Here is a link to my Friday column on the Niners. Sorry I didn’t post it Thursday night but I was so shocked by the Raiders’ win I temporarily lost my mind. The full text runs below:
Here is today’s quiz. Think of this as a reading comprehension test, some exercise you’d see on the SAT. I remember taking the SAT and the teacher saying, “Pencils down,” and I was nowhere near finished.
Your assignment is to read the long quote from Jim Harbaugh which appears below and determine which two key words he never said. Here’s the setup. I recently asked Harbaugh what he likes about rookie linebacker Chris Borland, who’s filling in for Patrick Willis and is playing like gangbusters.
Harbaugh: “I’ve loved him since I first started watching him play. As the draft process was going on, you’re watching every game that he plays. It’s just ‘football player.’ And throughout that process — I know he’s got some fans and he’s got family and lots of brothers and people back in Dayton, Ohio, that admire him — but I feel I’m at least tied for first in the Chris Borland fan club. And I felt that way when we were evaluating him and drafting him and since he’s been here.
“What does he do? He’s got great instincts. He’s got a great ability to take coaching. He’s got a great knack for the football. He’s moving a step ahead. It’s like the great baseball players that are moving at the crack of the bat. He’s moving a step before some other players that have played this game for a very long time. The way he’s able to dip. The way he has a knack for the football. It’s like a thief in the night. He’ll come steal your football from you.
“And he’s so physical. You can see when he takes on the lead blocker that there is some rattling of fillings. And then sometimes he’ll just go by him. He’ll just slip past him. He had a great move, tackle for a loss in this past game. It was a classic NaVorro Bowman move where the linebacker is filling, fullback is getting ready to lead on NaVorro, and in this case, Chris Borland he just disregards taking on the blocker, goes right past him and makes the tackle in the backfield for a three-yard loss. You can probably find the play I’m describing, but that’s a classic NaVorro Bowman move. Excellent job of incorporating that into his game. So many things.”
Disregard, if possible, Harbaugh’s enthusiasm and his plainspoken poetry, if I may call it that. Harbaugh really is something when he gets going. But none of that is your concern. What two words did the coach never say?
He never said Trent Baalke.
Excuse me, but Baalke scouted Borland and Baalke drafted Borland and Baalke signed Borland. That’s the division of labor at the Niners — Baalke is the personnel guy, has full authority over the 53-man roster, and Harbaugh coaches up the players.
No ambiguity there — in theory.
But if you carefully read Harbaugh’s words — careful reading was your assignment — Harbaugh seemed to be taking credit for Borland. Full credit. It was Harbaugh who watched Borland play during the draft process. It’s Harbaugh, not Baalke, who is Borland’s No. 1 fan. Harbaugh rivals Borland’s blood relatives and the greater Dayton, Ohio, area in his unabashed Borland love.
I want to put Harbaugh’s words in a larger context. I just covered the Giants’ entire postseason. Lots of games. Lots of press conferences. Writers not from the Bay Area, not familiar with the Giants, invariably asked Bochy how he put together his solid roster. And Bochy invariably set the record straight. He did not assemble the roster. Brian Sabean did. Brian Sabean is the best general manager and Sabean graciously presents Bochy with a cornucopia of talent. Bochy is merely the humble manager.
Bochy said that lots of times. After regular-season wins — it could be any night — you can see Sabean and Bochy sitting at Bochy’s desk in his office. Sometimes, they are drinking a big cabernet. I believe Bochy is closer to Sabean than his coaches. Bochy and Sabean don’t compete. They work together. They are a team.
Not Harbaugh and Baalke. You feel they are assembling their resumes. They are competing for who runs the show, for who gets the good players, for who really has the ability to scout. It’s like there’s no separation of powers and jobs between them.
Harbaugh already has credit for Colin Kaepernick. Now, he implicitly takes credit for Borland. He didn’t need Baalke to show him Borland’s virtues. He already knew them.
All this makes you wonder — worry? — what’s going on behind the scenes at 49ers headquarters. Lots of competing between Harbaugh and Baalke. Lots of credit-taking for various players. Lots of finger pointing in both directions for players who went bad.
We always assume Baalke is great at his job, that he rivals Sabean as a general manager. Seriously?
Baalke gets the blame for the dud first-round pick A.J. Jenkins, for second-round pick Tank Carradine who is almost invisible, for second-round pick, tight end Vance McDonald, who has two catches this season, for LaMichael James, a second-round pick now in Miami, for first-round pick Jimmie Ward, out for the season after breaking his foot, the same foot he broke before he came to the Niners.
Baalke specializes in the halt and lame. He drafted poor Marcus Lattimore in the fifth round, Lattimore with a reconstructed knee. Lattimore never saw the field and recently retired. Wasted pick. Immediately after Lattimore retired, Baalke re-signed Kendall Hunter, who is missing this season with a torn ACL. So, Baalke replaced one damaged running back with another.
This is not a get-Baalke column, although one thing is interesting. Everyone assumes Harbaugh is gone after this season. Maybe that’s true. But what makes you think Baalke is safe? He has an up-and-down record as talent coordinator. You notice it. I notice it. Jed York notices it.
But Baalke’s future is not the main point. The point is Harbaugh and Baalke and how they hardly acknowledge each other, how they hardly give each other credit. It’s so unlike the Giants, and the Giants are a better organization than the 49ers.
Harbaugh’s speech the other day with no mention of Baalke was, I believe, the tip of the iceberg. Things are frosty between those two guys — they barely acknowledge each other in the postgame locker room. Being near them, you could get hypothermia.
And we draw conclusions. They don’t work well together. They compete. They are no Bochy-Sabean. They may be at a point of strife.
OK, pencils down.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.