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49ers reel in Harbaugh

| Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO — Declaring it a "perfect competitive opportunity," Jim Harbaugh accepted the job as coach of the 49ers on Friday and said his goal is to win a Lombardi Trophy for "one of the legendary franchises in all of football."

The successful Stanford coach gets to remain in the Bay Area, moving to the NFL after four years with the Cardinal. A longtime NFL quarterback, he replaces Mike Singletary. ESPN reported Harbaugh's deal is for $25 million over five years.

Harbaugh decided to make the jump to the pros even though San Francisco has missed the playoffs eight straight seasons and quarterback Andrew Luck decided to remain at Stanford for another season.

"I can feel the enthusiasm coursing through my veins right now," Harbaugh said. "I accept this competitive challenge willingly."

The Cardinal (12-1) finished with a school-record 12 wins following a 40-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Harbaugh, though, has long admired the late Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, one of his mentors, and how Walsh made a successful leap from Stanford to the 49ers.

Now, he must turn around a once-proud franchise that is desperate to become a contender again. The 49ers were expected to win the NFC West this season, then began 0-5 for their worst start since losing seven straight to begin a 2-14 season in 1979 — Walsh's first year as coach.

The 49ers finished 6-10 this year — in the chase for a playoff berth in the NFL's worst division until the second-to-last week — and haven't had a winning season since their last trip to the playoffs in 2002.

Harbaugh, 47, went 58-27 as a college coach and 29-21 in four seasons at Stanford. He took over a 1-11 team when he was hired in December 2006 and quickly turned the program back into a winner and bowl contender. The Cardinal went 4-8 in his first season, 5-7 the next, then improved to 8-5 and earned a Sun Bowl berth in 2009 — the school's first bowl appearance since 2001.

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