San Francisco 49ers

49ers’ coach Harbaugh has his own language

Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers’ head coach, has a distinct lexicon. If you study this guide, practice in front of a mirror and converse with your friends, you, too, will be able to speak and understand Harbaughian.


This is Harbaugh’s way of describing a young player who is making progress. The exceedingly positive Harbaugh never has used the opposite, “arrow down.”

“He’s showing a good grasp of the offense. Arrow up there.”

– on quarterback B.J. Daniels, August 2013


Harbaugh has used this multiple times to describe someone’s ability to handle pressure or criticism.

“Well, the question is, ‘Does he have baby deer skin or skin like an armadillo?’ ”

– when asked in April 2011 about the boos quarterback Alex Smith dealt with at Candlestick Park a year earlier


He’s the tiny figure who stands on a person’s shoulder and whispers so much fawning praise into the ear that the person inevitably becomes content and loses his/her desire.

“There’s a guy that walks around by the name of Frederick P. Soft. Freddy Soft’s a 4-inch guy that sits on your shoulder, talks right into your ears. If we see or hear any evidence of him being in premises, we will act quickly and decisively and get him out of here.”

– October 2011


This is anyone who speaks falsely of Harbaugh or his players. Harbaugh, a child of the 1970s, might have borrowed the phrase from the show “Sanford and Son.”

“Just gobble, gobble, gobble turkey from jive-turkey gobblers. I think that paints a pretty good picture.”

– October 2012, regarding reports that Alex Smith’s confidence was shaken


From the Old Testament, used to describe the valiant men who fought at David’s side, Harbaugh uses it to laud his own troops, especially after games.

“You’re very proud of your team when they do that – when you go out on the road and in the playoff game and beat another team that’s a very good football team in their stadium. Yes, it does make you feel like a strong, mighty man.”

– after beating the Carolina Panthers in January


As a player, Harbaugh spent four years in the country’s motor sports capital, Indianapolis. This phrase sums up his coaching mentality, which is to constantly strive to get even an iota’s worth of improvement from his team.

“He’ll find a way to get a mph faster. That’s just the way he trains and the way he thinks.”

– on Colin Kaepernick, February 2014


It’s a telling metaphor for a man who tries to keep everyone – opponents, reporters, the public – on the outside, never allowing access into the internal workings of his team, much less his soul.

“Not going to peel back the onion in every possible way, but like I said, he’s a very diverse guy, a very intelligent guy”

– on Kaepernick, July 2013


Harbaugh talks about agents more than John le Carré. Anyone who has played for Harbaugh and performed for Harbaugh gains this moniker.

“You look at him as a trusted agent back there to field punts and kickoffs.”

– on LaMichael James, August 2013

“(He’s) no longer on our team. Not a trusted agent anymore.”

– on recently traded Alex Smith, August 2013


Harbaugh is loathe to discuss injuries. Instead he’ll use this three-word phrase as a response for why a player sits out a practice or misses a game. He uses it to cover a “Grey’s Anatomy’s” worth of issues, from a tweak of the hamstring to Justin Smith’s torn triceps tendon in 2012.

“He’s working through something. It’s not the knee. It’s something else that he’s working through.”

– on running back Marcus Lattimore, May 2014

Related stories from Sacramento Bee