Jim Harbaugh: 2005 DUI 'made me a better counselor,' and Aldon Smith provides a serious test case

Saturday September 21st, 2013

Jim Harbaugh is facing questions about his handling of OLB/DE Aldon Smith. (Michael Zagaris/Getty Images) Jim Harbaugh is facing questions about his handling of OLB/DE Aldon Smith. (Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has faced more heat than he would like about the way he's handled linebacker/end Aldon Smith's most recent DUI offense. Smith was arrested on Friday morning for driving under the influence, but Harbaugh intimated later that day that Smith would play against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. It was Smith's second DUI in less than two years, and while the NFL might want to speak to him about a suspension, Harbaugh said at his Friday press conference that Smith "needs to go to work, face his teammates and soldier through it."

It's an interesting take, considering that last November, backup defensive lineman DeMarcus Dobbs was arrested for suspicion of DUI and marijuana possession, and he didn't travel with the team for a contest against the St. Louis Rams the next Sunday. Dobbs was also arrested on a Friday, and it got a bit up Harbaugh's nose when he was asked this Friday about the seemingly different treatment given to Smith.

"I’m not going into the specifics and the dissecting of what the policies are," Harbaugh said. "If you want to question those, so be it.”

The answer seems fairly obvious -- Smith is one of the 49ers' most important players, and while Dobbs was a key special teams contributor, San Francisco's defense wasn't going to fall apart without him. Dobbs suffered a knee injury on Dec. 9, was out for the rest of the season, and was suspended by the league for the 2013 season opener against the Green Bay Packers.

More interestingly, Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News pointed out a piece written by Roy S. Johnson of Stanford Magazine in September, 2008. Johnson reveals that when Harbaugh interviewed for the Stanford head coach position in April, 2007, he had to explain his own vehicular incident.

Early one Sunday morning in October 2005, he ran a stop sign, was stopped, arrested and charged with suspicion of drunken driving. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to three years probation and given a $1,300 fine. During an interview with Stanford in April, Harbaugh mentioned the DUI before being asked about it. “I've brought that up with my players a few times,” he said. “I think that's made me a better counselor than I was before. The way I coached guys before that happened it was like, 'Why can't you get it?' 'Why can't you get it right?' 'You did this wrong, now fix it!' I was so much more of a perfectionist, to a fault. But I gained some understanding. In many ways it made me a better person, a better coach, a better counselor.”
Harbaugh was San Diego's head coach at the time (the college, not the Chargers), and into his own words, that DUI plea game him a better sense of how to deal with these things. We don't know how Harbaugh is dealing with Smith, because he's been typically tight-lipped about the whole thing -- but there are many who wonder if the same guy who has insisted that he wants his own team to be "above reproach" and is not shy about slamming other teams and programs isn't missing the forest for the trees in this case.

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