INDIANAPOLIS — From 2011 to 2014, Jim Harbaugh guided the San Francisco 49ers to an overall record of 44-19 — a .695 winning percentage — with two appearances in the NFC Championship Game and one Super Bowl appearance.
His running back during those four seasons? Frank Gore, who would combine to run the ball 1,071 times for 4,659 yards — a 4.4-yard yards-per-carry average — with 29 rushing touchdowns over that same span.
2016 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award - Frank Gore.
The team's success and Gore's dominance were certainly not mutually exclusive.
Gore's production alone would satisfy any head coach, but for Harbaugh, the best part was that he not only got to develop a close bond with the Pro Bowl running back on the field, but he got to see the kind of person he was off of it.
Harbaugh and Gore eventually went their separate ways — Harbaugh now entering his third season as the head coach at the University of Michigan, while Gore is beginning his third season with the Indianapolis Colts — but the two remain close to this day.
That was one of the many topics of conversation Wednesday on the “Taylor Price Talk” podcast, in which Harbaugh was asked by host Taylor Price — a former San Francisco 49ers team site reporter — about his relationship with Gore specifically.
"Well, it's been awesome," Harbaugh said. "And, you know, (it's) really almost the definition of a long and trusting friendship I feel like I have with Frank."
Harbaugh said he'll exchange phone calls and texts with Gore throughout the year, but those really pick up during each other's respective seasons, as both have continued to have tremendous success after their careers in San Francisco came to an end.
Harbaugh has taken his iconic pleated khaki pants, as well as his well-known boisterous attitude, and shaped Michigan back into a national college football power, going 10-3 in each of his first two seasons and ranking as high as No. 2 nationally during the 2016 season.
Gore, of course, has continued his assault on the all-time National Football League rushing record book. In 2016 alone, he passed the likes of Thurman Thomas, Franco Harris, Marcus Allen, Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk, Jim Brown and Tony Dorsett to move into eighth-place on the league's all-time rushing list (13,065 yards); his 1,025 rushing yards during the season made him the first running back age 33 or older since the Washington Redskins' John Riggins in 1984 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
He was also the first Colts running back to run for 1,000 yards since Joseph Addai back in 2007.
Gore, 34, is entering the final season of a three-year contract in Indianapolis, and with another solid effort, could easily find himself in the Top 5 all-time in rushing, and knocking on the door of No. 4 Curtis Martin, who racked up 14,101 career rushing yards.
Harbaugh is also no stranger to having success, particularly in Indianapolis. A 2005 inductee into the Colts' Ring of Honor, he threw for 8,705 yards with 49 touchdowns to 26 interceptions in his four seasons as the Colts' quarterback from 1994 to 1997, earning his only-career Pro Bowl selection in Indy in 1995.
So he knows what he's talking about when he says there's no question about Gore's place in NFL history once his playing days are over.
"It's amazing," Harbaugh said. "I keep saying he's heading for the Hall of Fame."
Most importantly to Harbaugh, however, is that Gore — the NFL’s 2016 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award winner — is "also a Hall of Fame guy already."
"I know, from my part, there's a real admiration and respect for Frank as a friend, as a person, as a football player, as a dad," he said. "I love the way he is as a dad to his kids."
You can listen to Price's entire 30-minute conversation with Harbaugh below (the Gore part begins around the 22:24 mark), and/or click here to subscribe to his podcast on iTunes.
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