Jim Harbaugh

How the 49ers fell from grace after historic run under Jim Harbaugh

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USATSI

How the 49ers fell from grace after historic run under Jim Harbaugh

During Jim Harbaugh’s tenure as 49ers head coach, he led San Francisco to three consecutive NFC championship games in his first three seasons as head coach.

However, the organization also imploded dramatically in the seasons following Harbaugh’s controversial departure in 2014. 

As part of SB Nation’s “Collapse” video series profiling historic demises in sports history, the 49ers from 2011 through 2016 were put under the microscope.

After beating out a host of competitors, the 49ers were blessed with Harbaugh’s services following Mike Singletary’s firing in 2010. 

Trent Baalke led a truly remarkable stretch of jaw-dropping roster decisions that became part of the fractured relationship between the general manager and Harbaugh.

Remember A.J. Jenkins? Or LaMichael James? Baalke’s ineptitude spiraled until he and his head coach could no longer compromise, and they agreed to “mutually part ways.”

While nostalgia isn’t generating positive memories in this case, 49ers fans can rest much easier when thinking about the current state of the franchise.

[RELATED: 49ers 53-man roster: Examining who made 2019 NFL regular season team]

Jed York brought in John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan together, hoping to ensure that his coach and general manager would always be on the same page. 

The team has secured a franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, although the signal-caller still has a lot to prove in what all fans are praying is his first full, 16-game season with San Francisco.

While things might have been turbulent in the first half of the 2010s for the 49ers, the franchise appears to be in very capable hands with the 2019 season just eight days away.

Broncos coach Vic Fangio fondly looks back on four-year 49ers run

Broncos coach Vic Fangio fondly looks back on four-year 49ers run

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – During the 49ers’ run of three consecutive trips to the NFC Championship Game and one Super Bowl appearance, Jim Harbaugh’s teams were led by a talented and disciplined defense.

Four years after the 49ers passed over their defensive coordinator on those teams, Vic Fangio, for a promotion to head coach after Harbaugh’s departure, the Denver Broncos came calling.

Fangio, who is in his first summer as head coach of the Broncos, is leading his new team into two practices sessions against his former team before Denver and the 49ers square off in an exhibition game Monday night. He said he looks back with mostly fond memories on his time with the 49ers.

“We had great success there, so it’s always good to be part of good teams playing in meaningful games in the regular season and I think we had eight or nine playoff games while I was there,” Fangio told NBC Sports Bay Area following practice on Friday.

“They are all great experiences. I look back on that time as mostly with nothing but positive memories.”

The 49ers’ defense ranked in the top-five in the NFL in yards allowed with such All-Pro players on the unit as Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman from 2011 to 2014.

“We had great players, No. 1 – guys I really liked working with,” Fangio said. “I had good relationships with a lot of them. Still stay in touch with a lot of them. And they played good and hard together. They did what we asked them to do. For the most part, it resulted in good results. I look back on those guys with a lot of fondness.”

Despite being Harbaugh’s top assistant, Fangio was passed over for the 49ers’ head-coaching job in favor of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who proved to be overmatched with the responsibility.

Fangio said his experience with the 49ers and being interviewed for the head-coaching job in January 2015 all were part of the process in the steps he took to land his current job with the Broncos. He spent the past four seasons as Chicago Bears defensive coordinator and developed his unit there into one of the best in the league, too.

[RELATED: 49ers camp report: Defense continues practice-field dominance vs. Broncos]

Fangio, who will turn 61 next week, is a straight-shooter who clearly is doing it his way with the Broncos after all the experiences he has had from coaching professional football every season since 1984 -- with a one-year stop at Stanford to be on Harbaugh's staff in 2010.

“You pick and choose from everybody you work with,” he said. “I don’t take notes or anything like that. I just know what I’d do in the same situation and go with it.”

Why Yahoo ranks 49ers among NFL's top 10 most tortured fan bases

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Why Yahoo ranks 49ers among NFL's top 10 most tortured fan bases

Here's a hypothetical for you. 

NFL Team "A" has won more Super Bowls than 29 of its peers, and has the second-best winning percentage in the Super Bowl of any team with multiple appearances. NFL Team "B" hasn't won a title in nearly a quarter-century, and its last Super Bowl berth came down to a turnover on downs on fourth-and-goal. It's easy to say one has had it better than the other, right? 

Well, "A" and "B" are the same team. The 49ers' five Super Bowl wins are tied for third-most in NFL history, and only the Baltimore Ravens have a better record in the game (2-0) than San Francisco. Of course, the Niners' last Super Bowl win came 25 years ago next Jan. 29, and the Ravens forced said turnover on downs to cut short San Francisco's "Quest for Six." 

The latter was enough for the 49ers to crack the top 10 of Yahoo's annual "Most Tortured Fan Base" list. San Francisco didn't make the list last season, but Yahoo's Jay Busbee noted that "[the] higher the expectations, the richer the history, the more painful it is when a team trips over its own facemask," and that applies to the 49ers in his eyes. 

"This is a team that could combine its win total of the last three years and still have trouble catching the Rams," Busbee wrote. "The fans that have made the pilgrimage down from San Francisco to watch this strange little team can at least take comfort that they once had a truly great dynasty … once. And it’s probably best if they don’t think about the fact that front-office spats cost the team a shot at another back in the Harbaugh/Kaepernick Super Bowl days."

Ouch. 

Last season marked the 49ers' fifth straight season in which they missed the playoffs, and that drought now has outlasted the entirety of Jim Harbaugh's four-year tenure as head coach.

Since Steve Young lifted the monkey off his back in Super Bowl XXIX, San Francisco has alternated between close-but-not-quite -- they're 1-3 in subsequent NFC Championship games -- and far away. 

A 5-0 finish to the 2017 season spearheaded by Garoppolo raised expectations for 2018, but Garoppolo's torn ACL all-but-ended the 49ers' hope of a turnaround. 

The 49ers' heartbreak even pre-dates the post-dynasty years. In San Francisco's first 31 NFL seasons, the 49ers only made the playoffs four times. They lost back-to-back NFC Championship games in 1970 and 1971, enduring an eight-year playoff drought before winning the franchise's first Super Bowl. In all, the 49ers have missed the NFL playoffs more times (44) than they've made it (26). San Francisco also has nine NFC championship losses on its resumé and five of those were by seven points or fewer. 

[RELATED: 49ers' Bourne coming on in Day 7 of make-or-break summer]

While the 49ers had a height that, say, Carolina Panthers fans would take in a heartbeat, a generation -- or two -- of San Francisco fans weren't really around for the franchise's glory days. Twenty-five years without a title isn't the longest drought in the NFL, but it's up there at this point.

If the 49ers have their way, the Faithful won't make the list next season. Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch didn't exactly back away from their players referring to Super Bowl-or-bust expectations at the start of training camp.