SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jim Harbaugh’s new coaching staff is nearly in place and he is in full-on, head-down planning mode. His normal schedule: a half day spent on draft evaluation and the other half preparing offensive and defensive schemes.
There’s not much else Harbaugh can do at the moment as a first-year NFL coach heading into an offseason of uncertainty with the league’s unsettled labor situation and a possible lockout for 2011. He has already met a handful of his players and even spoke with quarterback Alex Smith, the 49ers’ 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick who is an unrestricted free agent.
“This is a new time,” Harbaugh said Friday, exactly two weeks after he was hired away from Stanford with a $25 million, five-year deal. “This is like the Etch A Sketch when you were a kid or the plastic sheet that you lift up. There was a lot written on there and once you lift it up there’s a new, clean slate there. Everything to come is to be determined what’s going to be written on there. Everything in the past is now in a bio.”
Harbaugh announced two more hires Friday and the retention of four coaches already on San Francisco’s staff. Keeping their jobs from fired coach Mike Singletary’s staff are offensive line coach Mike Solari, running backs coach Tom Rathman, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and assistant offensive line coach Ray Brown.
The team also added Ejiro Evero as a quality control coach. Harbaugh has received a commitment from Brad Seely to become special teams coordinator.
There is much work to be done for a franchise that is counting on Harbaugh to turn the once-proud 49ers into a perennial contender and playoff team again. San Francisco started 0-5 and finished 6-10 this season after entering as an NFC West favorite following an unbeaten preseason. The Niners haven’t had a winning season since their last postseason berth in 2002.
Harbaugh just spent four years at Stanford transforming a program that was 1-11 the season before he arrived on The Farm. The Cardinal reached the Sun Bowl in 2009 for their first bowl berth since 2001, then went 12-1 with a 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech this season.
Now, he must get the 49ers on the upswing in a hurry.
“That’s a hungry group, guys who haven’t been to the playoffs,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the way these guys are in the locker room that I’ve found. I felt good about that. I had a feeling that was the case and researched it as much as I could. I felt good that I anticipated that.”
Harbaugh will be busy in the coming weeks evaluating potential quarterbacks, a position he knows so well. The Niners are expected to look to the April draft to add a quarterback to their roster, too.
The former Michigan quarterback spent 15 seasons in the NFL with the Bears, Colts, Ravens, Chargers and Panthers. A first-round draft pick taken 26th overall by Chicago in 1987, Harbaugh completed 2,305 of 3,918 passes for 26,288 yards and 129 touchdowns in the NFL. He also ran for 18 TDs.
“Do we need a topflight quarterback? do human beings need air to breathe?” Harbaugh said. “I’m going to do my part and what I feel is my knowledge of the position and make a great evaluation of the quarterbacks on the current roster and those that are out there that we could bring to the 49ers.”
New general manager Trent Baalke, promoted earlier this month from his position as player personnel chief, said Smith will be considered the same way any other free agent is this offseason. San Francisco can re-sign its own free agents before the official free agency period begins March 4.
Smith took over the starting job midway through 2009 and was entrenched as the starter heading into 2010. after separating his non-throwing left shoulder Oct. 24 at Carolina, Singletary turned to 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith for the next five games — even after Alex Smith was healthy again. Troy Smith went 3-2 as a starter, then it was Alex Smith’s turn again for two games, including a commanding win over eventual West champion Seattle.
After a flop at San Diego, Singletary turned back to Troy Smith for a must-win game with the Rams on Dec. 26. That 25-17 loss cost the coach his job with one week to go. Tomsula, serving a single-game stint as interim head coach, went with Alex Smith for a win against Arizona in the season finale.
Harbaugh isn’t about to guess what might happen with Smith, other than to say their encounter was a positive one.
“I don’t want to speak for Alex,” Harbaugh said. “He strikes me as somebody who’s open. His vision for himself, his vision and how that relates to the 49ers is to be determined. going through the process in his mind, what’s best for him and his career and how that relates to us, that’s an exciting piece as we move forward with not only Alex but all the players on our team. You hate to keep using Alex as the only example. There’s several examples of that.”
