Count Jim Harbaugh’s opponent Sunday among those who are incredulous that this appears to be the coach’s final game with the 49ers.
“It’s very shocking to me,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday in a conference call. “Jimmy’s done an unbelievable job. The fact that one bad season shouldn’t deter from what they’ve built there. And I think they have had pretty much everything you want culture-wise in place there. And the wins and losses speak for themselves.”
Arians’ comments echoed those of another NFC West rival, Pete Carroll, who also expressed dismay over Harbaugh’s status before his Seahawks played the 49ers earlier this month.
“He’s a fantastic football coach,” Carroll said. “He’s proven that. There’s no question about that.”
Should the 49ers part ways with Harbaugh, however, Arians said they have an excellent replacement on staff.
He said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, with whom he coached in Indianapolis from 1999-2001, would make a good head coach because of his knowledge of the game and the rapport he has with his players.
“That’s the big thing,” Arians said. “We’ve worked together a number of times. I have a lot of respect for him. I think he’d do a heck of a job.”
Arians, 62, offers a bit of a template. Like Fangio, he’s blunt and outspoken, and he was a longtime assistant before he was interviewed for the Cardinals job last year. Arizona is 21-10 since he took over, and with a win Sunday against the 49ers, the Cardinals would reach 12 wins for the first time in franchise history.
Fangio, meanwhile, is 56. His only interview for a head-coaching job came in 1997 with the Chargers.
Arians said he and Fangio are valuable as head coaches precisely because they’ve been around so long.
“The problem with the young, hot, energetic coach is he’s only usually been in one system,” Arians said. “And if that system fails, he doesn’t have any answers for it. He fails. So it helps to have a guy to have experience in two or three different general-manager systems, offensive or defensive systems. They have a heck of a lot more answers. And they’ve failed enough times they know how to overcome it.”
Award season – Frank Gore won the 49ers’ most prestigious honor, the Len Eshmont Award, while safety Antoine Bethea won the Bill Walsh Award, which is given to the team’s MVP. The Eshmont is voted on by players; coaches vote for the Walsh award.
“He’s a pro’s pro,” Harbaugh said of Bethea. “Great with the young guys, great on the field, great in the meeting rooms. Just outstanding.”
Gore also won the Garry Niver Memorial Award, which is given by reporters who cover the team to the player who is most cooperative and professional with the media.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.