Please don't say the honeymoon is over. Outside of losing a few heartbreakers in the postseason and a few off the field incidents from players, 49ers media coverage has generally been very favorable since Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011. Unfortunately, the chatter of a potential deal to the Browns and widening rift between Jim Harbaugh, Trent Baalke, and even possibly Paraag Marathe continues to broil.
The bottom line is this:
If Niners brass knows what's good for them, they'll extend Harbaugh, resolve the tension, and silence the media as quickly as humanly possible. Not doing so will plummet the franchise back to the depths just as quickly as it crawled out.
Rumors indicate it may come down to a decision between general manager Trent Baalke and Harbaugh. Is that even a question? The choice better be, and has to be, Jim Harbaugh. It would be much easier to replace Trent Baalke than a coach who is knocking on the door of a sixth Lombardi trophy every season.
Harbaugh has delivered three impeccable seasons since becoming the 49ers head coach, garnering a .766 win percentage. At 48 games, his total is 2 games short of qualifying for profootballreference.com's 50-game minimum to place on the all-time list. If he had qualified to place, it would rank him second all-time. Yes, he hasn't won the big one, but he's come within inches of doing so and the way the 49ers lost those games doesn't have much to do with him. Special teams gaffes, digging a hole too big to begin with in the Super Bowl (thanks to porous play by the defense and secondary), and ill-fated passing decisions by Kaepernick are really at fault.
On the other hand, Baalke's track record is ridden with many more potholes. He has hit a few home runs in Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, and Eric Reid, and there are several other solid players he's collected over the years during his tenure as GM. It should not go forgotten, however, that he has yet to draft an accomplished wide receiver and made a biblical mistake in drafting A.J. Jenkins, capping a 2012 draft that looks worse and worse by the day. The harvest from the 2013 draft remains to be seen and while I maintain high expectations, there's also the chance that one could go down as another dud if Quinton Patton, Vance McDonald, Tank Carradine, and Marcus Lattimore don't pan out. Again, that's not to say they won't; I'm simply acknowledging the fact that the jury is still out.
Harbaugh has earned the right to be the highest-paid, or at least one of the highest-paid, coaches in the league.If true, the reports reek of York, Baalke, and Marathe riding a high horse, getting too big for their britches, and forgetting who's most responsible for putting this franchise back on the map. Heck, who even knows if that new stadium deal gets done without Harbaugh elevating the 49ers back to prominence. After all, the deal wasn't finalized, nor was funding secured, until December 2011, which just so happened to be right around the time Harbaugh and company were clinching the 49ers' first playoff berth in almost a decade.
While Jed York has done a very commendable job with the team, let's not forget that he also handpicked Mike Singletary to lead the 49ers in 2009...and we all know how that experiment ended. Prior to 2009, his parents were responsible for the likes of Dennis Erickson and Mike Nolan. Those decisions don't exactly instill confidence in the notion that they'd be able to replace Harbaugh adequately. Reports indicate that the 49ers front office is ready to play hardball; that they won't readily bow to Harbaugh's demands and feel it would not be all that hard to find another coach to commandeer this championship-caliber roster. Have they forgotten that Singletary could only muster a 6-10 record with virtually the same roster that Harbaugh brought to within a fumble of a Super Bowl appearance in his very first season?
I'm never one to take media rumors and anonymous reports as gospel but this one is heating up quickly...and where there's smoke, there's usually fire. Additionally, this whole fiasco harkens back to the M.O. of 49ers ownership from 2003-2010. Perhaps the stellar product on the field and coaching of Harbaugh himself has only masked the dubious reputation that 49ers ownership was infamous for during the dark days of '03-'10. Ego is definitely at play here and I get the feeling that there's far too much chest puffing going on behind closed doors.
In my mind, no price is too high to retain Harbaugh. It has no bearing on the salary cap and this franchise is due to make a boatload of money between a new stadium, rejuvenated product on the field, and as host to the Super Bowl in a couple years. Just as quickly as the Niners turned things around once Harbaugh walked through the doors of 4949 Centennial Blvd. is just as quickly as they can go to hell in handbasket if San Francisco doesn't make nice and retain one of the games' brightest young minds.