NEW ORLEANS -- Former Bears coach Mike Ditka recalls a young, eager Geep Chryst, who was willing to do anything.
"We were up in Platteville," Ditka said Thursday. "He started out as a ball boy. Yeah, it was an opportunity. He was a hard-working guy. He wanted to know the game of football, he wanted to study the game of football, and you appreciate people like that."
That "ball boy" is now the San Francisco 49ers' quarterbacks coach. Chryst, who worked for the Bears from 1991-95 as their director of research/quality control, deserves credit for helping turn Alex Smith into an efficient and productive quarterback after looking like a bust and for the emergence of the blossoming star that is Colin Kaepernick.
"Geep has been great," said Kaepernick, who took over as the 49ers' starter after a concussion sidelined Smith. "He is always in our ear, talking, making sure we know every situation that might come up. He's previewing situations during the game. He has been phenomenal. It's a constant conversation. It's constant work, trying to game plan trying to make sure we have every detail ironed out."
The 49ers' rise to the top of the NFC has a lot to do with Chryst's arrival. He joined the 49ers in 2011 and Smith went on to have a career season, recording career highs in yards, completions and passer rating.
And now, Kaepernick has taken off, throwing for 1,608 yards and 10 touchdowns and running for 237 yards and two touchdowns in seven regular-season starts after taking over for Smith. In two playoff games, Kaepernick has a 105.9 passer rating, 496 passing yards, three TD passes, 202 rushing yards and two rushing scores.
"You take pride that he's having success on Sunday," Chryst said of Kaepernick. "I love talking about him. He's a great kid. You are proud of him. But just as anyone around him knows, he's not really an overnight success, but to a lot of outside people it may seem that way."
Chryst's ability to get the best out of quarterbacks is something 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh knows very well. Under Chryst's tutelage, Harbaugh had some of his most productive seasons during his playing career when they were together with the San Diego Chargers.
"I think I speak for all three of us ... we really like him as a coach," said 49ers third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien, who attended Fremd and Wisconsin. "He has a really good football mind. He brings a freshness to the [quarterbacks] room and he has a sense of humor. Meetings don't get dull when you think about how many hours we meet on a weekly basis and in a season. That's one of his best attributes, he gets the whole situation and provides some humor."
Chryst said he's been fortunate to work with Smith and Kaepernick. He never tried to change Kaepernick's unique throwing motion.
"You are who you are," Chryst said. "The thing he's done a good job of is he's been more decisive with his reads and I think that always helps your accuracy when there's no gray area involved with, 'Maybe, I could. Maybe, I should.' Instead, it's, 'I'm going here.' That really helps your accuracy when you're decisive."
Kaepernick was very decisive in his first career start when he torched the Bears in a 32-7 win to a tune of 243 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Chryst said their game plan called for attacking the Bears through the air. The Bears fully expected Kaepernick to run more.
"There's just some really good talent on that side of the ball," Chryst said of the Bears' defense. "[But] we thought that we can take advantage of some one-on-ones if they gave it us. And they gave it to us early.
"Now, Kap made some beautiful throws. That first one to Kyle Williams for about 60 yards, if he doesn't make that throw, maybe you don't have the same confidence. But that the whole first drive, Kap showed great accuracy. He was right with his reads too, and he was very calm and decisive. Really, he hasn't changed that much since."
A lot of that has to do with Chryst, the former ball boy.