A thought-provoking post. Bumped. - BN Eds.
I've been thinking about how closely we matched up with Stanford and Oregon in the first half, only to see the offense fall apart in the second half, leaving the defense to get fatigued and ultimately costing us two games we could have won. (I'm not saying the offense was excellent in the first half — just that it didn't embarrass us as it did in the second half.)
And I've been thinking about the 49ers. As a fan for many decades, I was thrilled with the transformation for which Harbaugh has rightly been given much of the credit. I still like Jim Mora and, as I said in a recent post, I like the leadership and values he's shown so far. But maybe I should have thought of comparing the two Jims when I wrote that post because if I had, one thing would have leaped into prominence.
And that is Jim Harbaugh's ability to make players believe in themselves. Alex Smith is an obvious example (the choice of Colin Kaepernick to replace him doesn't negate what Smith did in Harbaugh's first year), but Harbaugh turned an entire team, whose morale appeared at rock bottom under Mike Singletary, around. Is a lack of confidence part of the problem with Brett Hundley, in addition to any injuries that may not have been made public? I don't know, but if Mora isn't making Hundley believe he's the right man for the job, he isn't doing his job.
Sure, some players aren't performing as they should — some first-rate analysis on BN has made that clear — and Mazzone's coaching has come under fire. (Is he teaching Hundley what he needs to know to make quicker decisions and avoid throwing into traffic?) But if the players aren't confident, the battle is lost almost from the start. What does Hundley have to believe? That he'll make the right decision; that he can make the difficult throw; that he knows how to handle a rushing lineman or linebacker. (If, of course, Hundley doesn't have the ability — and I hope that's not the case — the problem can't be solved this year because no one else with enough ability is available.)
How does someone impart those beliefs to a young quarterback? Is it an arm around the shoulder or words of praise at the right moment? I should be the last person to answer that question, since I know nothing about coaching, but I do know that question has to be answered. And none of this should be construed as suggesting criticism doesn't have an essential place in coaching; it does.
I hope my thoughts in a previous post about current players having the opportunity of joining the tradition of excellence that marks UCLA's great teams (in all sports) were on the mark, but whether they were or not, I know that confidence is a sine qua non for athletes — on any level.
So, Coach Mora: The play calling or need for consistency may be way ahead of the confidence factor, but you won't get from A to B without making your players believe the journey is within their reach.