I am in the desert in baseball world, far removed from the 49ers. I am reading about them. Mostly people on my blog dismiss the reports — now there are several — that the Niners and Browns talked a Harbaugh trade. Fans want to believe everything is peachy on the Niners. And things may be. But I’m talking from experience, from how I know news works, from how I know teams work.

My gut feeling — I’m going on nothing more than my gut — tells me something almost happened. That general manager Mike Lombardi of the Browns reached out to Harbaugh — they worked together at the Raiders. I’m following my gut here. Lombardi could have offered more money and more control over personnel — things Harbaugh does not have in Santa Clara. Harbaugh would be rid of Trent Baalke, who may be an antagonist. My gut tells me Harbaugh was interested in the Browns. When Lombardi got fired, the deal fell apart.

Again, I am not saying any of this is fact. I know nothing about the facts. But this scenario makes sense to me.

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  1. Cisco

    I agree something’s up. I don’t believe your scenario makes total sense, though. I thought, Pettine, the browns new coach was hired before Lombardi was fired. Therefore, lombardi’s firing couldn’t have been the cause of the deal falling through. Just a guess, though.

    February 24th, 2014 11:18 am

  2. Gary

    After 3 years of playoff losses and now this? Oy.

    February 24th, 2014 11:23 am

  3. dharte

    It does make sense, not least because Harbaugh must be chaffing at Baalke’s inflated sense of importance.

    If you look at this team, few of the players, particularly the best players, have anything to do with Baalke’s judgement.

    His best draft was Aldon Smith/Colin Kaepernick, but can there be any doubt that Harbaugh is responsible for Kaepernick? And while Aldon Smith is a great talent, he is also one stupid decision away from a long suspension, and he was taken four picks ahead of JJ Watt, the better defensive lineman and teammate on multiple levels.

    Navarro Bowman is perhaps Baalke’s finest pick, and that choice was impressive in the 3rd round, but the list of Baalke busts is long, and the contrast to Seattle’s success in the draft these last three years does not bode well for the 49ers organization.

    Harbaugh has leverage, even without a Super Bowl. Jed York will be tested here. Can that fact give anyone who has followed this team confidence?

    February 24th, 2014 12:06 pm

  4. RYD

    There were stories that when Jim H was at Stanford he had some “issues” with AD and the school.

    He is a great coach but may be a bit prickly to work with.

    February 24th, 2014 12:25 pm

  5. Bob In Portland

    But that would suggest that Harbaugh was the moving party. I don’t see a reason why the Niners would want to get rid of him.

    Here’s an alternative: During contract extension talks one of the parties floated this possibility as means to pressure the other party to the table.

    It could be, ‘Jim, we can trade you to the Browns for two #1s and a #2 next year. Don’t you think ten million a year is a little over the top?’

    Versus: ‘The Browns are willing to go to ten million, plus I get the final say on draft picks.’

    February 24th, 2014 12:51 pm

  6. StevenG

    I’ve actually wondered something else, all based on the original report from PFT. I think Lombardi believed he could get Harbaugh to come to the Browns based on the mid-west ties and their friendship. I think Lombardi convinced Haslem to fire Chudzinski in order to pursue Harbaugh. The original report said a deal was in place and it was Harbaugh who nixed the deal. I think that once Harbaugh nixed the deal, Lombardi and Banner were fired for not being able to follow through.

    Just my hunch.

    February 24th, 2014 1:37 pm

  7. Kommon Senze

    I think Lombardi is a likely link, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Harbaugh expressed some interest in some informal phone conversations (enough that Lombardi took it to Haslam and told him to give it a go).

    I believe Jed when he says the “49ers” (him, in particular) didn’t really entertain the notion and that the idea never went beyond the ‘idea’ stage within the organization. Could he have contemplated it for a brief moment (perhaps even not provided Haslam with an explicit no right away)? Perhaps. I don’t think there’s much here to suggest Jed’s being duplicitous, though.

    As for Harbaugh, himself? I think if anyone is not being 100% truthful to the media, it’s likely him. Jim may very well have given a move to Cleveland some thought. He has a good relationship with Lombardi. Cleveland almost assuredly was offering a significant raise and likely some more say over player personnel (they’d really have to to make the move enticing over his current situation). He wants to be paid, and he doesn’t have an extension. Everything here, imo, points to him being the one that could have given Cleveland a false sense of hope.

