Everyone wants to point to won/loss records in the NFL and say that a team was an overnight success. It is true that Jim Harbaugh has provided something to this 49ers team in the way of leadership and organization that was lacking a year ago, but let’s not pretend this was an overnight process. The San Francisco 49ers have a lot of players who have been with the team awhile. Frank Gore and Alex Smith have been in San Francisco since 2005. Vernon Davis is in his sixth season. This is linebacker Patrick Willis’ fifth year. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga is playing in his eighth season for the 49ers. There are plenty more.
So let’s go back to 2005. The 49ers won four games. They won seven in 2006. Five in 2007. Seven in 2008. Eight in 2009. Six in 2010. Remember though. Most predicted the 49ers to win their division and make the playoffs in 2010. And now in 2011 they are 6-1 after handling the Browns on Sunday.
So, yeah it looks like an overnight turnaround for the 49ers, I guess. But when a team was supposed to be playoff caliber and failed to live up to it and then changes coaches and proves to be better, is that really over night? Do you think it feels like that to the 49ers fanbase? I am sure they are elated that Jim Harbaugh was able to come in and give order to this team and turn them into winners, but they were supposed to challenge for the playoffs last year. Let’s compare it with the Browns a little bit.
Owen Marecic, Jason Pinkston, Dimitri Patterson, Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard are in their first seasons with the team. Colt McCoy, Scott Fujita, Chris Gocong, Shawn Lauvao, Ben Watson, Sheldon Brown, Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Peyton Hillis are in their second years with the team. Alex Mack, Mohamed Massaquoi, and Brian Robiskie are in their third seasons with the team. Ahtyba Rubin is in his fourth. Joe Thomas is in his fifth full season with the Browns. I don’t believe there is anyone on the roster that has been with the team exactly six seasons. This is Josh Cribbs’ seventh season. Ryan Pontbriand’s ninth and Phil Dawson’s twelfth. Meanwhile, when was the last time the Cleveland Browns were predicted to go 0.500 let alone make the playoffs? Maybe 2008, but that was two coaches ago when Romeo Crennel was still here.
My point is that what appears to be “overnight” from the outside is far from it. The fans of the 49ers were probably frustrated because they knew they should be better with an offense led by Frank Gore and a defense led by Patrick Willis. They watched Vernon Davis and the rest develop over time and are finally seeing their team play up to (or over?) the kind of potential that they thought they had.
Maybe Jim Harbaugh would be doing better in Cleveland than Pat Shurmur. I will buy that and say it is probably even likely because I like Jim Harbaugh. But, given the state of development of the Browns’ roster, I am quite sure we would only see a marginal improvement over the stats and won / loss record that we see right now.
I’ve stated over and over again that I have criticisms of the Browns, their coaching, management and roster. Without going 16-0 every season it isn’t possible for any organization to be perfect. Just another example that while you don’t need to accept losing and poor football, you have to be reasonable in your expectations and criticism.
With that in mind, I am critical of the Browns for losing to the Bengals to open the season. I am critical that the offense hasn’t looked better even as they’ve lost games that I expected them to lose. On the other hand, I can’t possibly compare the Browns with the “overnight” success of teams like the 49ers and be disappointed with a straight face. Two years from now, the Browns’ roster should be at least comparable to the 49ers if not better. The loading of draft picks in this year’s draft makes it even more likely that the Browns could be on a faster track. Obviously they have to pick the right guys, but it is still probably a two year journey.
Sorry to have to say it, but it is the truth.
And remember, I never said criticism wasn’t allowed or even appropriate. It is and it is.