By Kevin Lynch
The first test for 49ers new head coach Jim Harbaugh did not come from another team, or from his new owner, or even from the fans. The first challenge to Harbaugh's authority emerged from his playmaking tight end, Vernon Davis.
Disgruntled with how he was used in a bitter loss to Dallas, Davis openly questioned what the coaching staff and Harbaugh were doing to get him and the team's other playmakers open. In the 27-24 overtime defeat on Sept. 18, Davis caught only two passes, and instead of venturing out on pass routes, he often was kept in to block the Cowboys' All-Pro pass rusher, DeMarcus Ware.
"That surprised me," Davis said after the game.
A day later, Harbaugh met with Davis, and the Pro Bowl tight end told Harbaugh of his desire to get everyone involved in the passing game. "I had on my mind some things I thought we could've done better in the game," Davis said.
"And I pointed them out to him, as far as getting everybody involved. I mean everybody, all the playmakers we have."
Some coaches, particularly those trying to establish themselves with new players, might have interpreted Davis' comments as the height of presumption. They might have benched Davis for publicly questioning their game plans, or at least minimized his role in the next game.
Harbaugh did the opposite.
Davis was featured in the team's 13-8 win over the Bengals in Cincinnati; he caught eight passes for 114 yards, including a 39-yarder in the game's only touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Harbaugh was tight-lipped about his meeting with Davis after the Dallas game.
But he did tell Fox broadcasters Jim Mora and Ron Pitts that he didn't object to Davis' complaints. A few days after the Bengals win, Harbaugh was asked about Davis again.
"He's always going to be a part of the offense," Harbaugh said, "a huge part of the offense."
The story illustrates Harbaugh's willingness to subjugate his own ego, something his predecessors, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary, found difficult. Harbaugh hardly ever uses the pronoun "I" but instead uses "we" or starts sentences with verbs, and that might be the secret to the 49ers' early success this season.
To read the rest of this Jim Harbaugh feature and to find out how the other four first-time NFL head coaches are doing so far, buy the current issue of Pro Football Weekly, available in The PFW Store. Also in the latest of edition of PFW is a Cam Newton feature, along with Nolan Nawrocki's take on the how the top 10 players from the 2011 NFL draft are faring a month into their rookie campaign.