Browns name Jauron defensive coordinator
CLEVELAND (AP) — Browns coach Pat Shurmur joked about his defense at his introductory news conference. But he hired someone serious to run it.
Shurmur called on former NFL head coach Dick Jauron as his defensive coordinator Friday, a well respected 60-year-old, who spent last season as Philadelphia’s secondary coach.
“He has a tremendous knowledge of the game and is an excellent teacher,” Shurmur said. “His experience in the NFL as a player, position coach, coordinator and head coach will be a huge asset to our staff.”
Jauron and Shurmur have known each other for years. Jauron played and coached with Shurmur’s uncle, Fritz, in Green Bay. Jauron has previous experience as a coordinator and he was head coach in Buffalo (2006-2009) and Chicago (199-2003), posting a 60-82 record.
Jauron also has ties to Browns president Mike Holmgren, working as the Packers defensive backs coach when Holmgren was head coach.
Under Jauron, the Eagles secondary had 23 interceptions last season, third best in the NFC. Cornerback Asante Samuel had seven picks and made the Pro Bowl.
Before taking over as Bears coach, Jauron served as defensive coordinator for the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-98. He helped the team make the playoffs three times in four years, including the AFC championship in 1996.
Jauron drew interest from several other teams, but decided on Cleveland, where he’s likely to convert the Browns’ 3-4 scheme to a 4-3.
“There were many elements of this job that were attractive for me,” Jauron said. “I believe that with people like Pat Shurmur, Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert in place, this organization is building a solid foundation. I can’t wait to get started with the Browns.”
A two-sport star at Yale, Jauron was selected by Detroit in the fourth round in 1973, and he was also taken that year by the St. Louis Cardinals in the major league baseball draft. He spent five seasons with the Lions and four with Cincinnati. He made the Pro Bowl as a punt returner in 1974, and finished with 26 interceptions.
Shurmur, hired last week as Cleveland’s fifth coach since 1999, is also looking for an offensive coordinator after Brian Daboll was fired and signed with Miami. Rob Ryan, Cleveland’s defensive coordinator the past two years under Eric Mangini, is now with Dallas.
Meanwhile, a team spokesman said special teams coordinator Brad Seely has left the Browns. Seely spent two years with Cleveland and developed some of the league’s best kick return and coverage units.
Bills hire Wannstedt as assistant coach
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Dave Wannstedt is back in the NFL after being hired to be the Buffalo Bills’ assistant head coach in a job that reunites him with good friend and colleague Chan Gailey.
The Bills announced the hiring on Friday after the two sides met for most of the day to negotiate the contract. The team did not divulge terms of the deal, though a person familiar with talks told The Associated Press that the contract runs for more than one season.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Bills do not release contract information.
Wannstedt returns to the NFL after spending the past six years coaching the University of Pittsburgh, where he was forced to resign last month.
He spent four-plus seasons as the Miami Dolphins head coach before being fired midway through the 2004 season. He also spent six seasons — from 1993-98 — as the Chicago Bears head coach.
Wannstedt is a defensive specialist and will help oversee a defense that struggled last season. The Bills’ defense was last in the NFL against the run, allowing 2,714 yards rushing — the second-highest total in franchise history. Buffalo allowed 200 yards eight times last season.
In Buffalo, he’ll be working under Gailey, who went 4-12 in completing his first season as the team’s head coach.
It’s a role reversal for the two. Wannstedt had taken over coach of the Dolphins in 2000, when he hired Gailey to be his offensive coordinator. The two spent two seasons together before Gailey left to become the head coach at Georgia Tech.
“Chan’s had success everywhere he’s been,” Wannstedt said in a statement released by the team. “Knowing what he’s about as a football coach, knowing what he believes in and having worked with him in Miami, I know he has the winning formula.”
Wannstedt was hired a day after he interviewed with the Cleveland Browns for their vacant defensive coordinator’s position. And the deal came a week after he first visited the Bills and met with Gailey and his staff about the prospect of a job.
Aside from his title as assistant head coach, Wannstedt will also serve as the team’s inside linebackers coach, filling the spot left open after the Bills dismissed DeMontie Cross two weeks ago.
