Trent Baalke 49ers General Manager

If you haven’t read Tim Kawakami’s latest, go ahead and do so now. I’ll wait as long as it takes, because it’s both thorough and very interesting.

Alright, after reading the entire article — which is filled with intriguing tidbits and revelations about Jim Harbaugh, Trent Baalke and Jed York — what’s the one sentence that stood out? It’s a difficult question considering how much Kawakami covered, although the headline above provides a hint toward where I’m going.

York long ago tipped his hand that if it’s a choice between Harbaugh or Baalke, he’s leaning to Baalke, who is signed through 2016 and has full control of the roster.

It’s a sentence that probably makes many 49ers fans cringe. Fans want winners (thanks, Mike Singletary), but they also want characters. Harbaugh isn’t just a character, he’s several characters. Depending on what day you catch him, his press conference demeanor could be morose, surly, wacky, direct or even whimsical.

Trent Baalke has led the way on four drafts that resulted in players including Mike Iupati, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick. Not all of his decisions have panned out, but one could say that about any general manager, in any league.

It’s well known that both Harbaugh and Baalke are intense, but York would rather see them battle during meetings and make the playoffs than agree their way to 4-12 seasons.

York said the following in a December radio interview, as reported by Cam Inman:

“Now do we butt heads on players from time to time? Of course. That’s what GMs and coaches do,” York said. “But Jim knows that being a coach is a full-time job, and he has a lot of respect for the job that Trent has done.

“I mean you look at the folks we’ve added through the draft, free agency and trade — we’re in a pretty good spot from a talent standpoint.”

Throughout his tenure as CEO, York has seemed more comfortable (a word Harbaugh hates using in a football context) finding personnel men than coaches. Scot McCloughan left under strange circumstances that were never clarified — although there are plenty of rumors — after putting together a roster that in hindsight was pretty danged talented. McCloughan ended up going to Seattle and has remained there for several years as a Senior Personnel Executive, which speaks to the fact that he probably knows what he’s doing from a player evaluation standpoint.

Baalke was a relative unknown when York placed him in control of the team’s personnel, and he won Executive of the Year in 2011. So Kawakami’s statement about where York would lean has some merit. A lot more merit than many fans probably care to admit.

There’s a chance York’s mind could change, but it’s clear he needs to iron things out as far as Harbaugh’s contract is concerned before this overshadows the important stuff … like whether or not the 49ers will extend Colin Kaepernick! But on a more serious note, yesterday’s craziness could portend even more drama if the man in charge doesn’t nip it in the bud quickly.

From the man who spends most afternoons discussing Tom Tolbert’s beer intake and other subjects on a certain 50,000-watt station, Ray Ratto:

In other words, Browns deal or no, the clashing of shields in the 49er front office is now a daily front-and-center item, and if York hasn’t already chosen a side, he’s going to have to, and sooner rather than later.

It sounds like a side has been selected. Don’t forget, Mr. York is the CEO of a billion dollar corporation. Any corporation possesses a hierarchal structure. The San Francisco 49ers have a different structure than Microsoft, Intel or General Motors, but Baalke is still higher on the totem pole than Harbaugh. If York wasn’t ready to stick up for Baalke over his subordinates, even a subordinate who 49ers fans mostly adore, he’d need to find a new general manager.

It’s business. And, in the NFL, business is what matters. Yes, even more than motivational catch-phrases, fame or personality. Speaking of the latter, Kawakami has made several references to the difficulties 49ers and Stanford employees have had in working with Harbaugh. But he also wrote this:

Maybe 49ers management and Harbaugh aren’t in love any more, but they can obviously work together. That’s how this has operated for the last year or so, anyway. Sometimes it’s easy, but this relationship is not fated to be easy, which York knew from the get go.

At this point, my gut says the 49ers will work out an extension with Harbaugh before the 2014 season, but it will be the last extension he gets from York. Yet when it comes to Harbaugh, nothing (whether it’s multiple extensions, a trade to another team, leaving for a college job or releasing a polka album with Judge Judy) would surprise me from now on.