I spoke to several people who attended the 49ers’ “open-to-the-public” practice on Thursday. Jim Harbaugh ran his practice on the field farthest away from the fans which, naturally, made it hard for the fans to see. In addition, many players stood between the fans and the practice — perhaps a coincidence — but that made seeing the practice even more difficult for fans.

You invite fans to a practice and then treat them like that? In my world that is known as bad manners. Since when are bad manners good?

I am intrigued how many Zohn readers defend Harbaugh at any cost. He’s the coach therefore he’s right. He hasn’t lost a game yet, therefore he’s right. He can’t stand the media and he must be right.

At some point this season, you are going to wonder how, say, Vernon Davis looks in practice. We won’t be able to tell you. Why? Because Harbaugh is barring the way.

Harbaugh is giving the media and the fans the minimum in terms of access. He opened the first few weeks of practice only because the league said he had to. Otherwise, I’m sure he would also have closed those practices.

In fairness to Harbaugh, he is like most coaches. The NFL has become a paranoid league, one coach afraid another will find key clues on the internet. Good grief. The Raiders routinely close practices in the regular season, although they will keep practices open as long as they’re in Napa — so the Raiders are more generous than the 49ers in that regard.

One more point. Some readers are down on the media. We’re snoopy. We cause conflict. I know the drill.

We also are your emissaries into the world of football and we give you stories you love to read — you crave. It’s hard to do that when we aren’t allowed to see anything. If it weren’t for the media, the NFL wouldn’t be what it is and Harbaugh would be coaching a semi-pro team in Stockton.

I always have had a skeptical attitude about authority. If authority tells me I can’t do something I wonder why. I ask why. The media keeps the cops honest and the politicians honest and big business honest — at least it tries to. It works in your interest.

Football is not as important as those institutions I just mentioned. But in a sense we in the media keep Harbaugh honest to the extent we can do that. Don’t be so quick to cede to him privileges no other Niner coach has ever claimed before.

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  1. Stan

    Also,”Invite” is a key word here. Cam Inman says they weren’t just walk up ,any 49er fans…they were all invitee’s of the team or players. No Stan’s there.
    Well,on the positive side,it means the 49ers are playing the game for keeps. I think the Raiders are waiting knowing this…ooh,the tension!

    August 19th, 2011 9:49 am

  2. Michael

    What are your thoughts on this nugget coming out of New Orleans:

    The Saints radio guy, Jim Henderson, was on a local radio show yesterday previewing the Texans v Saints matchup this weekend. At the 1:30 mark of the interview Henderson says the reason the Saints blitzed so much and pounded the 9er QB’s was because Sean Payton expected a call from Harbaugh during the week of the game so they could reach a gentlemen’s agreement on how the game would be played (pretty common in NFL circles). After Harbaugh blew off the call, Payton told Gregg Williams to “turn the dogs loose.”


    August 19th, 2011 9:55 am

  3. Michael

    Sounds to me like Harbaugh is going the “Bilicheck” way about things. He gives the media nothing and never discusses injuries. Its worked for Bill, so let’s see how it works for Jim.

    August 19th, 2011 9:57 am

  4. dennypat

    I have been to the 49er spring training camps in Rocklin & in Stockton many times. They were run the same way as the current one )hard to see anything).

    August 19th, 2011 10:15 am

  5. CohnZohn

    Thanks, Michael. This is very interesting. On one hand, it shows Harbaugh’s stubbornness can lead to trouble. On the other hand, why couldn’t Payton have phoned him?

    August 19th, 2011 10:16 am

  6. Matt

    I hate this. Before Harbaugh was ever hired, I wanted the Niners to hire Marty Mornhinweg, and trade for Kolb. We would have had an offensive mastermind(look at the stats under him), and a QB who already knew the system.

    Harbaugh is a rookie HC with a floundering team. I don’t know where he got the idea that he’s Belichick, but unless he delivers like BB with the Pats, he’ll have the fans against him very soon.

    August 19th, 2011 10:35 am

  7. latopia

    I don’t think you can — or should — fault Harbaugh on this.

    But, by ALL means, please keep up the good work and certainly keep Harbaugh “honest” (i.e., accountable for his truths *and* untruths).

    August 19th, 2011 10:42 am

  8. Bryan

    If I was Jimbo, I would not want another of my bad ideas to be written about. Like that depressing column you wrote about Smith and the drive part deux.