“We are extremely pleased to have Dave Wannstedt join our staff,” Gailey said. “I look forward to him being able to help our team in many ways. With his amount of experience, he certainly should be able to do that.”
Wannstedt has 16 years NFL coaching experience, and was the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator when they beat Buffalo to win the Super Bowl in 1993.
He was also the defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson in helping the Miami Hurricanes win the national championship in 1987.
Wannstedt has held Gailey in high regard since working with him in Miami, where he essentially handed over the running of the offense to his coordinator.
“It was really important for me, particularly in my first year or two in Miami, to have someone like Chan,” Wannstedt told the AP in July. “It was like having two head coaches on the staff. We were able to talk about personnel things, offense and defense.”
Wannstedt was particularly impressed with Gailey’s football philosophy and how he devised game plans to suit a team’s strengths.
“Chan always had the ability to understand the big picture,” Wannstedt said. “He understands both sides of the ball. He’s not just a quarterback coach. He understands what’s going on on defense. And I think that’s what gives him the ability to dial up plays.”
Jaguars promote Monken to QBs coach
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars have promoted Todd Monken from receivers coach to quarterbacks coach.
Monken replaces Mike Shula, whose contract ended after last season. Shula could have remained in Jacksonville, but chose to become quarterbacks coach for the Carolina Panthers on Friday.
Monken has coached Jacksonville’s receivers the past four seasons, helping develop starters Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas. Monken previously worked on the college level at LSU, Oklahoma State and Eastern Michigan.
Johnny Cox, the team’s quality control coach, will replace Monken as receivers coach. Offensive staff assistant Matt Griffin will fill Cox’s job.
Panthers hire Jaguars’ Shula as QBs coach
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Panthers have hired Mike Shula as quarterbacks coach, a key position as Carolina tries to turn around the NFL’s worst offense under new coach Ron Rivera.
The 45-year-old son of former Miami coach Don Shula was hired on Friday. He spent the past four seasons as QBs coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he oversaw the development of David Garrard. Before that, the former Alabama QB was the head coach at his alma mater, going 26-23 in four seasons.
Shula will be charged with developing a reliable QB after the struggles of Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen this season. The Panthers ranked last in points and yards per game, with the rookie Clausen going 1-9 as a starter with a league-worst 58.4 passer rating and no touchdown passes to a wide receiver.
Titans QB Simms nixes deal in drugged-driving case
NEW YORK (AP) — Tennessee Titans backup quarterback Chris Simms rejected a plea deal Friday after being charged with driving while high on marijuana, putting the case on track for a trial as soon as March.
Simms would have been spared jail and a criminal record if he took what prosecutors said was a last-chance offer to plead guilty to driving while his ability was impaired, a traffic infraction. His punishment would have included a $500 fine, five days of community service and a 90-day driver’s license suspension.
Defense lawyer Kim Richman told a judge Simms “will respectfully decline that offer.”
That leaves the 30-year-old son of former New York Giants QB Phil Simms facing a trial on charges that could net him up to a year in jail if he’s convicted. The judge set a March 1 trial date.
Simms and his lawyer declined to comment on the case afterward.
“See you March 1,” Simms, dressed in a crisp gray suit, told reporters cordially.
Simms was pulled over around 1 a.m. on July 1 after making an erratic turn near a police sobriety checkpoint in a nightlife-oriented part of Manhattan, police said. His passengers included his then-pregnant wife, Danielle.
With the smell of marijuana oozing from his Mercedes-Benz, a “zombie”-like Simms told an officer he had been smoking the drug in the car earlier, according to court documents and the officer’s testimony at a hearing in October.
Simms, however, told The Tennessean newspaper in August he “definitely didn’t say” he had been smoking marijuana. He wasn’t tested for drugs, and alcohol tests came back negative.
His lawyers challenged the legality of the checkpoint and the basis for his arrest, among other arguments. A judge rejected all of them earlier this month, saying police were justified in stopping and arresting him and that his statements were obtained legally.
The top charge against Simms is a misdemeanor, driving while impaired by drugs.