    But the fact that it got squashed pretty quickly from when he supposedly had contact (Pettine was hired only a couple days after Harbaugh said he had spoken to Cleveland about coaches on his staff), and the fact that this news is only leaking shortly after Lombardi and Banner were fired suggests to me that this is being blown out of proportion a bit.

    We’ll see. Strong organizations and strong relationships whether these type of storms, because there’s a confidence and focus that helps to guard against these type of distractions. On the other hand, if there is something here that’s unraveling, this will only put more tension on that weak link.

    February 24th, 2014 1:38 pm

  8. Gopal

    With a couple of days to think about it now, I’m coming around to the notion that something happened between the Browns and the NIners.

    It doesn’t have to mean that everything in Ninerland is falling apart though. Remember, the Peyton Manning audition happened in early 2012, and the Niners still made it to the Super Bowl the following February.

    As a fan, I want to see Harbaugh stay.

    But I can understand how this puts Jed York in an awkward position. Baalke is his guy. Hiring Harbaugh was their mutual decision. If it comes down to Jed making a choice between the two here, what is supposed to do?

    He’s kind of in a pickle here. If he abandons his guy, he’s basically alone at the top in Ninerland, and he won’t be able to steer the ship on his own.

    If Harbaugh gets away, Jed and Trent might not ever be able to replace him.

    February 24th, 2014 2:17 pm

  9. JB

    While I don’t think everything is “peachy”, I’m not sure that I understand the hysteria following this story.

    The information suggests that the Browns sensed an opportunity and reached out to SF to take a run at Harbaugh but were quickly rebuffed. In an effort to save face in the wake of their own front office misgivings they’ve spun this story as an “opportunity” to acquire Harbaugh, when in reality he was never close to going there.

    As an aside, I’m not sure how Haslem (he of the Flying J scandal) has become the poster child for honesty and forthrightness, but that’s for another day.

    February 24th, 2014 2:39 pm

  10. htwaits

    Gut, gut, and more gut.

    “My gut tells me Harbaugh was interested in the Browns. When Lombardi got fired, the deal fell apart.

    Again, I am not saying any of this is fact. I know nothing about the facts. But this scenario makes sense to me.”

    As I understand the time line, the 49ers lost to the Seahawks, and two of Harbaugh’s Stanford players made contributions to that loss.

    Four days later the Browns hired a new coach. Some time after that, the Browns fired the two guys who had just hired a new coach.

    How can that firing have had anything to do with the speculation by you that Harbaugh pulled out after the firing?

    I don”t know anything about the facts either. ;-}

    February 24th, 2014 2:44 pm

  11. htwaits

    … but I know for a fact that my gut is bigger than your gut and it’s full of feelings. Especially after a hot chile pepper lunch at a Schezwan restaurant for lunch today.

    February 24th, 2014 2:48 pm

  12. htwaits

    Can we assume no one’s gut thinks Browns/49ers Harbough talks took place until the 49ers were eliminated from the playoffs?

    NFC Championship Game Jan 19, 2014

    Mike Pettine is hired by the browns Jan 23.
    Jim O’Neil was hired as Defensive coordinator on Jan 27, Kyle Shanahan was hired before February 3.

    On February 11, the Browns announced Banner and Lombardi were finished.

    I don’t see how your years of experience or our collective guts could think that Harbough could have had any choices in relation to a move to Cleveland after Jan 22, if he ever had such a choice.

    I do think that the Browns think they have something to gain by making it sound like they came close to a blockbuster deal. I also think that Jeb York got his hand caught in the cookie jar for tweeting a needless lie.

    I do think that there are serious problems between Harbaugh and Baalke over the roster, and that Harbaugh has been taking it public for at least a year.

    February 24th, 2014 3:23 pm

  13. Stan

    My hunch is…Harbaugh is the type to get unhappy wherever he goes. Nobody meets his standards,and he isn’t happy sharing decisions. College to pro’s back to college in rumors..because he get sick of somebody else telling him what to do. He’s Al Davis before Al stole the Raiders from Wayne Valley.
    He might stay with the 49ers…but the walking in Bill Walsh shoes that he went for has been done. They are just old shoes now.

