Harbaugh jumps into his new job

New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is spending his waking hours evaluating players and developing schemes. He's also trying to decide whether to bring back quarterback Alex Smith.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Jim Harbaugh is already two weeks into his new job, but his routine hasn't changed much. He's at the San Francisco 49ers team facility early, leaves late and tries to fit in as much time as he can at home with his family.

That's the life of an NFL coach, especially one who is starting his rookie season in the league.

Harbaugh is busy evaluating players – everyone from free agents to possible draft picks to those currently on the roster – plus watching film and working on schemes with his offensive and defensive coaches. It has taken up virtually every waking hour since he was named the 49ers head coach on Jan. 7.

In a session with beat writers Friday, Harbaugh said he has spoken either in person or on the phone with a number of players. He is also finalizing his coaching staff. And while general manager Trent Baalke will be attending Senior Bowl practices next week in Mobile, Ala., Harbaugh will be poring over his evaluations in order to get up to speed with his new team.

One prime area of concern is quarterback. Neither Harbaugh nor Baalke would reveal their thinking (Acquire a veteran? Rely on the draft?), but they haven't dismissed the possibility that Alex Smith could return.

Hard to believe? Harbaugh seems to be taking an open-minded approach and said he's spoken face to face with Smith, who is now an unrestricted free agent.

"I'm not into absolutes and ‘always' and ‘nevers,' those kinds of bold statements," Harbaugh said. "My part is an evaluation, and that will be of Alex and our football team. That's the neat thing about being the head coach -- you get to coach them all. You get to evaluate them and be a part of the team evaluation."

Asked how he would gauge Smith's interest, Harbaugh said, "He strikes me as somebody who's open. His vision for himself, his vision and how that relates to the 49ers is to be determined. Going through the process in his mind, what's best for him and his career and how that relates to us, that's an exciting piece as we move forward with not only Alex but all the players on our team.

"My thing is, this is a new time. This is like the Etch-A-Sketch when you were a kid or the plastic sheet that you lift up. There was a lot written on there, and once you lift it up, there's a new, clean slate. Everything to come is to be determined. Everything in the past is now in a bio."

Neither Harbaugh nor Baalke would discuss acquiring a veteran QB, but they made it clear they're interested in finding the best player. When someone asked if it was necessary to have a top-flight quarterback given his vision for the offense, Harbaugh paused.

Finally, he said, "Do we need a top-flight quarterback? Do human beings need air to breathe?

"You get the best players that you possibly can get. Now you're talking about improving your football team and making your team better, and that means getting players. There's only two ways to do that. Either make the ones you have better or get new players to come in that are better. So that's constantly going on."

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