“I guess on a professional note, a personal note, something that stood out in my mind — is just how good it’s been to work with all of you, weekly, monthly during an entire season. And, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, professionally, I want to compliment you on just the way you’ve all handled the news, and your accuracy and your professionalism in which you’ve reported it. And I know you don’t take sides or choose up sides. I know you are very eager to be neutral, but I’ve felt that you’ve done it in a very professional way. There wasn’t a time when you tried to divide the team. There was no malice in the way our media handled the season and I appreciate that. I thought it was fair. I thought it was tough at times, but fair, but not divisive. I don’t know if you take that as a compliment or not, but I felt like you were on the 49ers side as much as you could be in your positions. And I appreciate that.”
Jim Harbaugh dropped this ode to the Bay Area media on Jan. 21, in the middle of his last press conference of the season. It was a surreal moment, and more than a few reporters in the Defensive Meeting Room at the 49ers facility in Santa Clara were a little perturbed. Was he kidding? How dare he say that we were “on the 49ers side”? The nerve of this guy.
Since that afternoon, certain members of the media have almost gone out of their way to prove Harbaugh wrong.
A lot of writers share my view of Harbaugh: he’s isn’t just ridiculously entertaining, he’s the best 49ers head coach since George Seifert. But there are a few scribes who not only don’t care about how well the 49ers perform on the field, they cannot stand Harbaugh.
I did a little freelance work for CSN in 2011. CSN Northwest wanted every … single … Stanford quote leading up to the Ducks game at Stanford Stadium (Oregon won 53-30, led by 146 rushing yards and three touchdowns for LaMichael James), so I attended Stanford’s weekly media luncheon. The reporters got to pepper the head coach and a few players with some questions, and afterward everyone ate sandwiches. I’m pretty sure the players only took part because they knew about the sandwiches.
Anyway, while we waited for David Shaw to arrive I made small talk with a local veteran reporter.
(No, I’m not going to mention the reporter’s name. Call this an “anonymous source” if you like, but the price for reading a Harbaugh anecdote that’s 100% true is you don’t get to know the reporter’s name. Lo siento.)
I had just introduced myself, nothing more, and the reporter told me how dealing with Shaw is so much better than the same weekly chats with Harbaugh in previous years, because “Harbaugh’s an asshole.”
No smile, either. The anger was real.
BACK TO THE PRESENT
With Harbaugh rubbing so many writers the wrong way, it didn’t take a PhD in communications to predict the media would pounce in a big way once the 49ers had their first three-game losing streak. Problem is, they’re still waiting. And no one waits for anything these days, besides Pliny the Younger.
So Florio’s Browns story turned journalists into gardeners … plantin’ seeds.
Before we get too far down the “let’s tar-and-feather-these-columnists” road, let’s take a look at the playing field. The coaches and players, at least the ones worth writing about consistently, make millions. The scribes make thousands. Coaches and players are under pressure to perform well and win, but their endeavors are supported by millions of fans. No one roots for a writer besides his or her significant other and a few friends who aren’t in the journalism game (writers are friendly with each other by and large, but they’re also quite competitive).
Harbaugh could’ve paved a smoother road for himself by smiling more and providing feature-worthy quotes during those Stanford luncheons and throughout his first couple years with the 49ers.
BREAKING NEWS: Harbaugh doesn’t go through life like most of us, focused on making future situations easier.
Luckily for Harbaugh, the media is nowhere near as ravenous here as it is in New York, Boston, Chicago or Philly. He may have to deal with a column calling for his head here, or a story based on anonymous complaints about his coaching style there, but all it takes is a few well-worded responses to a national writer and the Bay Area problems go away for the most part.
Winning helps, too. It always does.