    February 24th, 2014 3:57 pm

  14. Albert Park

    Have you ever been in Cleveland in winter? They don’t call it The Mistake By The Lake without good reason. The only reason a sports coach would trade SF for Cleveland is if he’d just been fired here. That hasn’t happened to Sunny Jim yet.

    February 24th, 2014 5:05 pm

  15. The Seth

    Ive got two letters and a word on why harbaugh and balke may be at odds: AJ Jenkins. Remember AJ was Balke’s guy, he put his name in an envelope a week before the draft, how has Balke and Harbaugh been since that draft? There could be some major head butting going on over personnel.

    February 24th, 2014 6:08 pm

  16. Stan

    As I said two months ago -right here on Cohn like the genius I probably am- Mark Davis should sign Harbaugh to the Raiders. The same as I said then…lots of money. When you have Russell – Rolando (and many miserable head coaches) on the books as total wastes of tens of millions..give to somebody worth it. Me. No,I mean Jim…

    February 24th, 2014 6:38 pm

  17. Dr. Feelgood

    Consider yourself as owner of the Browns. You decide to fire GM Lombardi- there could be a dozen reasons for that, maybe you view him as an incompetent underachiever who has to go.
    But wait, the loser GM is talking a deal that could bring you one of the most successful head coaches in the NFL. So what do you do? You fire the GM anyway and hire yet another destined-to-fail underachiever, who himself is amazed he got the job. OR, do you wait and fire the GM because he cold not close the deal to bring in Harbaugh,
    I’m inclined to buy into the story that the Browns did, or might have, inquired about a Harbaugh deal that was dismissed by York. BUT, was it dismissed as unthinkable, or was it dismissed because the deal was not sweet enough.
    As an organization that espouses a “do whatever it takes” philosophy, I hope it’s the latter.

    February 24th, 2014 7:09 pm

  18. htwaits

    Glenn Dickey’s gut reaction!


    February 24th, 2014 7:09 pm

  19. Stan

    Mark Davis is like that saying “Youth is wasted on the young”
    well,”Wealth is wasted on the wealthy”.

    I would poach Harbaugh..no wishy washy idea of how to improve the Raiders. And Jim loves black.

    February 24th, 2014 7:44 pm

  20. Stan

    One last Lowell,Radnich on KRON tried to give the Yorks side. And I will distill his argument as best I can in what I think his point was ” The York’s were rich and powerful before Jim,and will be rich and powerful when he’s gone” And that will be soon if Jim wants more.

    But, that ignores..Jed and his father before were losing Ne’er do Wells living off of Denise York’s huge family money as the team sank like a rock. Only now can they poppycock as big shot NFL movers and shakers. Lose Jim,and that can go fast, too..billion dollar stadium coached by another doofus hire that doesn’t work out.
    They need Harbaugh..do they know it?

    February 24th, 2014 7:50 pm

  21. Rap49er

    Like it’s said in the movie “Rounders”, pay the man his money!!

    February 24th, 2014 8:53 pm

  22. Johnc

    Your hunch was right. The Brown’s owner now admits that they were negotiating with the Niners to trade for Harbaugh. Of course York is downplaying/lying about it all in a pathetic attempt at damage control.

    February 24th, 2014 10:06 pm

  23. Dennis

    My hunch is that this isn’t as big a deal as the press is trying to make it out to be. The press jumped on this like a junk yard dog with a raw piece of meat. When things calm down Harbaugh will get his extension and all will be right with the 49ers. End of story.

    February 25th, 2014 7:24 am

  24. Brett

    I agree with JB. The Browns threw it out there and were quickly regected. The rest is media speculation blowing it up.

    If Harbaugh and Balke are realy having issues, someone playing in the sand box needs to grow up. Not sure which, but my guess is Balke.

    February 25th, 2014 9:49 am

  25. Stan

    Come to think of it..Denise York did nothing to earn her hundreds of millions other then to be just born. She could have dropped out of kindergarten and been just as rich.

