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Transcript: Harbaugh reflects on the loss of grandfather Joe Cipiti

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Jim Harbaugh spoke to the media on Monday afternoon one day after the a divisional round victory over the Carolina Panthers. He said Will Tukuafu will have an MRI today and felt "encouraged" about his status.

Here is the transcript of what he said:

How do you feel about the way that the offensive line responded to a pretty big challenge yesterday?

“I felt really good about the offensive line, in particular the way that they seemed to grow stronger as the game went on. I thought they played extremely well.”

What do you think was the difference between their performance yesterday and when you guys met a couple months ago? Health?

“The offensive line?”

Yeah, you guys.

“As a team?”

Yeah.

“I know people kind of talked about that quite a bit. It just doesn’t seem that relevant, what were the differences. The difference, they beat us 10-9 the first time we played them, this time we won 23-10.”

How’d you feel about the way you guys handled just the road environment, the crowd nose, the communication plays off?

“I thought our team played with a lot of poise. I thought that’s one thing that really stood out in multiple areas and what was very important was the poise of the football team.”

And just spinning that forward, is this going to be a similar environment as far as having your poise tested in this game, too. Do you think that’s a good primer towards this NFC Championship Game?

“Our team’s been in a lot of good primers. Been through a lot of situations. Been through tough environments, whether it be weather or opposing stadiums. This team’s been in a lot of situations. Been everywhere man. Like the Johnny Cash song, ‘we’ve been everywhere man.’ Everywhere. Been in a lot of situations.”

The last two games there you’ve had a tough time. Is that because of their home-field advantage, because of their team? You come down here and play them and you beat them. Up there it just seems everything goes haywire.

“When you start comparing one game to another, whether it be the Carolina Panthers from earlier in the season and the San Francisco 49ers to the playoff game, or Seahawks-49ers. This game will be played on its merit. We’ll prepare ourselves and we’ll be ready to go.”

You mentioned the poise. You guys have won three straight games on the road now, two in the playoffs. What does it take to win in these difficult environments? Is poise the main thing or fortitude? What does it sort of say about your team to have done this week after week?

“I’m sure we could get into a long discussion about it, or peal back the onion layer by layer. But, good football players, good team. Defense has played extremely well. That’s very important in road games. Our players have competed and persevered and come out victorious. Those are the facts.”

In his place, TE Vance McDonald seemed to play a lot of fullback yesterday. Is that the most you guys have used him? How does he do in that role?

“I thought he blocked very well yesterday and had many more opportunities in that role.”

Can you also talk about the preparation for Sunday’s game? Because the stadium is known as the noisiest stadium, what’s the strategy to make the players communicate in the game?

“Other teams may approach it differently. You’ve got to be able to communicate without being able to hear very well. You can simulate that somewhat in practice. Signals, hand signals, verbal signals, body language, reading lips, different ways. But, we’ll practice that. We’ve been in some of those environments, as you know.”

How did you handle it Week 2? Did you feel good about that aspect of it, how you guys handled the crowd noise up there?

“Go back and re-plow Week 2?”

Yeah.

“I suppose we could have done better in areas than we did. We didn’t win the game. If you went back and looked at it there was sort of that avalanche at the end and the game got out of hand late in the game. But, we’ll learn from our mistakes. That’s how you get smart. That’s how we all get smart, right? If we learn from our mistakes, we get smart.”

Driving down I was listening to former QB and current ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer who had criticized QB Colin Kaepernick and said this game he thought was his best, went through his progression, which was the criticism earlier. Do you agree with all that? This looked like one of his better games, if not his best.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to the interview that you’re referring to. Colin’s had a lot of good games. I think you know what my opinion has been throughout the year. He’s been consistently good week after week. Been consistently, and one of our best, explosive players, best decision makers, best football players on our team week after week. I know I’ll say that and then will hear stories about how he wasn’t earlier in the season. In my opinion, I think you know how I feel how he’s been all year. And this game, this past game, I truly believe was another good game.”