    August 19th, 2011 10:43 am

  9. Stan

    Yeah,Michaels post fits what I said last week..that Jim’s rep isn’t going over with the other coaches. It’s get him before he gets you.
    Also..what I say about blitzing like that is breaking an unwritten rule?
    My feeling is, this years Raider-49er game is more than bragging rights. And Hue would love to work over the 49ers..and he’s got the better QB by half a mile.
    Oh,man,just wait until the regular season when the 49ers play Seattle and evil Pete.

    August 19th, 2011 10:43 am

  10. Ben

    I don’t care if the media or fans are not allowed to watch practice. All I care about is the team winning. I completely understand why he would do this. I went to one of the first practices and sat behind a guy who was charting plays and writing down formations. He could be a crazy fan or he could be a scout. Sure looked like a scout. Its better to be paranoid in this case then lackadaisical in this case.

    August 19th, 2011 10:46 am

  11. Seth

    Yeah I’m with you Lowell, Payton is an established coach in the league so why couldn’t he make the call. Do you think Harbaugh knows about that unwritten rule?

    August 19th, 2011 10:56 am

  12. Jose

    It doesnt matter if harbaugh close practice. Pete carrol will still pick up some of the guys he cut.

    August 19th, 2011 11:17 am

  13. MHY

    Just remember, Mattt, that Belichick didn’t have a ton of success in Cleveland before he got fired there, and he went 5-11 (off an 8-8 season) in New England when he took over. Point being, Harbaugh may take a little time to adjust his coaching style and assess the team before he really has noticeable success. The key thing I’m more interested in is to see if he’s making progress in building the foundation this team has lacked for awhile. How he handles things with the media, imo, is far less important than how he handles things in his locker room and on the field. It may be ‘bad manners’ to invite folks and not let them see a practice, but if he’s getting things done, I’m ok with it. Mike Nolan was affable and media-friendly, and look where it got him eventually. Let’s wait to see how things go before making proclamations about how good or bad a coach he is.

    August 19th, 2011 11:31 am

  14. Tiburon Dave

    I think Lowell will agree that a professional press can be a very effective asset for an organization like an NFL team…the organization simply needs to take the time to manage that asset…
    The press needs to be fed and nurtured and respected…if you work with them properly they don’t become lap dogs but they will more often than not write “glass half full” stories which can only be helpful to an organization that has floundered for a decade…
    If you treat the professional press like an enemy they will write “glass half empty” stories that will make your job much more difficult…my grandfather always said, “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel”…

    August 19th, 2011 12:12 pm

  15. moto

    Dr.Cohn, recently you commented in re. to the Miami ‘scandal’ how much the yorkists dominate the discourse. You reside in Oakland, so you’re surely aware how that n.f.l. team seems to have a personable head coach and managed to secure three competent q.b.’s, one of whom a Stanford grad. The two teams are about to face off, but the east side team is nearly invisible on this sports page.

    Advertising revenues probably has much to do with the disparity in coverage, but why does a Sonoma County paper dedicate itself to the team that intends to relocate to Santa Clara ?

    How much of Harbaugh’s prickliness is a defense and distraction, obscuring the disparity between the expectations from the team and what his staff, many fresh from college coaching, can reasonably get going ?

    August 19th, 2011 12:26 pm

  16. B-Rad

    Mr. Cohn:
    You’ll get your next complaint about not reporting
    directly from Niner practices within 96 hours.

    Make that 72 hours.
    Make that 48 hours.

    August 19th, 2011 12:53 pm

  17. Dennis

    I am not defending Harbaugh. Wins and loses are all that matter. How Vernon Davis looks in practice means nothing too me. Calling Shaun Payton, I really don’t care. What he had for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner, not important. Nice guy, bad guy strange guy, paraniod guy, nut job, it don’t matter. Wins and loses.
    Sorry Lowell. What you said about the press helping to create the NFL is absolutely right on. But given the last 8 years of 49er futility I only care about wins and loses. I will judge for myself if he is making progress based on what I see on the field during the season. I don’t consider that ceding him anything.

    August 19th, 2011 12:58 pm

  18. Fred G

    I do have one contrary thought Lowell. It’s based on technology. Back in the day of “The Genius” was it possible to have a spy in each camp and film practices like today? Now you download and transfer information so fast I imagine you could easily create some kind of competitive advantage. Maybe it has nothing to do with the press and everything with keeping his strategy under wraps. Maybe that’s a stretch but I thought is should be considered. Technology has really improved…ask Cheater Bill in Pat’s land.

    August 19th, 2011 1:17 pm

  19. Bray

    No problem at all, that’s how practice should be held.

