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Jim Harbaugh still agonizes over losing a Super Bowl with the 49ers

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jim Harbaugh won a national championship at Michigan last month and returned to the NFL to coach the Los Angeles Chargers.

He still agonizes over losing a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers 11 years ago.

Harbaugh is in town and will be watching closely when San Francisco faces the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

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He was on the sideline coaching the 49ers when they rallied from a 28-6 second-half deficit only to fall short against his brother, John Harbaugh, and the Baltimore Ravens on Feb. 3, 2013.

Colin Kaepernick threw an incomplete pass to Michael Crabtree on fourth-and-5 from the 7 with under two minutes remaining in that game and the Ravens prevailed 34-31 after taking a safety to secure the win.

“There’s probably not a day that goes by that I don’t think about that game and what we could’ve done down at the end, (7) yards away from getting into the end zone,” Harbaugh told The Associated Press on Friday. “You leave that field and you go, there might be other days. Then you start thinking that might be the only day. Just wanted another shot at it, take another crack. My brother, my best friend, I love him, I’m proud of him. He earned that and he deserved that and his team did. ... When I say it motivates me every day, it’s every day.”

Harbaugh, who played quarterback for two seasons with the Chargers when they were in San Diego, inherits a team that underachieved under previous coach Brandon Staley. Running back Austin Ekeler, who will be a free agent, believes the team needed a coach like Harbaugh who can inspire and motivate the players.

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“I’ve heard great things about him. I’ve heard about he’s a culture-starter, which is exactly what that team needs,” Ekeler told the AP. “My message for Jim if I’m on that team or not on that team is to make sure we’re holding ourselves to a high standard and the culture is about holding ourselves accountable and holding other players accountable because I think that was lacking last year.”

Harbaugh inherits a franchise QB in Justin Herbert but still plans to emphasize running the ball. The Chargers had the 25th-ranked run offense in the NFL this season, when they finished 5-12.

“If things go well, it’s going to be because of guys like Austin Ekeler and the players,” Harbaugh said. “I like Austin Ekeler. We’re going to have a huge emphasis on the run game, and we gotta block better up front. He’s a tremendous back and we’d love to have him on the team next year. But yeah, things go well, it’s kind of because of all the players. If it goes bad, it’s because I’m a bad manager, I’m a bad coach.”

Harbaugh hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2014. He was 44-19-1 in four seasons with the 49ers and led them to three straight NFC championship games, winning one.

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The game has changed. There’s new technology and a greater use of analytics. Harbaugh plans to embrace all of it. He’s looking for whatever it takes to win, to gain even the slightest edge. Harbaugh was in Las Vegas working with Verizon, which deployed new coach-to-coach communications across each of the stadiums this season that will be used for the first time in a Super Bowl on Sunday.

“There’s places that this can go and where it’s going to be next year, you’re going to be a lot more advanced than this year,” Harbaugh said. “This AI technology. How does that relate to football and what tendencies and what film to watch and what blueprint you can get on a coordinator that you’re going up against. It’s going to take you to places that the human brain can’t go. There’s no question at the end of the day, it’s blocking and tackling, and toughness. But, you still have to dig for every minute possibility to be competitive and ultimately win because it’s that darn competitive at this level.”

The 60-year-old Harbaugh has unfinished business in the NFL. He’ll keep working to hoist that Vince Lombardi Trophy.

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