As a quarterback, do you agree with the idea that if the team wins, whatever the quarterback’s stats are, then the quarterback has done his job?

“He’s got many jobs, the quarterback. I was a young assistant coach, when I first started coaching, for Mr. [former Oakland Raiders owner] Al Davis. And, I didn’t understand how profound the statement ‘just win baby’ was, even when I was there. I thought I knew, but I didn’t know to the extent that I know now. Just win baby.”

On Panthers QB Cam Newton quarterback sneak on fourth down, you had LB Ahmad Brooks lined up in the A-gap, to Newton’s right. Did you scout that look? Did you know that Newton was probably going to sneak it to the right side of the center if he did sneak it?

“The un-scouted part of the whole situation was the defense itself. We went from a 6-2 defense on the goal line, everybody watched that movie All the Right Moves, 6-2 stankmonster, get a feeling. That’s been our defense on the goal line. For the years we’ve been here we’ve never shown a 5-3 look. By taking Ahmad and moving him into the center to create the 5-3 was what was un-scouted. We had not shown that and I thought it was a great move by [defensive coordinator] Vic Fangio. We talked about it during the week. This is something that would be very difficult for the opposition if we get in that position and Vic said, ‘well I hope we’re not in that position.’ Sure enough we were in that position two times, and that planning, that preparation by our players, especially by Vic Fangio and the defensive coaches was profound.”

How much did Brooks’ experience at middle linebacker before he came here factor into you guys putting him there?

“Yeah some, the experience he’s had there. But, he was very excited about it and so was [LB] NaVorro [Bowman], so was [LB] Patrick [Willis] and the rest of the fellas were really excited. We watched it all week in practice and everybody grew very confident, very excited in the plan.”

What did you think of the leap over the line?

“I thought it was very athletic.”

Speaking of those linebackers, NaVorro was saying that they truly love each other. When they’re in a meeting room, the care they have for each other to play together shows. Have you observed that aside from what they do for you out on the field?

“I have. And, the teamwork, the respect that they have for each other, the love, is shared by many people on the team. And that, as a coach, there’s nothing that makes you feel as good as to hear that. That’s the team, the team, the team. And, it’s genuine. It’s not talk.”

Does that carry, does that transfer onto the field?

“Oh, absolutely.”

There was a shot, I think it was near the end of the game, of you and RB Frank Gore on the sidelines and he was pretty enthusiastically talking to you. I wouldn’t expect you to talk about internal conversations between you and players, but is that kind of stuff like big-picture stuff that he’s talking about or specific plays during the game? What was Frank so excited about there?

“What the conversations have always been between Frank and I in game, during game, things that he thinks would work, wants to suggest. In that particular case was the same. And he was really adamant about keep giving him the ball, keep giving him the ball. And I listen.”

In yesterday’s game, it got pretty emotional and chippy at times. It seemed like you guys for the most part kept your poise and were able to be emotional without kind of crossing the line. What can you do as a coach to find that balance because obviously that could come up again Sunday in Seattle?

“I thought our guys demonstrated great poise. Our coaches, what can you do, our coaches and players really stressed it all week. One of our big goals in the game was to eliminate pre-snap penalties on both sides of the ball, and post-play penalties. I know some of our players talked about it and they were carrying the water on that message as much as the coaches were this week. And, weren’t perfect but I gave them an A grade in that regard.”

The Seahawks blocked ticket sales to California residents. What are your thoughts on that?

“Well, it’s within the rules. It’s within the spirit of the rules of the National Football League. I actually respect it. That you’re trying to do for your team, put them in the best possible position to win that you can. And, I respect that their organization does that for their team. I think they do that in a lot of ways with their team, with their fans, with their organization. So, what do I think of it? I respect it.”

What have you come to expect from a Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll-coached team no matter what?

“A lot of good things. Again, it’d be a long list of football attributes. How well they’re coached. What a great job their organization does. The competitiveness of their players. Execution, consistently really, really good week after week. And it’s hard to get to this point. It’s hard to get to this position. Talking about a year of preparation and planning and offseason and training camp and games. And they did it better than anybody did it this entire season. So, a great task, great challenge ahead of us 49ers.”

