One of the hot topics at the NFL Scouting Combine was the report that the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns discussed a trade of draft picks in exchange for head coach Jim Harbaugh. Naturally, this resulted in more attention being paid to the apparent rift that has developed between Harbaugh and Trent Baalke. The franchise has been restored to it’s rightful place under the guidance of these two alpha males. The relationship is not the best but the success is the result of what is called “Creative Tension.”
Harbaugh is a very high wired personality. He is a guy that can be a bit difficult to get along with at times but honestly, most people who achieve a high degree of success are not exactly social butterflies. Some have even said that he is crazy, literally. All I know is that Harbaugh took a roster that was 6-10 and directed them to an appearance in an NFC Championship game. This was despite the fact that there was no training camp. Think about the magnitude of that first year accomplishment.
The 49ers proceeded to make it to the NFC Championship game in the following two years including one near win in the Super Bowl. Harbaugh did the unthinkable as he helped to resurrect the career of the previously written off quarterback, Alex Smith. Say what you want about Harbaugh but one thing that he can do is develop quarterbacks. Granted, neither Smith nor Colin Kaepernick have made any Pro Bowls, but last time I checked, it was all about playing winning football. Look at how he has found success literally with every quarterback that he worked with, all the way from Josh Johnson at San Diego University to Andrew Luck and into the NFL with Smith and Kaepernick.
Are there better coaches in the NFL? Yes without a doubt. I will say this though, anytime the conversation for best coach comes up, Jim Harbaugh’s name is mentioned. It’s only right. The thing that Harbaugh did was surround himself with excellent coaches. There’s a saying, “If you are the smartest person in your group, CHANGE your group.” Vic Fangio is among the best defensive coordinators in the NFL. Greg Roman has been hot and cold, but let’s face it, the 49ers offense was pretty excited during their Super Bowl run. Jim Leavitt is a really good linebackers coach. Mike Solari has been viewed as a top notch offensive line coach. Jim Tomsula is the best defensive line coach. Brad Seely is one of the better special teams coaches. Ed Donatell is also an elite defensive backs coach. Notice a theme here?
At this point, the 49ers are at a standoff. I remember talking to Harbaugh during training camp and he gushed about how the franchise has done everything that he’s asked of them to help him build his football heaven at Santa Clara. He raved about the new weight room, about how they had just installed a scoreboard. Make no mistake, Harbaugh knows that he is in a really good spot. However, as any astute business man knows, you have to strike while the iron is hot. For that reason, he is looking to position himself to get paid top dollar.
Is there anything wrong with that? Heck, the players do it every year. The big name free agents will seek a big deal every year. They will at times get the big deal that is of higher value than someone else who is clearly viewed as the best at their position. It’s the way this business works and it’s no different when you’re dealing with an elite coach like Harbaugh. He’s already proven his value to the franchise. Harbaugh is a bridge from the Bill Walsh glory days that defined the 49ers forever. This is a man that spent time in the office of Walsh and actually has tapes of Walsh installing the offense. Folks, it doesn’t get any closer to the Silver Fox than this.
Harbaugh and Baalke weren’t the only head coach and general manager to not hold hands and sing songs of joy at the Combine. There have been reports of them not talking much. Would it be nice to see them get along better? Certainly. However, at the end of the day, they need to coexist. As many have said, this time is always a tense time for the head coach and the general manager. The NFL is a results oriented business that exists in a fishbowl. The NFL society is a microwave society in that everyone expects immediate success which by the way, Harbaugh provided in 2011.
Harbaugh and Baalke will be at ends because Harbaugh has to be the sounding pad for the above mentioned position coaches which are highly respected and don’t want to lose their players. Do you think Ed Donatell is happy that Donte Whitner may be leaving via free agency? Certainly not. Let’s not forget the perfectly placed saying by Bill Parcels. Parcels told Bob Kraft and the New England Patriots that “if they want him to cook the meal, let him get the groceries.” The idea of having more control of the roster is nothing new.
At the end of the day, Harbaugh and the 49ers are the perfect match. There has been much attention paid to the deal with the Browns. To be honest, if I were a general manager, I would entertain any trade requests and somewhat engage them just to see what the proposed compensation was. There is nothing wrong with that. Jed York has done a marvelous job as the CEO of the 49ers. He has spearheaded a resurgence of football in the Bay Area. In my book, he is one of the brightest young business people in the NFL. Either way, Harbaugh is still the coach of the 49ers and a key to part of the 49ers return to glory.