This past Super Bowl featured a number of similarities between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens; both teams pride themselves for their defense, both teams had quarterbacks that were having some of the best postseason performances in recent memory, both teams liked to control the game through the run, and both teams were coached by members of the same family. They also made bringing in a quarterback a priority when they were given the reigns of their own team.
In 2008, John Harbaugh took over the Ravens. As his first draft pick, he chose QB Joe Flacco from Delaware. He immediately drafted the most important position on the field with the best available quarterback on the board in a draft class short on quarterbacks. Flacco entered the season in a quarterback competition against 2003 first round pick Kyle Boller and 2007 5th round pick Troy Smith. Boller actually won the QB battle early on, and started the preseason games until being hurt against the Vikings in exhibition and was placed on Injured Reserve. Flacco became the unquestioned starter, made the playoffs in every single season since entering the league, and perhaps made the “elite” case last Sunday.
In 2011, Jim Harbaugh took over the 49ers. As his second draft pick, 36th overall, he chose Colin Kaepernick from Nevada. While there were still several quarterbacks available in the first when he made his selection – Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder – he felt that none were worth the value and chose Aldon Smith in the first. But he got the quarterback he wanted in Kaepernick without the fear of reaching. But, just like his brother John, it wasn’t a given that Kaepernick would start immediately, so he reached out to veteran and former 2005 #1 overall pick, Alex Smith, to retain his services with the 49ers. Smith seemingly already had one foot out the door, but when Jim approached him, he decided to stay. And it wasn’t like Smith had been playing to the level he was currently. In fact, Smith’s best season before Harbaugh came to town was in 11 games with 2,350 yards, 60.5 completion %, 18 TDs and 12 INTs. Jim still felt he might be able to salvage Smith, and made him the best QB he could be, until a convenient concussion opened the door for Kaepernick, who went on to lead his team to the Super Bowl.
Both Harbaughs valued the position of quarterback, and spent early draft picks on one, so is it any wonder why these are two of the highest regarded coaches in the league? They wanted to start their regime with their guy, which I guess you could say Pioli did by bringing in Cassel, but that just shows you a decision like that could backfire. If Flacco had been a bust, John might not still have a job in Baltimore, and if Kaepernick hadn’t lived up to Jim’s expectations, he would be second-guessed for replacing Smith halfway through the season. But what does this mean for the Chiefs?
Perhaps nothing, but it’s dumb to think that other front offices don’t look at the Super Bowl teams to analyze how they made it there. While Andy Reid is by no means a new head coach to the league, and he’s had plenty of years to figure out how he wants to run a club, that doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate how these two Super Bowl teams made it to this point. He could do right in following the blue print that made both the Ravens and 49ers successful; whether that means taking a QB #1 overall or #34 overall has yet to be seen.
I’m sure Reid will want his own guy as well, because it seems having a good QB is the only guarantee for success in this league. (Having a Harbaugh coach your team also seems a guarantee for success. What’s their sister up to?) But will his first year in KC be used as a buffer for a drafted QB to develop while someone such as Alex Smith or even Matt Cassel (whose story in KC is strikingly similar to Alex Smith’s before Harbaugh) holds down the fort for one more season? Although the Chiefs might not be in full-blown rebuilding mode, and while we already have a lot of good pieces that are already in place, it would be foolish to expect immediate success in 2013 with a rookie QB. While I’m in the mindset of drafting a QB and going through growing pains his rookie year, I know with that will come a fair share of losses.
So what is more important to Chiefs fans – and Andy Reid – in 2013? Wins or a rookie QB on the field learning his way in the NFL as preparation for future success? The answer might seem obvious, but they are called growing pains for a reason. Either way, the Harbaughs have shown that good coaching can overcome a lot of shortcomings. Hopefully Andy Reid can have the same impact with the Chiefs as those brothers have had with their respective organizations.