NFL: 49ers’ Harbaugh and Baalke have a job to do in 2014
Jim Harbaugh is just so ridiculously smart — what he says, what he doesn’t say, what he implies, and how he sets himself up for all options and angles.
Whether it’s dealing with a play, a game, a writer, an owner or a fan base, it’s undeniable, the guy is unbelievably good.
It’s part of why he’s a great coach for the 49ers or for anybody. It’s 100 percent of why he’s the most fascinating sports figure in the Bay Area, and maybe the galaxy.
Harbaugh’s genius was evident everywhere in his conversation with SI.com’s Michael Rosenberg on Monday, a perfect spot after the storm and confusion of the last few weeks around 49ersland.
In the story, Harbaugh denied that he wanted out, denied that he’s demanding the top salary in the NFL, denied that he was jockeying for a contract extension, and denied that he and general manager Trent Baalke are in an intractable clash.
Harbaugh told Rosenberg that he has “great respect for (Baalke),” that they have a relationship like brothers, and Harbaugh said that he absolutely will coach the 49ers for the next two years — the final two of his original contract.
That’s a whole lot to cover in one phone conversation, isn’t it?
There’s a lot he didn’t say, too — he didn’t say he wouldn’t accept the top salary in the NFL, didn’t actually utter Baalke’s name, that I could tell (at least it’s not in the article), and didn’t say he cares whether there’s tension with Baalke, anyway.
The 49ers reality: Harbaugh and Baalke have a job to do in 2014, and they’re going to be professional about it, of course they will.
Because they both — because everybody on the 49ers — want to win a Super Bowl.
And: Brothers fight, too, sometimes, don’t they?
This interview did clear some things up, but it doesn’t end the tension or the storyline, no chance, and I don’t think Harbaugh wanted to end it.
He just wanted to reset things, on his terms, for the coming season, which is going to be an epic one.
Before you take everything Harbaugh said as the literal pure truth, remember, as others have pointed out, that two years ago Harbaugh denied that the 49ers were pursuing Peyton Manning — right after the 49ers definitely pursued Manning.
That’s just the way Harbaugh plays things, with his own versions of reality. He obviously felt the need to put out another Harbaugh-version after various recent reports that made things look a little shaky at 4949 Centennial.
On some of the other points Harbaugh made in the story . . .
c I believe Harbaugh when he says that he has never said he wants to be the highest-paid coach in the NFL.
But I believe his agent wants that and has probably expressed that in his conversations with 49ers owner Jed York last offseason . . . and will again if and when they speak this offseason.
c Harbaugh was very precise — he didn’t say he wouldn’t accept an extension, just said he doesn’t “covet” one.
So if York approaches him in a few months, it’s York chasing the deal, not Harbaugh. At least on its face.
c I always thought the recent report that he and Baalke don’t speak was far from accurate, so Harbaugh has a right to be bothered by that.
c His volunteered support for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in Fangio’s contract talks? Just Harbaugh being Harbaugh to let York know that he has subtle ways to poke at 49ers management.
But, for as much pressure as Harbaugh and his agent want to apply to York and Baalke, they don’t want a shaky franchise going into this pivotal season.
There was never any real chance that Harbaugh was going to Cleveland or anywhere else this season. He might even coach into 2015 with the 49ers without a new deal.
But beyond that? It will be an epic ending, that’s what.
If he doesn’t get an extension he likes, if he keeps head-butting with Baalke, Harbaugh will be one year closer to true free agency after 2014, and that probably will make him only more valuable.
Harbaugh is betting on himself, as he always has, and if he wins a Super Bowl next season, he cleans up the table, and then we’ll see him with ultimate leverage.
Or if it takes two years, then he sweeps all the chips into his pocket and . . ..we will wait. That’s the ultimate gamble, and Harbaugh has put himself in that spot.
It’s great theater. Damned brilliant if Harbaugh can pull it off. Damned brilliant just to try to pull it off.