Jim Harbaugh Oakland A's hat

An article by Matt Barrows earlier today brought some calm and order to the Jim Harbaugh saga. To summarize Barrows’ report, the Browns called the 49ers to discuss Greg Roman and Jim Tomsula. The conversation veered to the fast lane (Harbaugh), and the Browns made an offer. The 49ers “rebuffed” said offer, and that was that.

Jason La Canfora, an NFL reporter for CBS Sports (who’s known by many as the draft pick spoiler guy on Twitter), filed a report two and a half hours after Barrows’ suggesting the 49ers might find themselves needing to choose between Harbaugh and 49ers GM Trent Baalke.

The idea of tension between those two is nothing new. Tim Kawakami was the first to write about their strained relationship back in December, and York admitted that the Harbaugh and Baalke have been known to “butt heads” from time to time. However, La Canfora’s report takes the perceived rift to an entirely different level.

The men are barely speaking, I’m told, and almost all communication is through email. Harbaugh also has a strained relationship with team president Paraag Marathe, sources said, and he has clashed with many within the organization. It could prove untenable. If anything, the impression I got this week was that the situation there is actually much worse than how it has been portrayed in the media, and helps explain the delay in giving a new deal to the coach, who has two years left on a contract he has outperformed.

I’ve seen Baalke in the same area as Harbaugh about a dozen times over the past year, with Baalke either high-fiving and talking to players before games or quietly observing the action on the practice field during the summer months. I never saw the two walk within 50 feet of each other, let alone speak in 2013. However, it never crossed my mind that anything was wrong with that arrangement for a few reasons:

  1. Harbaugh was busy coaching.
  2. Most practices are closed to the media.
  3. I’m not privy to what happens inside 49ers headquarters.

How critical is it for a head coach and general manager to like each other? It’s probably less important than clearheaded and logical decision-making, but anger and frustration can turn intelligent people into irrational combatants.

With this story stubbornly refusing to fizzle away over the weekend, the only way the 49ers can convince the public that harmony is present, or even possible, is if Harbaugh and Baalke both make definitive statements describing how much they enjoy working with one another. Since neither man is comfortable being publicly introspective, that’s probably not going to happen. 

If the power struggle is real, both men will dig in and see who Jed York chooses. York, whether he gave much thought to the Browns’ offer for Harbaugh or not, is going to have to decide whether the smart move is to either give Harbaugh a raise, facilitate his early exit, or let the situation play out and hope all parties can figure out a way to resolve their differences amicably. If York chooses the last option, he better prepare for more stories like La Canfora’s and further questioning of his organization’s stability. The media smells blood, and there’s still plenty of offseason left.