January 8, 2011 / 1:22 AM / 9 years ago

San Francisco pins hopes on new coach Jim Harbaugh

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The San Francisco 49ers have turned to Jim Harbaugh, one of the top coaches in the highly competitive U.S. college system, to help rebuild their team after eight years of missing the NFL playoffs.

Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh looks to the field as his team prepared to meet Virginia Tech in the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl NCAA football game in Miami, January 3, 2011. REUTERS/Hans Deryk

San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke announced on Friday that Harbaugh had been appointed as their new head coach and was confident that he could take the five-time Super Bowl winners back to the top of the NFL.

“If you’re a 49ers fan, this is the start of a new generation,” Baalke told a news conference broadcast live on U.S. national television.

“I met this man about six years ago at a college All Stars game and I kind of fell in love with his energy. He had passion, and in order to succeed in this business I think you need to have that.”

A former quarterback who spent 15 seasons in the NFL, Harbaugh replaced Mike Singletary, who was fired last month after the 49ers came up short in the regular season.

Local media said Harbaugh agreed to a five-year deal worth $25 million.

“This is a great day for me,” Harbaugh said. “This is the perfect competitive opportunity for me and the rest of the San Francisco organization.”

Harbaugh was selected by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 1987 NFL draft and went on to play for the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers and Carolina Panthers.

He retired in 2001 and turned to coaching, following a long family tradition that includes his older brother John, now head coach of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.

Harbaugh served as an assistant coach for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders from 2002 to 2003 before cutting his teeth as a head coach in the highly competitive collegiate system.

He spent three years at San Diego and the past four seasons in charge of Stanford, leading the team to an emphatic win in the Orange Bowl earlier this week, triggering speculation that he would be lured to the NFL.

Local media reported that several teams, including the Miami Dolphins, had made approaches to him but Harbaugh said the challenge of trying to revive the sagging fortunes of the 49ers was what ultimately lured him to San Francisco.

“I can feel the enthusiasm coursing through my veins right now,” he said. “I accept this competitive challenge willingly.”

The appointment of Harbaugh comes more than three decades after Bill Walsh, another former Stanford coach, was recruited to help lift the 49ers from a similar dire state. After a slow start, Walsh went on to lead the 49ers to their first three Super Bowl titles.

They have struggled in recent seasons and have not made the playoffs since 2002.

They were tipped to win the NFC West Division this season but stumbled out of the gate, losing their five games, despite playing in the league’s weakest division.

They won six of their last 11 regular season games only to see the Seattle Seahawks (7-9) became the first team in the NFL to win a division title with a losing record.

Reporting by Julian Linden in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue

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