I opened Harbaugh presser with: “So, when do you leave for Austin, Texas?” Harbaugh: “Are you trying to be funny?” Me (chastised): “Trying.”
— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) December 11, 2013
At $5 million per season, 49ers head chastiser Jim Harbaugh is a tremendous bargain. Everyone knows that, especially Harbaugh. It seems crazy to think the 49ers would let him go after three straight winning seasons as they prepare to move into a new stadium, but big piles of money await in Austin.
Enter Jim Trotter, who did a little butt-scuttling today.
Harbaugh, who’s in the third year of that five-year deal, turned down a two-year extension before the start of the season. Why? Only he knows—and the next reporter he allows behind his mental curtain will be the first. But let’s take an educated guess.
Harbaugh has a firm belief in what his worth is, and at $5 million a year he’s a couple rungs beneath guys like Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and Chip Kelly on the financial ladder. Even his brother, Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, gets $7 million annually, after signing a four-year extension in September, following the Ravens’ Super Bowl win over Jim’s Niners.
The details of the extension that Jim turned down are unknown, but it’s likely the 49ers would want a Super Bowl win before moving a coach to the top salary echelon. Money wouldn’t be an issue at Texas, where a well-placed source confirmed that the university is willing to pay as much as $10 million a year for Nick Saban, the Alabama coach who has won three of the past four BCS titles.
The 49ers are likely going to try to revive extension talks after the season. “With three games left [in the regular season], now is not the time,” Niners CEO Jed York said of discussions on a new deal. “I fully expect to sit down at the end of the season and see where we go from here.”
Harbaugh, like all coaches who can pretty much pick and choose where he works, wants to keep his options open. York knows all too well what life was like without Harbaugh, but he isn’t in the business of handing out blank checks and unfettered power either. The rejection of York’s extension offer didn’t signal an end to Harbaugh’s tenure. It’s called negotiating.
York: “We’ll sit down at the end of the season & talk–& I hope he has the utmost leverage when we do… meaning after we win a Super Bowl.”
— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) December 12, 2013
Trotter is one of my favorite writers, and his point — there’s a chance Harbaugh could bail for a place like Texas that could offer the moon, sun and stars — is correct. Anything could happen.
With the money paid to the best coaches roughly equal in college and the pros, it’s always possible that Harbaugh (a Michigan man) could jump to the college ranks. But why would a man with so many options take the Texas job? Eric Branch pointed out what Harbaugh said about the NFL providing the “perfect competitive challenge” when the 49ers hired him as a reason why he wouldn’t head back to the college ranks, at least not before winning a Lombardi Trophy. Based on Harbaugh’s NFL history and his comments, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be seen wearing burnt orange next year.
Personality-wise, Harbaugh seems like he’s more similar to Bill Belichick than Nick Saban. That doesn’t mean he’ll stay with the 49ers for 14+ years like Belichick has with the Patriots, but this idea that Harbaugh is nomadic is a bit misguided. “He spent three years at the University of San Diego and four at Stanford,” wrote Trotter. “If he returns to the Niners next season it will match his coaching longest tenure in one place.”
Right, but there would’ve been something really wrong if Harbaugh stayed at USD any longer than the time it took to get a better offer (like Stanford). And while Harbaugh got a lot more money from York and the 49ers than he was making on The Farm, the challenge was more important than the money.
Texas has no state income tax, but neither does Florida. If Harbaugh’s concerns were primarily financial, it stands to reason that he would’ve taken the Miami Dolphins job instead of coming to San Francisco.
Harbaugh said, “I don’t ever talk about any job other than the one I have,” during yesterday’s press conference. Trotter drew a line to last year, when he wrote about Alex Smith losing his confidence and Harbaugh responded with the infamous “gobble, gobble, gobble turkey from jive turkey gobblers” line. But that’s what coaches do. They say whatever it takes to help the team they’re on, and when better offers come they listen.
Other jobs and big money will always be available to Harbaugh as long as he’s successful. But the 49ers know how much value Harbaugh adds to their team, and after a minimum of 33 regular season wins over his first three seasons they’ll add more to his contract … after some more negotiating.