SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Jim Harbaugh pirouetted in frustration following a personal foul on Dan Skuta. He got hit with his own unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing following a catch by Vernon Davis that went to review before being ruled a touchdown.
And that was just last Sunday.
Harbaugh has been at his emotional best — or worst — with his cartoon-like faces and quirky sideline antics in leading San Francisco back to the NFC championship game for the third time in as many years since taking over as 49ers head coach in January 2011. On Davis’ TD during Sunday’s 23-10 win at Carolina, Harbaugh ran well onto the field during the play.
“I think Harbaugh gets away with murder myself,” former Seahawks coach and ex-49ers assistant Mike Holmgren said. “If I ever did that, it would be a penalty.”
Harbaugh should be as charged up as ever come Sunday, when he faces off once more against the rival Seattle Seahawks in an NFC championship game featuring that familiar coaching sideshow with Pete Carroll. This time, there is a Super Bowl berth on the line.
But if you ask Harbaugh, “What’s your deal?” is so five years ago. Enough already, he insists. Keep it about the players.
“That might have been something four or five years ago,” Harbaugh said. “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.”
Sorry, not this week. There is no avoiding such chatter. Harbaugh has to expect that infamous phrase to come up often.
It dates back to their college days coaching in the Pac-10 Conference.
In 2009, Harbaugh and No. 25 Stanford ran up the score on 11th-ranked Southern California in a surprising 55-21 rout, even attempting a two-point conversion with the game way out of reach — prompting Carroll’s infamous “What’s your deal?” caught on camera when they met afterward at midfield.
Whatever their past or perceived differences, Harbaugh knows what to expect every time a Carroll-coached team takes the field.
The Seahawks ended San Francisco’s two-year reign as NFC West champion.
“It’s hard to get to this position,” Harbaugh said. “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.”
The 49ers have already accomplished plenty this postseason by winning in the bitter cold of Green Bay and at Carolina.
Harbaugh is the first coach in the Super Bowl era to reach the NFC championship in each of his first three years.
The 50-year-old Harbaugh, a 15-year NFL quarterback himself, regularly moves around the team plane to visit with players about football and life.
He shares meals with rookies and veterans alike on occasion in the team’s cafeteria.