How much does it help going up against a guy like Cam Newton help prepare you for a guy like Seahawks QB Russell Wilson?

“I don’t know how much.”

Is that stadium significantly louder than anywhere else you go?

“There are a lot of loud venues I wouldn’t want to disrespect any of the loud venues. But, I would have to say that that’s the loudest, yes. To my ear, but I’m older. Everything sounds louder to me, I think. All the music seems a lot louder.”

Can you talk about your 49er fans and what they mean to you and the team?

“So much. It’s a great group, great group of fans. You feel like you have a hometown advantage with our fans. And pulled the busses in last night when we got back from Carolina and so many of the folks were out there greeting the busses. That was neat. A lot of familiar faces that come a lot, are out there sometimes week after week. You get to know them. You get to know some of the kids that are in the family. It’s got a real family feel to me and it’s much appreciated.”

You guys did, I don’t recall too many quarterback sneaks through the years, but you guys did it yesterday. What goes into calling something like that and the inherent risk that’s involved with the quarterback on a sneak?

“Well, one, we felt we had the look for it, and because we hadn’t done it much this season or really in the past couple seasons, felt like it was a good strategic maneuver.”

A lot of people make this rivalry about you versus Pete Carroll. Are you OK with that? What are your thoughts on people pinning Harbaugh versus Carroll?

“I haven’t seen that. I haven’t seen where that’s really even talked about anymore. I think that might have been something four or five years ago. But, I haven’t seen it as of late. And, it would be as irrelevant now as it would have been then when people made a bigger deal out of it. So, irrelevant, irrelevant.”

You’ve been outspoken about their secondary and the physical way they play. Is that a big part of their success, and are you maybe better equipped this year--?

“Have I been outspoken? I wouldn’t call it outspoken.”

OK, candid maybe?

“What are you referring to? How good they are?”

Yes.

“Yeah, they’re very good. No question about it. And they’re good at every position. You could say that about their entire defense, and really good on offense at every position. So, no secret.”

The second part of my question was with WR Anquan Boldin, who’s not only a good receiver but a physical receiver, how much does that help you combat that?

“I’ll just talk about the merits of Anquan Boldin. I really am not connecting your question to the Seahawks or their secondary. So, I’m now talking about Anquan Boldin on his own merits. He’s a great football player, and that’s probably the highest compliment you can give to anybody who plays football. And I believe he’s as tough as any player at any position in the National Football League, both mentally and physically. And we all have the utmost respect for Anquan Boldin and what he does for this team. Tremendous teammate, tremendous football player.”

You mentioned the tough aspects of this team, the environments you’ve played in. Do you think it’ll take an even tougher performance on Sunday to win up there?

“Well, it’s only for the tough. This game is only for the tough and I think we knew, as all teams know, that as you go through your season where you’re going is only for the tough.”

You’re the first coach to take your team to this round in your first three seasons. When you first got the job, and you looked at this roster and the situation, was this your expectation of this level of success in your first three seasons?

“I had expectations for a great first day of practice and great meetings in the first day of practice. And I think somebody even asked me that the very first day of practice, ‘What were the expectations? What do you think your record’s going to be, etcetera, etcetera?’ And I honestly gave, my answer was I had great expectations for our very first day. Again, this is - I block and tackle nobody. And our players have done a phenomenal job, our coaches have done a great job and it’s been a team effort where everybody does a little and it adds up to a lot. But it’s a great zip code to live in, what our team has accomplished.”

WR Quinton Patton had an important catch early on. He also had the block on Kaepernick’s run, but he also sort of got Panthers CB Josh Thomas riled up to the point where he had a personal foul. What does it say about a rookie to be able to get someone to that point and then walk away like that?

