SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is taking on another coach.
Less than a year after an on-field confrontation with Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz over a postgame handshake, Harbaugh is miffed with New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
Harbaugh accused Gilbride on Friday of making outrageous and incendiary comments about All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith in an effort to influence officials prior to Sunday’s game between the teams that met in the NFC title game in January.
Harbaugh made his remarks in response to Gilbride’s answer to a question Thursday about what makes the 49ers’ front line so hard to block on passing plays. The long-time Giants coordinator started off by saying the linemen have ability and great, quick players who are tough.
What angered Harbaugh is what followed.
“Smith is a beast on the inside, he’s strong, he does as good a job of grabbing a hold of offensive linemen and allowing those twists to take place. He never gets called for it so he gets away with murder,” Gilbride said. “That, in conjunction with the ability level they have, makes them as formidable as anybody we go against, and we go against some pretty good ones in Dallas’ and Philadelphia’s. They’re as good as anybody up front.”
Harbaugh kicked off his news conference Friday with a statement in response.
“Kevin Gilbride’s outrageous, irrational statement regarding Justin Smith’s play is, first, an absurd analogy,” Harbaugh said. “Second, it is an incendiary comment targeting one of the truly exemplary players in this league. It’s obvious that the Giants coaching staff’s sole purpose is to use their high visibility to both criticize and influence officiating.”
Smith had no reaction to Gilbride’s allegation that he was getting away with holding.
“Hey, better than getting caught with it,” he said. “I mean, I really don’t know what he’s talking about, to be honest with you. But if he’s trying to talk himself, get some bulletin board stuff, good for him. Whatever they need to do. It doesn’t bother me. I’m going to have him look him up and see who it is.”
The more he talked, the more Smith seemed puzzled by Gilbride’s comments, adding that what he does is nothing out of the ordinary. He was happy Harbaugh had his back.
“Hey hold me. I mean, they hold me,” Smith said of offensive linemen. “So, whatever. That’s the first I’ve heard of it. That’s the first time I’ve heard of an offensive coordinator complaining about it. I mean, they hold me. They just hold. They’re born that way (laughs). I mean I really don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Niners offensive lineman Alex Boone felt it was wrong for Gilbride to call out Smith.
“A lot of people can get called out for a lot of things,” Boone said. “You just don’t do it. It’s not the way football’s played. So I don’t really care about it.”
Boone added that it is hard for a defensive lineman to get away with holding.
“If they’re holding, it’s pretty blatant and you see it. Everybody’s always moving around and you can’t really get away with stuff like that,” Boone said.
The Giants and 49ers played twice in San Francisco last season in two very hard-fought games. The Niners won the first 27-20 and New York took the second 20-17 in overtime, earning a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Giants won their second title in five seasons, beating the New England Patriots 21-17 in the championship game.
In the offseason, a couple of San Francisco players said they felt they gave the game away more than the Giants won.
Harbaugh said Wednesday he wasn’t bitter about the outcome and he didn’t feel as if his team left something on the field in conference title game.
“In fact, I felt our team did what they had done all year, they played their hearts out,” he said. “They gave it their all and their all was good enough. That’s how I felt.”