Jim Harbaugh, known to preach the importance of “humble hearts,” had a heavy one Sunday while coaching the 49ers to a 23-10 win over Carolina in the divisional playoffs. Earlier that morning, Harbaugh’s grandfather, Joe Cipiti, died in Ohio at 98.
“It was sad,” Harbaugh said Monday. “I felt that sadness all day.”
Cipiti had visited the 49ers’ facility in Santa Clara multiple times and attended last year’s Super Bowl, when Harbaugh’s 49ers coached against his brother John’s Baltimore Ravens. Harbaugh described Cipiti as “a man that was all about family” and a “poet of life” who took great interest in the fortunes of his grandsons’ teams.
“He was watching the (49ers’ win over Green Bay in the wild-card round), and he took credit for Colin Kaepernick’s performance,” Harbaugh said. “He said when he put the 49ers hat on, the 49ers scored a touchdown.”
After Sunday’s game, Harbaugh said, he told the 49ers “what they’d meant to Grandpa Joe” and that the players “all remembered him and it felt great.” He said several of his former players at Stanford also sent condolences via text messages.
Harbaugh also made a point of thanking FOX broadcasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman for how they handled the topic of Cipiti’s death during Sunday’s broadcast.
“You could hear it in their voice, that they understood family and they just had a great understanding of what our grandpa meant to us,” Harbaugh said. “So I appreciate those guys for that.”
Harbaugh said he caught the TV segment while watching the broadcast at home Sunday night, thanks to his family’s baby sitter, who recorded it.
“And she took out the trash can,” he added. “Not a lot of baby sitters would do that.”
The 49ers, who typically use a 6-2 alignment on the goal line, shifted Ahmad Brooks to middle linebacker for the fourth-down play. Brooks was credited with a tackle when the 49ers stopped Newton short of the end zone.
“We talked about it during the week: This is something that would be very difficult for the opponent if we get into that position,” Harbaugh said. “That planning, that preparation by our players, by (defensive coordinator) Vic Fangio and the defensive coaches, was profound.”
In Tukuafu’s absence, some snaps at fullback went to rookie tight end Vance McDonald. Harbaugh said McDonald “blocked very well (Sunday) and had many more opportunities in that role.”