Here is a link to my Sunday column about the predicament — pickle? — Jim Harbaugh finds himself in. The full text runs below:
Hey, Jim Harbaugh. I’m talking to you.
That’s right, you.
It would be a good idea to win today’s game. I’m just saying.
Sure, you and the 49ers are big underdogs to the Saints who almost never lose on that speed carpet in New Orleans. Sure, you’re on a two-game losing streak and your offense looks ready for the taxidermist and you’ve got a million guys hurt.
It would be a good idea to win today. I’m just saying.
Your season rides on this game, Jim. You lose today, you fall to 4-5 and you’ve got big problems. Monster problems you never dreamed of. A team with a record of 4-5 almost certainly is not a team that makes the playoffs. Not when you’re miles behind the Cardinals whom you play one more time. Not when you trail the Seahawks, the defending Super Bowl champs, a team you still face twice. Good luck.
The way things stand right now you’re not even a wild-card team. Lose today … believe me you don’t want to lose today.
Because here’s the thing, Jim. More than this season is at stake for you. We’re talking your career as 49ers’ head coach. We’re talking your standing in the league. We’re talking nothing less.
If this season goes bad, all fair-minded 49ers followers begin to wonder about you. We keep hearing this is your last go-round with the team even though you’re signed for another season. Jerry Rice said so just the other day. Jerry Rice is no Joe Shmoe. He is a cornerstone of 49ers greatness and he’s relegated you to the garbage heap of coaches. Players on your team take him seriously.
Steve Young, another cornerstone — and a reasonable man — said the offense seems disgruntled, out of sorts, just plain unhappy.
Those are bad reviews, Jim, from people who are more 49er than you. Those are reviews you don’t want. You need to rewrite those reviews. You need to rewrite them today.
We hear you want big money, bigger money than the $5 million per annum the Yorks pay you. You want Super Bowl-winner dough. Except you never won the Super Bowl and you probably won’t win a Super Bowl this season. Maybe not any season the way things are going. Your demands — $7.5 million annually or whatever — are out of touch with reality. Out of touch with your current reality.
Word is Jed York has had it with you. Up to here. Word is, after this season, he would be happy to say, “We’re going in a different direction and thanks for your valuable contributions and good luck with the rest of your life.”
You don’t want to give him that chance. Believe me, Jim.
The issue, according to what I hear, is you never let up. Every day is war for you, war against the front office, war against anyone not on the team. You understand life only as winning or losing. Life is not binary. Teenagers know that. Sometimes, life is working together with the front office and management even if you hate their guts. But you don’t get that. That’s what I’ve heard.
Word is you don’t distinguish between little issues and big issues. To you, everything is World War II. A grownup, a mature person lets things slide some of the time, chooses battles wisely. I’ve been told you don’t distinguish.
Word is you’re a four-season coach. Four seasons — or fewer — is your sell-by date. After four seasons, you begin to get stale and a foul odor permeates the building. You turn people off. Exhaust them. I’m not saying any of this is true. But it’s what I hear.
If you lose today and keep on losing, we wonder about other things. Like that silly stuff about you losing the locker room. First time I heard it, I thought it was impertinent directed against a person of your stature. I thought some Harbaugh hater or a lunatic planted it. I never took it seriously the first time or the second time. Or the third.
Now, I wonder. Are you losing your players? Do they groan when you speak? Have they stopped trusting you? One theory is you began to erode trust with the Peyton Manning “incident.” You weren’t upfront with Alex Smith or the team about your real intentions of working out Manning. It’s just a theory.
But something is wrong. Against the pathetic Rams last week, the offense — your offense, Jim — played like chumps. Joe Staley, an All Pro and an all-time great guy and a normal person — one of the normative voices on your team — complained to reporters on the record about the offensive “scheme.”
Damning complaint. He skinned back on his criticism a few days later. Did someone in the organization get to him? But right after the game and just after the heat of battle, he pointed the finger at you and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Devastating. Unheard of before this season. Unthinkable before this season.
And here’s the thing, Jim. I know you’re a good head coach. I believe you have staying power. I saw what you did, taking Mike Singletary’s players and forging them in the kiln of your white-hot personality into an elite team. It was beautiful for me to watch and appreciate and chronicle. I believe you can win today. I believe you can turn your season around and make the critics and doomsayers look like dopes. I know you can spit in the eye of all the nasty rumors.
John Madden said winning is the best deodorant.
Time for the Mennen Speed Stick, Jim.
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