Here is a link to my Tuesday column about the firing process for Jim Harbaugh. The full text runs below:
What you noticed was the emptiness.
Current 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was five minutes late for his Monday televised news conference in the new big fancy auditorium at team headquarters. No one stood behind the lectern on the stage, the lectern with the microphone.
Reporters wondered about the delay and the emptiness. More than one reporter questioned if Harbaugh would walk onto the stage. Maybe some 49ers functionary — certainly not Jed York — would appear and say, “We appreciate Jim’s contribution to the 49ers. We appreciate how Jim turned around the franchise. As of today, he no longer is our coach. We have decided to go in a different direction. Jim Tomsula will be interim coach, a role he’s familiar with.”
And then the functionary would decline to answer questions and scurry away.
None of that happened. Harbaugh appeared and conducted the news conference. And it was clear many in that room were on a Harbaugh Watch — a Harbaugh Firing Watch. That’s why I was there. I had flown in early from Seattle because Harbaugh getting the ax would big news and I wanted to record it.
The Harbaugh Firing Watch officially has begun. It will play out during the next month or so, and you and I are spectators of the fascinating, puzzling, screwy drama from this puzzling, screwy, dysfunctional franchise.
What follows is a possible scenario for the Harbaugh firing. It is merely speculation, but it is informed speculation. Call it “A Primer on how Jed York Will Rid the 49ers of Their Winning Coach.”
The first principle of the primer is this: Jed will not fire Harbaugh during the season. The 49ers certainly have form for in-season firing. They dumped Mike Singletary during the season and gave Tomsula his first shot at being an interim. Don’t expect that to happen this time.
Because the Niners want to trade Harbaugh. They want something for him. They see him as a valuable “commodity,” although they themselves don’t value him. They probably want two draft picks for him. In a trade, they could get players and rid themselves of the $5 million they owe Harbaugh for the final year of his contract. A sweet deal for Jed and John York.
But Harbaugh would have something to say about a trade. He would have to OK any trade and, for the sake of this storyline, let’s say he rejects the trade. He would not want to coach a team weakened by trading for him. And there’s something else. Call it something better.
If I understand Harbaugh — I do in a limited way — he would want to screw the Niners. Why not? They’re about to screw him.
He would reject a trade and insist on fulfilling his contract and coaching the 49ers next season. He would issue a news release or hold a news conference and say in the sincerest tone, “I signed up to coach this team, and I can’t rest until I return these mighty men to glory.”
At this point in the scenario, Harbaugh is in charge. Jed would have to accept Harbaugh as coach for one more season.
Or Jed could fire Harbaugh. He certainly wants to fire Harbaugh.
There is one problem with firing Harbaugh. The 49ers would be on the hook for the remaining $5 million of his contract, would have to pay while Harbaugh takes off a year polishing his golf game and building houses in Peru.
This sounds like a nice setup for Harbaugh to get paid for nothing. But Harbaugh doesn’t want to do nothing. He’s a football guy. After the Niners fire him, he will take a head-coaching job with some other NFL team — no draft picks involved.
This is not entirely bad for the 49ers. If the team, say the Raiders, pays Harbaugh $4 million, the 49ers would have to make up the difference, a mere $1 million. Peanuts by NFL standards. If the new team pays Harbaugh $5 million or more, the Niners are entirely off the hook.
This all makes sense for both parties. Except for one question. Just how vindictive is Jed? Just how vindictive are the Yorks? Some people think they score high in the vindictive scale.
Jed may hang onto Harbaugh until early January when all the coaching jobs are taken. Harbaugh would sit powerless on the sidelines. Out of spite, Jed might freeze out Harbaugh for next season. And then Jed would fire him. Sure, Jed would owe Harbaugh $5 million, but it might be worth it for Jed to mess with Harbaugh’s life.
This public squabble could get very messy very fast.
Who wins when it’s over?
Trent Baalke, the general manager. That’s who.
Next season, this will be Baalke’s team if Jed doesn’t fire him, too. Baalke would replace Harbaugh as superstar and face of the franchise. The new coach will be someone you’re not even thinking of now. It won’t be Jon Gruden. The new coach will be a low-profile man because Baalke will hog all the profile.
There’s a downside with making Baalke the team’s main asset. And I’m not talking about his daughter Cassie who went Twitter wild and publicly fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman and embarrassed the team and the entire Baalke family. Did Baalke badmouth Roman at the dinner table giving Cassie the idea anti-Roman tweets were all right?
The problem with Baalke is a football thing. He is good at drafting and acquiring players who hit each other. He understands hit and be hit, and that means he’s good at getting defensive linemen, linebackers and offensive linemen.
He is not good at drafting and acquiring players who touch the ball, at getting guys who score. You remember the concept of scoring. It’s something the Niners used to do. If you throw out points — points are so passé — the Niners are still one of the best teams in the league. In fact, they are the best team in the NFL if you don’t keep score. Baalke gets much of the credit.
It is conceivable next season’s 49ers — no matter who the coach is — will want to score more points than the other guys. And that’s Baalke’s problem area, the pesky scoring part of football.
It’s possible Baalke really is just a scout who has been over-promoted, possible he’s great at scouting power guys and no one else. He may need someone over him with a vision for an entire team including ball catchers and ball carriers. Those guys.
And that means Jed York is about to make a big mistake.
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.