    I guess she’s always been a “Her do Well”. Very well.

    February 25th, 2014 10:32 am

  26. Streetglide

    My gut feeling tells me that there was a blow-up in Santa Clara, Harbaugh made some demands and top brass said, okay you want to play hardball, what do you say we trade you to a team where you will be playing for last place for the next two years?

    Both Jim and Colin will be gone within three years, they’ll find another coach who doesn’t irritate the players, the press, the front office and more importantly the fans. Jim will head back to the college ranks and do three-and-outs for the rest of his career…

    February 25th, 2014 2:38 pm

  27. Dr. Feelgood

    What’s with the history lessons?
    It doesn’t matter that “the Yorks” had a bad run, how much money they had/have, that Baalke and JH don’t see eye to eye, that they blew a draft pick/picks, that the offense chocks at the most critical moments. etc, etc. None of that has anything to do with what the team needs to do NOW.
    Leaders learn from the past, from mistakes, and plan for the future. Leadership, good leadership, are not yes-men. They disagree, they quarrel, they question and they scheme. They push each other and expect extraordinary results. Yes-men are trying to keep their jobs.
    We don’t have a fly on the wall to reveal what really transpired with the Browns, but it is No Big Deal. JH and Jed are scheming over the contract, Baalke and JM continue to disagree. Paraag continues to work his magic (is this guy amazing or what? Remember when the Razor wanted to eviscerate him? What a dummy.)
    All is well in Ninerville.

    February 25th, 2014 8:04 pm

  28. chris

    the most shocking thing to me in this whole thing is that Harbaugh hasn’t had more control over personel…….it seemed the players on defense and the booting of Alex smith were Harbaugh type moves……….if there really is a problem between Harbaugh and Ballke the Yorks should dump Trent now and give Harbaugh more control…….moat likely that would put the Niners over the hump for a championship……….and if it didn’t it would expose Harbaugh as the reason why they cant win the big one.

    February 26th, 2014 11:56 am

  29. Kommon Senze

    A couple additional points that I realized in re-reading this ‘gut-check.’ Lowell, you said you feel the deal fell apart when Lombardi got fired. Lombardi got fired on Februrary 11; Pettine was hired January 23rd. In fact, Pro Football Talk (although not Mike Florio) reported back when he was fired that Farmar had no role in hiring Pettine, and that Lombardi’s failure to land several guys they were in the hunt for led to his ouster.


    I noted that I think Lombardi had a role, but I think you may be overstating both the closeness of the deal and his credibility. My gut says Lombardi, who swung and missed on getting Chip Kelly and Josh McDaniel, went for a big fish and overplayed how close the deal was to Haslam.

    I think when the 49ers said “no thank you” he had to land someone quick, and went with Pettine. He could have waited for Gase, but, by that time, the public relations hit the Browns were taking daily probably was getting to be too much.. and Gase wasn’t exactly showing strong interest.

    To me, this sounds like the Browns were the clowns, but that the fact that Harbaugh even showed a hint of interest (and it could have been his agent angling more than Harbaugh, himself) has only helped feed the preconceived notions people have had about Harbaugh and his ‘relationskip’ with the team.

    As I said above, the proof will be in the pudding on how the organization handles this moving forward. Will it be a blip, or will it blow up? Let’s hope the big egos have even bigger brains to logically work through the impasse.

    February 26th, 2014 2:22 pm

  30. John Clinton


    Was in Five Guys Burgers today on tthe peninsula. Got there late and only two other customers were there with me.One was in the corner and the other was at the counter with me. Identifying him immediately, I asked “I really like your khakis.’ He recoiled but then smiled and responded “you’re not wearing them so it must be your day off”.

    A great retort and yes, it was Jim Harbaugh who was there with his wife and young daughter.

    An engaging fellow who asked what I did. I told him I was in the newspaper business. He then asked in what capacity. I told him I was a publisher of a local daily and he took notice.

    My only point here is that he can be engaging, pleasant, and cordial.

    And yes, he was wearing khakis, a sweatshirt and a cap. And no, I didn’t ask him about Trent!

    February 26th, 2014 9:23 pm

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