SAN FRANCISCO -- When Jim Harbaugh barged though the 49ers' door two years ago and said he wanted Alex Smith to return and be his quarterback, the general response was disappointment if not disgust.
Harbaugh rewired Smith and the 49ers went 13-3, reaching the NFC Championship game and taking it into overtime before losing.
Yet when Harbaugh came back this year and replaced a proficient Smith, at midseason for crying out loud, the response, once again, was nagging doubt and anxiety.
Harbaugh ignored the background noise -- he ignores all background noise -- and plowed ahead with his plan.
And, once again, he nailed it.
Colin Kaepernick's dynamic performance Saturday in San Francisco's
Harbaugh is moving, at warp speed, into Bill Walsh territory.
He's not yet there as a champion, though there is plenty of time for that to develop.
But Harbaugh already has proved himself to be quite the Quarterback Whisperer.
He has won 26 of his first 35 games as an NFL head coach. He won with Smith when nobody else had, when nobody imagined Smith could win anything beyond a congeniality competition.
And now he's winning with Kaepernick, who made his first NFL start two months ago and already has become one of the most captivating
While many were gazing at Harbaugh's risk, his eyes were on the potential reward. When many questioned his judgment in replacing a perfectly good quarterback, Harbaugh shrugged his shoulders and turned to Kaepernick, whom he sees as San Francisco's quarterback of the future.
Just as Smith was gaining a legion of believers, after so many years of distrust, he was being replaced by someone who spent last season wearing a cap and holding a clipboard.
And when some of Harbaugh's own players were wondering if this would work, the coach already was convinced it would.
"Being in the league for a while, you kind of wonder about someone's level of experience,'' center Jonathan Goodwin said, recalling the midseason quarterback switch. "But one thing about Colin is he's always been confident. When you see a young guy with that kind of confidence, you're willing to give it a chance.''
A chance has become a revelation. Kaepernick has been better than anyone might have anticipated. And his first foray into the NFL postseason was a spectacular success.
Harbaugh wasn't surprised. Of course he wasn't. He would not have put Kaepernick in this position unless he had full faith in the second-year quarterback from the University of Nevada.
Even when Kaep's second pass, a bad idea followed by worse execution, was intercepted by Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields and returned for a touchdown, the coach neither blinked nor wavered.
There was plenty of game left, the coach and the kid agreed.
"He's got that ability to come back,'' Harbaugh said.
And he did, with big play after big play, destroying the Packers defense and, ultimately, demoralizing them into submission.
The league now sees what Harbaugh saw in Kaepernick: A weapon unlike any other. He's extremely fast, has a very strong arm, is highly intelligent, hyper competitive and shrugs off failure. He overwhelmed the Packers, running for 181 yards (on 16 carries) and two touchdowns and completing 17 of 31 passes, for 263 yards, for two more scores.
Any questions about that Kaepernick-for-Smith swap?
"We've moved past that a long time ago,'' tackle Joe Staley said. "All those questions, I think are answered now.''
In a season where anything short of the Super Bowl amounts to failure, the 49ers, with the Harbaugh-Kaepernick connection, look as formidable as anyone on the landscape. They have multiple weapons, allowing them to score by run or by pass. They have resilience, allowing them to keep the faith. They have a quarterback who can keep defensive coordinators drinking coffee 'til the sun comes up.
It's time to let Harbaugh flex his judgment.
Trust him when he tells you he has a quarterback who can win football games.
Check the history. Harbaugh tutored Oakland Tech product Josh Johnson so well at tiny University of San Diego that Johnson was taken in the NFL draft. Harbaugh came to Stanford and won with Tavita Pritchard, then was blessed with Andrew Luck.
There was good reason to trust him when he asked Smith to come back.
There is better reason to trust him after watching Kaepernick's dazzling display.
It took Walsh a full six seasons and two Super Bowl trophies to become universally accepted as an NFL coach who could work magic with quarterbacks.
Harbaugh, it seems, is determined not to take as long.