Jim Harbaugh is the first head coach in NFL history to reach a conference championship game in his first three seasons. He has led the San Francisco 49ers to an impressive 36-11-1 record over that three-year span, looking like an NFL coaching veteran along the way. As far as John Madden is concerned, Harbaugh is already one of the greats.
In an interview with Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury Times, Madden praised Harbaugh’s three-straight NFC Championship appearances and said the Niners coach shouldn’t change a thing.
“He’s doing a great job,” Madden said. “He’s done one of the great coaching jobs ever, especially with that first year and the (labor) lockout and how he couldn’t work with the players and they went all the way to the (NFC) Championship. Great coaching job.”
Madden’s Oakland Raiders lost in the AFC Championship game five times in his first seven seasons as head coach, so he knows plenty about coming up just short. Madden later went on to win a Super Bowl in 1976 and is now considered one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time. Has he offered to share some wisdom with Harbaugh?
“Hell no,” Madden said. “He’s done a lot of good things and won a lot of big games. The last thing he needs is counseling on that. The answer is you don’t do anything. People get close and try to do something. They panic and screw everything up.
“Sometimes you can be one of the best, but you don’t accept that if you don’t get the ring or win the Super Bowl. There’s a lot of good teams between the Super Bowl winner and other teams. Once the Super Bowl is over, we lump everyone into the other 31, and that’s not fair.”
Like players, coaches are ultimately judged on their hardware. But even without a Super Bowl ring, it would be tough to argue that Harbaugh isn’t one of the better coaches in the league. The Niners will likely have to pay him like a Super Bowl-winning coach in the near future whether he wins one of not.