Besides the legal consequences, a conviction or any guilty plea that entailed admitting to smoking marijuana could get Simms in career trouble. Under the league’s substance-abuse policy, he could be subject to a suspension. The league also has a personal-conduct policy that could result in a suspension.
Simms has a 7-9 record in 16 NFL career starts. A third-round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, he ruptured his spleen in a 2006 game against the Carolina Panthers and had to undergo emergency surgery.
After Tampa Bay released him, he went to Tennessee in 2008, played for the Denver Broncos in 2009 as an unrestricted free agent and then returned to the Titans. The Titans released him in September but then re-signed him in November. He didn’t play in any games this season.
Simms’ father played 14 seasons with the Giants, leading them to two Super Bowls. He is now a CBS Sports announcer and analyst.
Lions QB Stafford has shoulder surgery
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford had surgery on his throwing shoulder Friday, and the Lions say they expect the former No. 1 draft pick to be back in time for training camp after playing only three games last season.
Stafford’s operation was performed by renowned sports Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., after consultations this week. Stafford played only one game start to finish last season. He hurt his right shoulder in the season opener, came back for a victory over Washington on Halloween, then injured the same shoulder again the following game.
Stafford wasn’t able to play again. He went on injured reserve on Dec. 24.
“After Matt hurt his shoulder in the (Nov. 7) game he was examined by both our medical staff and Dr. Andrews. There was a consensus at the time to proceed with a rehabilitation program and not to have surgery,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “After Matt’s most recent visit to Dr. Andrews, it was determined by Dr. Andrews that Matt’s healing process could be enhanced by undergoing surgery at this time. … We have full confidence that Matt will be 100 percent before the start of training camp.”
Stafford, the top pick in the 2009 draft, has played in only 13 games in two seasons.
Despite Stafford’s injury woes, the Lions managed to win six games last season, including four in a row at the end. Backup Shaun Hill performed capably, and Drew Stanton also contributed.
There’s no telling what Detroit could accomplish if Stafford could stay healthy. When he did play last season, he threw for six touchdowns and one interception in 96 attempts.
Andrews called Friday’s procedure a success.
“It went very well,” he said. “We now have plenty of time for a full recovery in order for him to get ready for next season. The procedure is the same one that we have successfully performed on a number of NFL quarterbacks. Matthew has one of the strongest arms in the league and I am confident that he will be as strong as ever.”
Newton hires NFL representation
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton has hired representation as he prepares for the NFL draft.
The former Auburn quarterback, who is skipping his senior season, signed with co-representatives, agent Bus Cook and Washington, D.C.-based Perennial Sports and Entertainment.
Perennial CEO Lamell McMorris confirmed the hiring Friday through a spokeswoman.
Cook’s clients include currently retired quarterback Brett Favre.
Newton led the Tigers to a national championship, collecting the Heisman, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien and Manning awards. He also was a source of controversy since November after revelations surfaced that Newton’s father, Cecil, shopped his services during Mississippi State’s recruitment.
NFL offering financial advice to rookies
WASHINGTON (AP) — The NFL is teaming with a financial group to help players joining the league avoid investment fraud.
Prospective players and their families can get such advice before Saturday’s East/West Shrine Game in Orlando, Fla., and at next week’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The NFL will host presentations and set up information booths.
Players will learn how to choose the right financial adviser, do a proper background check and learn about the risks of taking on debt.
The league is working in conjunction with an investor education arm of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
Dallas-area drug ring leader gets 24 years
DALLAS (AP) — A Los Angeles man must serve more than 24 years in prison for leading what prosecutors say was a drug ring that included ex-Dallas Cowboys player Kurt Vollers.
A federal judge in Dallas on Friday sentenced 35-year-old John Patrick Newton.
Newton in April 2010 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana, maintaining a drug-involved premise, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Investigators say Newton, sentenced to 292 months, leased an apartment in Irving to store, distribute and manufacture marijuana.
Vollers and two other co-defendants last spring pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Vollers faces a maximum 40 years in prison when he’s sentenced March 25.
Vollers played for the Cowboys from 2002 to 2004. He played for the Indianapolis Colts in 2005.