Here is a link to my Sunday column about Jim Harbaugh. The full text runs below:
Don’t count out Jim Harbaugh.
I am inundated with whisperings from knowledgeable people that he’s out after this season. No matter what. He’s out even if he wins the Super Bowl and the 49ers have to decide if the parade is in downtown San Francisco or Santa, umm, Clara. Question: Does Santa Clara have a downtown?
I’ve heard it’s a done deal, Harbaugh’s demise around here. It may be true.
Surely, it’s Jed York’s prerogative to fire and hire any coach he wants. Although, to be frank about this, until Jed chose Harbaugh, he (Jed) and his father (John) had been abysmal flops in the coach-hiring department. No need to go over that sad history.
This I must say. Jim Harbaugh is a guy, to his everlasting credit, who spits in the eye of rumors and doubters, even if those doubters include ownership. He is a plan-disrupter. He makes things messy. And you get the feeling he doesn’t even notice the chaos in his wake.
I wonder where all the Harbaugh-is-history rumors come from. The rumors flow like lava from an active volcano. Is Jed the volcano? I don’t have the slightest idea. If Jed is the source — I’m not saying he is — what did Harbaugh do to him?
You imagine a scene from a movie about high school life. Molly Ringwald plays the female lead. We miss you, Molly.
Well, in this movie, Harbaugh, wearing a black leather jacket, his hair in a duck’s tail, struts down the hallway, the linoleum varnished to an eye-searing shine, and spots Jed at Jed’s locker. Jed carries his books in two hands, holds them to his chest. Harbaugh slams Jed into the locker and demands protection money which, in those days, was a buck. Jed quickly pays up but in his heart of hearts promises to get even.
Is Jed planning revenge for some Harbaugh slight? Did Harbaugh steal his lunch money?
We’ll have to wait until the season ends to find out.
I keep reading the players don’t like Harbaugh. Saturday morning, a columnist I like and respect talked about “the case against Harbaugh and his relationship with the players.” This columnist, a fine practitioner of his craft, is not the first to write this sort of thing.
But I never knew there was a case against Harbaugh. What case? It’s something about the players not liking him anymore. Did Harbaugh hang Frank Gore out a hotel window in Denver and threaten to drop him unless Gore acknowledged Harbaugh is king of the universe? Is that the case against Harbaugh?
Where does it say players must like the head coach? Being liked and being a good coach are unrelated concepts. They may be conflicting concepts. At times, Joe Montana and Bill Walsh were not close, which means their relationship was snippy some of the time. That has been documented. Montana was a pretty good quarterback in spite of that. He spoke at Walsh’s funeral service.
Please get this straight. Players don’t need to like a coach. Players need to play for a coach. Players can — and do — play for coaches they do not like. All the time.
I have no idea if the 49ers players like or dislike Harbaugh. They’re not about to tell me. But I know this. When the 49ers’ season teetered in New Orleans, the 49ers players came through, played like maniacs, played to the very end. And won.
That is the only statement that matters. What some player says off the record about not liking Harbaugh or what someone in management says off the record about not liking Harbaugh is mere subtext — if players and management are even saying this stuff.
But, OK, Jed can terminate Harbaugh after this season. Jed has the power and the glory. Who can Jed get that’s better?
Because that is the main question. That is the only question. What coach can drive into 4949 Marie P. DeBartolo Way with a new coaching staff and a new football philosophy and, right away, get the Niners to the NFC championship game and maybe even the Super Bowl?
I am not saying Harbaugh is God’s gift to coaches. He is not at the Bill Walsh level and he’s not at the George Seifert level. Not yet. He may never reach those levels. I’ll tell you this. He’s one hell of a coach and, unless Jed can get another one hell of a coach, he’d better tread carefully with dismissing Harbaugh.
I keep reading the 49ers should hire Jon Gruden, that Gruden is the answer. Seriously?
Gruden won a Super Bowl — something Harbaugh has not done. Gruden’s football knowledge is grounded in his experience as a young man with the 49ers — he runs a West Coast Offense. He was an excellent coach in his day, but his day ended six years ago. He’s not a coach anymore. He’s a television personality.
He talks for a living. He jokes around in the booth with that other guy. He wears a jacket and tie. He never wins or loses a game. His life is not soft — I’m not saying that — but it’s softer than a coach’s life. Believe me.
Gruden no longer has the stomach for coaching, for the late hours, for the failures, for the media scrutiny. If Gruden had the stomach for that stuff, he would be coaching right now.
Nobody has the stomach for football like Jim Harbaugh.
Jed York disregards that at his own peril.
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