SANTA CLARA -- There is a bit of magic to what Jim Harbaugh has been doing with the 49ers, more than is revealed by their impressive records, more than meets the eye.
Harbaugh's greatest gift is one every authority figure could only wish to have. The 49ers coach is able to gain and maintain the loyalty and trust of his subordinates even when his actions indicate he has abandoned them.
He is somehow able to masterfully massage the feelings of those he has ousted, like former starting quarterback Alex Smith.
He manages to keep the trust of those he has tried to replace, like kicker David Akers.
Have you listened to Harbaugh's solemn expressions of faith and support toward those who clearly
No matter what this coach does to or with his roster -- and his moves demonstrate utter relentlessness in pursuit of excellence -- his players feel he has their best interests at heart.
"We trust Coach to know what he's doing," linebacker Patrick Willis says.
"His biggest thing is, he wants us to get better as individuals and as a team," defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois says. "He wants us to be better than we were yesterday, and he wants us better yesterday than we were the day before that."
Because the players perceive Harbaugh to be loyal to them as men first and football players second, they continue to follow his lead and hang on his
Because the coach always articulates his vision as team-first, any player worth his paycheck in professionalism can't help but embrace the message.
"Being a great teammate, doing the best to your god-given ability each and every time is a great gift that you can give to another man -- to have his back," Harbaugh says. "That's a strong phrase. But I don't think that's just something our guys talk about. I think it's who they are."
There he goes, applauding the team. Such smooth ruthlessness would make an established con man blush with envy.
This, folks, is not Bill Walsh, the legendary 49ers coach who would fire darts at players in public, often with searing sarcasm. Former offensive tackle Bubba Paris surely seethed over barbs related to his weight and conditioning.
Nor is Harbaugh's style like that of the franchise's other Super Bowl coach, George Seifert, whose baby blues would stare holes through a player who crossed him.
"Coach doesn't have to do that," Jean Francois says. "He has players in here who will do it for him. He's not going to yell and shout. He doesn't have to because he has strong enough leaders around here. He has somebody like old Randy Moss, who gives a lot of wisdom. He talks to us. He can tell us things. He's been there. When you have somebody like that, or somebody like Justin (Smith) and a few other guys in here, you should not get angry about what the coach says or does."
The veterans, Harbaugh's lieutenants, are able to bridge any cracks or fissures because they can point to three things. The first: Harbaugh's decision-making since coming to San Francisco has been near flawless. The second: The team's record since his arrival is 27-8-1 -- best in the NFL. The third: The 49ers were 14-18 in the two seasons before his arrival and 39-73 in the seven seasons before Harbaugh showed up.
Then, too, Harbaugh as an NFL coach is a different cat. A starting quarterback in the league during the 1990s, he has a firm grasp of the modern player's psyche and an even firmer grip on what a team needs to succeed. He is somehow able to wrap new-age sensibilities around an old-school mentality. It's quite a skill.
Tell reserve linebacker Tavares Gooden of Harbaugh's interpersonal gifts, and the special teams ace responds thusly:
"We are football players. That's what we do. I'm a football player. I'm not a coach, not the front-office guy. We play the game, regardless of what's going on. There's always going to be obstacles, at every level. If you can't learn to adjust and block those obstacles out, you're going to have a hard time in the National Football League.
"If you get distracted by that, if you get caught up in that, you're not in the playoffs. You're not competing for the AFC or NFC championship. You're not winning games."
Pardon Gooden if his view is slightly warped. He has played for only two NFL head coaches: Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco and, before that, John Harbaugh in Baltimore.
So maybe Harbaugh's magic is not magic at all. Maybe it's a genetic gift.
We only know his formula is working exceptionally well.
Jim Harbaugh's Five Commandments, as best we can tell, are these: (1) Fiercely protect the team; (2) Never recognize failure; (3) Praise all under your command; (4) Men first, players second; and (5) Do whatever must be done to achieve the best possible result.
So if you're waiting for Harbaugh to criticize Jenkins -- and surely he can -- you can move along. If you're waiting for a sign of displeasure toward Akers -- and there is good reason -- keep moving.
If you're waiting for Harbaugh to acknowledge Aldon Smith's declining production or the one-month disappearance of Vernon Davis or the three-month disappearance of LaMichael James, you're waiting in vain.
Harbaugh won't do any of that because it's not who he is as a coach.
But it's precisely why he is where he is as a coach.
And it's why the 49ers are where they are this week, one of two teams still standing, playing for jewelry and the right to display the biggest trophy in the NFL.