    The whole Payton phone call thing is BS, sounds like teenage girl stuff. I’m not gonna call him but he better call me! So he get’s all butt hurt about a phone call that he, the VETERAN Head Coach should have made, especially since Payton was “hosting” Harbaugh if you will.

    Matt- Why do you think Harbaugh thinks he’s Belichick? There’s no way he thinks that, he’s doing it HIS way, he could care less about what we think of his methodology, and I don’t want him to care either. I want his focus solely on improving the team as much as a HC can.

    I for one am estatic we didn’t get Kolb.

    August 19th, 2011 2:50 pm

  20. paul m

    This reminds me that I was in Chicago (my home town, I remember when Jim played for us) about two weeks ago when Olin Kreutz was let go and on the radio they were speculating whether he would go to the 9ers, and the host said “good luck playing for that crazy Jim Harbaugh”. So I guess the word out there is JH is mad as a hatter! I personally don’t think so, though.

    But I just want to point out he learned everything about QB in the NFL from that quarterback factory known as the Chicago Bears.

    August 19th, 2011 3:01 pm

  21. Matt

    MHY — Which is why I specifically said, “…unless he delivers like BB with the Pats.”

    Not Cleveland, the Patriots.

    If his record is similar to BB when he was in Cleveland, then Harbaugh won’t be the 49ers coach for long. Three losing seasons, and he’s out.

    If Harbaugh wants to act this way, he’d better produce. If the 49ers aren’t a much-improved team in 2012, he’ll be on the hot seat.

    August 19th, 2011 3:06 pm

  22. Matt

    I also never said he’s a bad coach. I said the fans would turn on him if he doesn’t produce. A loveable coach/player will be given multiple chances by the fans…if he looks outmatched, and unprepared, 49er fans will be calling for his head.

    August 19th, 2011 3:10 pm

  23. Matt

    Bray — Good for you. My scenario of acquiring Kolb was dependent on Mornhinweg. There would have been no learning curve for the QB, and we’d have had an experienced, offensive-minded HC.

    I hope that Harbaugh succeeds…and I’m sorry if you don’t see it, but his actions mimic those of BB. Am I saying that Harbaugh envisions himself as BB jr? No, but is he acting like him? Yes.

    If it’s true that Payton ordered up all those blitzes because the rookie HC didn’t make a phone call, then I really don’t know what to say.

    August 19th, 2011 3:16 pm

  24. MHY

    And, Matt, as I noted, BB didn’t ‘deliver’ his first year with the Pats, either. I agree that the team needs to start showing something by next year, but that’s the same with any coach in the league. Very few coaches get more than a year grace, so I’m not sure if you’re comments is all that illuminating. Rather, it seems you’re getting peeved by perceptions of the coach that are, imo, largely unfounded and superficial.

    August 19th, 2011 3:23 pm

  25. Dennis

    Matt- at this point I don’t think “loveable” is going to give him any more time. We all loved Singletary when he first took over and showed Vernon Davis the how things were going to roll. That love didn’t last too long.

    August 19th, 2011 3:24 pm

  26. Mark M

    Yeah, maybe I’d be annoyed if I were you or a fan sitting in the stands there. But I really find training camp coverage to be all but useless. I read coverage here in the Merc talking about Edwards making a one handed grab in practice, Colin has a real hose for an arm and is looking great, Gore looks like he never had a hip injury, Alex completed all but a couple passes, on and on with the glowing reports. And then you watch them play the Saints and it’s a disaster…..our rookie QB is understandably lost, Gore carries a couple times but who knows, Edwards is barely involved, and Alex still looks like the usual Alex. The gap between what I read about training practices and what I see in games couldn’t be larger. The Niners are practicing against themselves and then the coaches marvel at their awesome roster and the fish wrap regurgitates it. Pure garbage When are they going to scrimmage the Cowboys or something? Then we might see something worth while. Otherwise, training camp coverage is a bore unless we can argue whom should start over whom based on what we’ve seen, what we know. Regular season seems eons away.

    August 19th, 2011 3:35 pm

  27. mendozaline

    Not on topic, but this from msnbc site today:

    Said 49ers TE Vernon Davis, “Everybody knows we’ve had a problem with the offensive coordinators in the past, but I can honestly say that this right here is what we’ve been looking for. It’s the answer. I strongly believe it’s the answer.”

    August 19th, 2011 3:49 pm

  28. CohnZohn

    You won’t get any regular season coverage either. Only half an hour each day.

