RENTON — Doug Baldwin came to the realization late in his college career that he doesn’t like to do things the easy way. And in retrospect, that’s why then Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh might have been the best thing to happen to Baldwin.
Even if he darn near left Stanford because of Harbaugh.
Seattle’s Pete Carroll vs. Harbaugh, now San Francisco’s coach, always seems to be a main theme in the buildup to every Seahawks-49ers game, despite the coaches’ repeated efforts to downplay the perception of bad blood between them. An interesting subplot to that during the past three seasons has been the fact that two Seahawks, Baldwin and cornerback Richard Sherman, played for Harbaugh at Stanford, and make no secret of the fact that they didn’t really enjoy that experience.
With another Seahawks-49ers clash on deck, this one to decide an NFC championship, Baldwin opened up a bit about his relationship with his former coach, admitting that he had the paperwork filled out to transfer to Vanderbilt after his junior season. However, he also said he’s better off for having gone through the struggles he did while sometimes butting heads with Harbaugh.
“All of you guys know Jim Harbaugh and I did not have the best of relationships while I was at Stanford, but all that stuff’s settled now,” Baldwin said. “I was immature, I was a young athlete who thought I knew everything. We just clashed at times, and I was dealing with injuries, so that kind of prevented me from performing how I wanted to on the field, so a lot of things went into it.”
As a junior, Baldwin dealt with injuries and wasn’t always on the same page with Harbaugh, leading to just a four-catch season. He was ready to leave, except for one last hurdle.
“Basically it came down to whether my mom was going to let me do it or not,” Baldwin said. “She said no, I had to stick to it, and I eventually came to the realization that I needed to stick to it as well. Very close though.”
It also helped that Sherman, who had also clashed with Harbaugh, helped convince Baldwin to stick it out and not let a coach get in the way of bigger goals; goals which have been realized as Baldwin has gone from undrafted rookie to one of Seattle’s most productive receivers during the past three seasons.
Baldwin admits he still gets a little extra motivation playing against Harbaugh’s 49ers — he has four touchdowns in six career games against San Francisco, and eight in 40 games against the rest of the NFL. However, he says the two keep in touch from time to time via text message, and “actually have a pretty decent relationship right now.”
“It’s nothing personal against him,” Baldwin said. “Going back on it, I thank him for the adversity he kind of put me through, so to speak, because it made me who I am today. It made me a better person and better football player. So nothing against him, nothing personal, it’s just a guy that coached me through college, I want to show him that I’m as good as I think I am.”
Baldwin’s teammates have given him the nickname “Angry Doug Baldwin” because of the chip he carries on his shoulder — actually, he clarified Thursday, it’s a boulder — but he claims it’s really passion more than anger that drives him.
With or without receiver Percy Harvin, who has not yet been cleared to return from a concussion, Baldwin will be a big part of Seattle’s offense in the team’s biggest game of the Pete Carroll era. He might be targeted frequently, or he might have a quiet day. Whatever the case, he can be counted on to make clutch plays like the 24-yard, fourth-quarter sideline grab that might have been the most important play of last week’s victory over New Orleans.
Whatever Baldwin’s role on Sunday, history tells us he is ready to make a difference when he plays his former coach.
“We have a great relationship now, and it’s more so because I’ve matured and I’ve grown up and realized (it was) that circumstance, that situation, that made me who am today,” said Baldwin, who also has taken over kick return duties, though he might share that with Harvin if Harvin is able to play Sunday.
“There are so many different instances, for example, being undrafted. I think that if I was drafted, I wouldn’t be the player I am today because of that. It does motivate me to some degree.”
Harvin, who suffered a concussion in last weekend’s win over New Orleans, still hasn’t been cleared by doctors and did not practice Thursday.
“He’s still going through the protocol, and we don’t know” if he’ll play Sunday, Carroll said.
Asked if there was a deadline to make a call on Harvin, Carroll said he couldn’t give a specific answer. It’s all in the hands of Harvin’s doctors, Carroll added.
“It’s a whole process they go through, no indication to help you understand more, because I don’t know any more than that,” the coach said.
Linebacker K.J. Wright practiced fully after being limited Wednesday. He’s trying to get back from a fractured foot that has kept him out since last month’s game in San Francisco.
“He’s done fine so far,” Carroll said. “Today will be a big day for him. He was limited yesterday. He looked like there were no problems, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
Malcolm Smith has played very well in Wright’s absence, so the Seahawks won’t feel like they have to rush Wright back if he’s not ready.
“If (Wright’s) ready to play in the football game and we’re dressing him, he’s playing.” Carroll said.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.