“I don’t think he was--, first of all, I can’t even agree with you that he got him riled up to the point that that is fact. I can’t agree that that’s fact. I know that that wasn’t something he was intentionally doing. He was blocking a man, and he was doing it very well and very competitively. And what resulted, resulted. But Quinton’s been a real good blue-collar guy for us now. He’s only really had limited action in the NFL, but the big stage does not frighten him. And I really like that about him. Each and every week he’s contributed something. And you feel good about that and that improvement, and hope for continued success. And there’s other examples. Also, I want to talk about [TE] Vernon Davis too. Vernon, the touchdown catch that he made, and the way he was able to drag the feet and get the two feet in bounds, it’s something that he has worked tirelessly at in practice, after practice, before practice. He mentioned that [RB] Frank [Gore] was throwing him balls. He has really worked very hard at that. And to see the improvement, to see the payoff, just, it gives me tingles. Just wonderful, wonderful result because of all the hard work, and extra work, that he’s done on that. And it resulted in an NFL-tying record for a tight end seventh touchdown in the postseason. Now Vernon’s only played in seven postseason games, playoff or Super Bowl games. And he tied the “ghost to the post” Dave Casper. Growing up watching a lot of NFL Films as I did, it seems like Dave Casper played in a lot more playoff games maybe than Vernon did. But I went and researched that and Dave Casper’s played in eight.”

They were in the playoffs almost every year?

“Weren’t they a lot? Yeah, Bob Lange’s got to look that up. It said only eight. I still can’t believe that. I felt like Dave Casper was in a lot of playoff games watching NFL Films. But again, that’s a neat accomplishment for Vernon.”

Do you feel it will take a near perfect game or a perfect game to win up there on Sunday?

“We’ll strive for that. We’ll strive for the perfect game. We’ve yet to reach that elusive perfection, but we’ll be striving for it.”

Have you thrown a one-hitter?

“Pardon?”

Have you thrown a one-hitter?

“Are we equating to baseball?”

I was just having fun.

“I was just answering the question. I didn’t go into baseball. But yeah, we’ll strive for that. And again, preparation will be the big factor. I also wanted to mention too, I had a chance to fly home last night and Stephanie, our babysitter, had Tivo-ed the game for us, and she took out the trash cans, which was, she is the best. Not a lot of babysitters would do that. And I did get a real nice note on the trashcan this morning saying, ‘Great job coach. Quest for six, from the fellas. So, I appreciated that. But what I wanted to say is I was watching the game on the Tivo and Joe Buck and Troy Aikman talked about my grandfather, Joe Cipiti. And they just did a wonderful job. I wanted to thank them for that. Both Joe and Troy, the way they talked about it, you could hear it in their voice that they understood family and they just had a great understanding of what our grandpa meant to us. So, I appreciate those guys for that.”

Had he come out here to visit a lot?

“Many times, yes.”

And just how difficult was it for you to coach yesterday after hearing the news earlier in the morning?

“It was sad, and I kind of felt that sadness all day. But I know he’s got a new audience now to tell his stories to. He is an amazing storyteller. He’s a poet of life and a man that was all about family. We learned that you take care of your family, take care of your family first. And if you ever have any disagreements or difficulties you address them in-house with your family. And he lived that. He lived such a great life, did so many things, went to so many places. He always showed up and just did it. So, I don’t know if he’s up there shooting craps, or he’s playing golf, or he’s at the track watching the trotters. But he came out a lot and I got a wonderful photo of him with [T] Joe Staley and [G] Mike Iupati sitting on the bench. And I talked to the guys after the game and told them what they meant to Grandpa Joe. And they all remembered him and felt great. Some of my Stanford players, because he was always around our team, texted their condolences. But he lived a great life. He was watching the Green Bay game a week ago, and he took credit for Colin Kaepernick’s performance. He said when he put the 49ers hat on the 49ers scored a touchdown. And he’s just a wonderful, amazing man.”

[Are] you going to be able to make services?

“I may not. Bit of a crushing blow there. But they’re having them Friday and I don’t think I’ll be able to make it. But Grandpa Joe is with me and I’m with him and he knows that.”

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