    August 19th, 2011 5:11 pm

  29. Blind Tom

    That’s okay with me Lowell-san. I’m good to go with the coach for two years, and I have faith that he will do well. Please stop peeing in everyone’s cornflakes. I recommend a trip to Amador County and a bit of wine tasting.
    If that is too far, hop in the Prius this Sunday and head over to the old Sugar Mill on the River road south of West Sac. They have a bunch of wineries in there and the scene developing is really something. The delta and Lodi are putting out some great reds and there are also some very decent wineries across the river, just take one of the funky old bridges. It’ll be good for your soul and we won’t hear about Jim or Alex for one day. ;- )

    August 20th, 2011 5:32 am

  30. Bob In Pacifica

    Remember those interviews with Jimmy Raye? The fishing hat. The whole idea of using the pony express to get plays from the press box to the field. Boy, they made great reading!

    August 20th, 2011 6:44 am

  31. david

    The media is irrelevant. Anything I want I can access trough many other venues than traditional newspapers. So IMHO you can guys can suck it because this article sounds more like a whiny baby than a JOURNALIST!!!!!

    August 20th, 2011 8:01 am

  32. CohnZohn

    Blind Tom, Thanks for the advice. It’s so much nicer on the Zohn when you’re in a generous mood. I love Lodi zins and Amador County zins. I guess I kind of love zins.

    August 20th, 2011 8:24 am

  33. CohnZohn

    David, Did any actual thought go into this comment? If this is how you want to represent yourself I am happy to oblige you.

    August 20th, 2011 8:25 am

  34. Derek

    I see both sides of the argument. It really comes down to two groups trying to do their job. It’s Jim Harbaugh and his staff’s job to make sure the team has every competitive advantage possible. It’s the media’s job to get as much information on the team as they can. Those priorities are going to clash.

    August 20th, 2011 9:02 am

  35. Martina

    Seems like much about nothing. I will admit that I most media coverage of a practice or a training camp to be dull.

    I guess the media has to be there to cover the injuries, the minor flare-ups and so forth, but really it seems similar to watching the Academy Awards to find out who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

    On the other hand, Harbaugh Always gives everyone something to write about.

    August 20th, 2011 9:03 am

  36. Tom

    Well said. The points you brought up about the media’s role in our society should not be underestimated. Internet surfers have to wade through a lot of the internet to come up with a jewel of a column like this one, but it is worth the effort.

    August 20th, 2011 9:45 am

  37. TJB in HMB

    I just don’t know if it is that big a deal that Harbaugh is being secretive.

    Eventually, he will be judged by how the team performs in real games, and the results will be there for all to see.

    The situation seems to be like a food critic asking for access to a restaurant’s food kitchen so that they can scrutinize the food being prepared. Interesting? Possibly. Essential? Probably not.

    Whatever…but what really prompted me to respond was the following statement:

    “The media keeps the cops honest and the politicians honest and big business honest — at least it tries to. It works in your interest.”

    First, let’s not kid ourseves – the media works first and foremost in it’s own interest – whatever that may be. The idea that Rupert Murdoch’s minions work in my interest is ludicrous.

    (And this is not meant to be a criticism of you in particular, but a general criticism.)

    There are many of us who have become very disappointed with the media, which ideally, or perhaps in the past, served an important public function but today seems to focus on fluff or the sensational, or merely serve as an adjunct marketing arm for

    August 20th, 2011 9:59 am

  38. Wilson

    I always thought practice was to get the team ready for their games, not to provide entertainment for the fans and material for the beat writers.
    Silly me.

    August 20th, 2011 10:17 am

  39. Ron

    “If it weren’t for the media, the NFL wouldn’t be what it is and Harbaugh would be coaching a semi-pro team in Stockton”

    Wrong. TV made the NFL and keeps the NFL as America’s favorite sport. Newspapers & bloggers have contributed a tiny, tiny amount.

    So get over yourself.

    August 20th, 2011 11:33 am

  40. CohnZohn

    Certainly, television is media. No television cameras will be allowed at practice, either. Try to get over that, Ron.

    August 20th, 2011 11:37 am

  41. Marco

    Lowell-You wrote a good column here on an important topic. As a journalist you know that some will get it and some will not, right?!!
    Keep doing your thing and we will keep reading what you write.

    The 49ers are lke the Redskins. Both teams trying to make the playoffs and both teams are medoicre at best right now. Both coaches are driven to do things “their way”. Both teams have weak owners and questionnable General Managers. Neither team hired Ron Wolf to be their GM either.

    August 21st, 2011 7:31 am

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