush," Harbaugh said in his first answer of the press conference. "They are really good football players and have a really good scheme. They do a great job of locating those down linemen and locating those outside backers, as well. They have 10 guys that are rotating in there. In their first two playoff games, I think they were in there 92 or 94 plays each of those games, and they were up tempo games against Denver and New England. They have talented players to rotate in there and it’s going to be a challenge task for us."
As for Flacco, Harbaugh was predictably generous in his praise.
"Outstanding quarterback. Winning quarterback," said Harbaugh. "Tremendous habit of success, and he’s left a trail of that behind him and he continues to do so. Tremendous throwing action, arm talent and a winning quarterback. I mean, he’s a football player, I don’t know if you can give a guy a higher complement than that. He certainly is."
When asked to comment about one of his own quarterbacks, backup Alex Smith, who was replaced midseason by Colin Kaepernick, Harbaugh was equally as generous with the kind words.
"He’s prepared and been involved in the game planning, in preparations, he’s prepared himself as the starter each week," said Harbaugh. "That’s what he’s done, that’s what we expect of him and that’s what he has delivered. (He's) another person really to credit in Colin’s success because Alex has really helped coach Colin and has been right there by his side. Sitting there in meetings every single day. He coaches Colin now more than I do, and that speaks high of the kind of person and teammate that Alex Smith is."
As reporters filed out of the large room where the press conference was held, there were many mentions of how well Harbaugh handled the questions, compliments about his answers. It was as if reporters had expected to hear little of substance from the coach. Time will tell if he can keep it up as the week progresses and he answers many of the same questions again, and again, and again.