Here is a link to my Sunday column about Jim Harbaugh and his big contract which soon may get bigger. The full text appears below:
The latest rumor — and this is a delicious one — has Jim Harbaugh leaving the 49ers to coach another pro team, the Longhorns of the University of Texas.
How serious do we take this rumor which, so far, has the body weight of a robin’s feather?
Word was that Texas coach Mack Brown would resign. Then word was he wouldn’t resign. And now he has resigned as in you’re outta here.
That opens up all kinds of possibilities Harbaughwise, as sports people like to say. The big possibility is the pay, said to be $10 million a year for a decade for the coach/educator who takes over the now coachless Texas football program.
Ten big ones is highly big. And understand this. People like money. Harbaugh currently earns $5 million per annum and that means he and Mrs. Harbs don’t need to save Coke bottles and return them to Safeway for the nickel deposit, and you hardly expect to see Harbaugh looking through trash cans for discarded treasure. But he’s a competitive guy. And doubling his salary would be sweet.
When I was growing up, I used to hear radio ads for this store in New Jersey and the guy would yell, “Money talks. Nobody walks.”
We all can agree money talks. And maybe Harbaugh is thinking about walking.
I have read from various pundits (have you ever met a pundit?) Harbaugh won’t leave the Niners for the Longhorns because he wants to win a Super Bowl, he’s competitive with his brother John, he’d never leave the NFL because he’s an NFL guy, yadda yadda.
Me, I don’t have the slightest idea what Harbaugh wants. And I sure don’t know how he thinks. Sometimes people ask me how Harbaugh thinks and I reply,
“That’s like asking how a dolphin thinks. You got me stumped.”
I do know this. Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee opened a recent Harbaugh presser by asking, “So, when do you leave for Austin, Texas?” To which Harbaugh shot back, “Are you trying to be funny?”
Ooh, an arrow to the heart. Shot down in plain sight. Notice Harbaugh did not answer Barrows’ question. He shot down the guy. As someone who’s been shot down a million times, I know the difference between an answer and an arrow to the heart.
Let’s mosey over to the world of reality and ask, “Why are we even having this discussion?”
After last season, the 49ers and Harbaugh held contract-extension talks to add two years and more money to Harbaugh’s five-year deal. Did you know that? It is difficult to know what goes on behind closed doors at 49ers Central, as hard to know as the comings and goings inside the former Soviet Union. Sports Illustrated is reporting those top-secret negotiations took place between Harbaugh and Niners’ brass.
The negotiations amounted to nothing at the time, SI wrote. The talks broke off for unclear reasons. But they will be revived at a date to be named later. Just recently, Jed York told reporters, “Now is not the time. I fully expect to sit down at the end of the season and see where we go from here.”
Now we introduce the key word of this discussion.
Leverage is a good thing to have. I myself rarely have had leverage, although I dream about it. Leverage means you set the terms of the discussion and, in the best leverage conditions, the people with power must make nice to you. People make nice to Harbaugh, although, for his part, he doesn’t always make the nicest of nices.
Texas represents leverage. A guy like Harbaugh implies he loves Austin, he’s a-hankering for a steak smothered in onions the way only Texans can prepare a T-bone smothered in onions, and people like the Yorks perk up.
If Harbaugh has this level of leverage and chooses to use it, well, God love him. It could — and almost certainly will — lead to more dough in the Harbaugh Family money market account.
Why would Harbaugh want leverage leading to a big raise when he earns five big ones? How much green does one man need?
Coaches and athletes are demonically competitive. That’s why they’re athletes and coaches instead of bus drivers or pipe fitters or sports writers. Deep in his competitor’s heart, Harbaugh wants to win the battle of the salaries.
Now it gets interesting.
According to figures I found, Harbaugh’s five mil per year ain’t no big deal. It’s a big deal to me and probably to you. I could pay off the house, the Prius and the credit line I dipped into for the new kitchen. But Harbaugh and Harbaugh-like people don’t think in small change.
When Harbaugh casts a glance around the NFL, studies what head coaches — his peers — earn, he is an underachiever. He earns five? Peanuts. The Ravens pay brother John Harbaugh $7 million. That’s a big pay gap and you wonder how Jim holds up his head at the family Thanksgiving dinner.
It gets worse.
In the NFC West — and remember, the Niners still are the reigning champs of that division — well, in the NFC West, consisting of four teams, Harbaugh gets the third-highest salary. Put another way, he’s one above the basement.
A competitor like Harbaugh could break down in tears. And I wouldn’t blame him.
Pete Carroll is co-leader of the NFC West. The Seahawks pay him $7 million, and this guy never won anything in the NFL. Which coach shares the lead with Carroll? That would be the Rams’ Jeff Fisher.
The Niners crushed the Rams twice this season. And despite that, Harbaugh probably can’t afford a home in Fisher’s neighborhood.
You want to die.
Call it a salary gap.
If he is smart — he is — Harbaugh will use every ounce of leverage to ascend to the John Harbaugh-Pete Carroll-Jeff Fisher level. You imagine his people are talking to the 49ers’ people right now. You may even hear Harbaugh’s name linked to other NFL teams in coming days for leverage purposes.
Do I expect Harbaugh to leave San Francisco (oh come on, Santa Clara) for Austin or anywhere else?
No. Do I think it’s possible?
What are the X factors?
How much the Niners cough up in salary and how much money really matters to Harbaugh.
Would it be a grievous loss if Harbaugh leaves the 49ers?
He’s a flat-out winner.
Can the 49ers get anyone as good?
Guy named David Shaw is doing a pretty good job up the street.
Why mention David Shaw?
I seem to remember a tradition of Stanford coaches switching to the 49ers
Could be I’m remembering wrong.