NEW ORLEANS — They are now bonded forever, tied to a legacy nearly unmatched in professional sports. Bill Walsh, George Seifert, and Jim Harbaugh — the three coaches who took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl. Of course, Walsh is the Big Kahuna of the group. The finest football mind of his generation, and perhaps of all time, assembled a series of teams that won three Super Bowls in the 1980s, and may have won even more under his auspices had he not retired in 1989, just after his beloved team beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. Seifert, who was Walsh’s defensive backs coach from 1980 through 1982, and his defensive coordinator from 1983 through 1988, took over in his old boss’ stead and picked up two Super Bowl wins of his own — a 55-10 walloping of the Denver Broncos in his first year as the team’s head coach, and a 49-26 thrashing of the San Diego Chargers five years later. Seifert is seen by some as an afterthought in this dynastic tree, and while it’s true that he was coasting and coaching on Walsh’s fumes to a point against the Broncos, it was a very different team that beat the Chargers. It took a long time and a lot of hard years for the 49ers to get back here. Almost 20 years, five different coaches, and a great many front office mistakes took place before a run of good moves in the last few years put the franchise back in a position to win, and the hire of Harbaugh in 2011 put those pieces in place. Through a run of more than 30 years, these three coaches have some interesting connections. After he left the 49ers, Walsh bounced back and forth between Stanford and San Francisco, coaching at Palo Alto and doing some advisory work for his old NFL team. One of the best things Walsh ever did for the Stanford Cardinal, though, was to drop the hammer on a rising college coach and former NFL quarterback by the name of Jim Harbaugh. Walsh hired Harbaugh there in 2007, and Harbaugh told me on Wednesday that he learned a great deal from the NFL’s greatest thinker. “Coach Walsh did call me and left a message on my phone to see if I would be interested in the Stanford coaching job,” Harbaugh recalled. “I was intending to leave that message on my phone for the rest of my life, but I lost that phone or dropped it in the toilet or something. I can’t remember which it was, I lost it or dropped it in the can, but I don’t have that message anymore. Truly one of the most memorable things was getting that message.” Harbaugh certainly didn’t drop that opportunity in the can. From 2002 through 2006, Stanford never won more than five games, and bottomed out at 1-11 in 2006. Harbaugh turned it all around with offensive coordinator Greg Roman, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, a pretty good quarterback in Andrew Luck, and a tough-minded philosophy that permeated every area of the program. Harbaugh took Roman, Fangio, and that philosophy to the NFL, and left Luck and Stanford in a much better place. In return, he got to learn the highest dimensions of coaching, team-building, and football in general from Walsh.
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