For his first crack at coaching in the National Football League, 49ers linebackers coach Jim Leavitt picked a great launching point. Working day in and day out with the All-Pro tandem of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman has been a blessing for the coach, who spent more than 30 years at the college level before joining the 49ers in 2011.
Leavitt has specialized in working with the inside linebacker tandem, while coaching in concert with coordinator Vic Fangio on one of the NFL’s toughest defenses. When discussing the relationships he’s formed with Bowman and Willis, Leavitt can’t help but smile.
“Pat and NaVorro are just special, they really are,” Leavitt said. “The Lord’s blessed them with a lot of talent and they’re very gifted, but the thing that I love about them is that they ask so many questions. They want to be great. Every day in practice they work so hard, they’re so focused and they have genuine love for each other.”
Both Bowman and Willis have peppered Leavitt with questions since he took his post before last season, but the humble coach also said he’s been learning a lot from his players.
“I love it,” Leavitt said. “It keeps me on my toes. The bottom line is being prepared when we play, so I love all the questions. But they ask them all.”
While Willis has established himself as one of the game’s elite players over the last few years, Bowman made a name for himself in 2011. But that’s not to say Leavitt wasn’t familiar with him until last year.
Leavitt’s University of South Florida team faced off against Bowman at Penn State in recent years, giving the coach his first glimpse of the talented linebacker. So once he saw Bowman’s film from his rookie year and saw him make a few plays in the preseason, Leavitt knew he had a special player.
“I knew the guy was really talented and really gifted,” Leavitt said. “He’s really been an impressive player. But he’s like Pat – he asks a million questions and he wants to be precise in everything he does. He’s got great knowledge of the defense and all those things are there for him.”
During his time on the college circuit, Leavitt also competed against Jack Harbaugh, father of 49ers coach Jim. In fact, the two coaches did battle on four occasions, splitting the series at two games apiece.
Once he met Jim Harbaugh and saw traces of Jack’s enthusiasm, Leavitt said he felt the need to join the San Francisco coaching staff.
“This staff is unbelievable,” Leavitt said. “I’ve never been around a staff that is so knowledgeable yet you don’t see the egos. These guys all have a great passion for the game, everyone’s really helpful and I’m really impressed with that part of it.”
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