San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh joined KNBR for a segment on Friday, and he had a chance to discuss a whole offseason worth of content. Harbaugh has a weekly segment on the show during the season, but this was his first time talking with them in several months. It had been so long that it was his first chance with them to talk about his pushups alongside the walrus.
Naturally there was some discussion about the 49ers off-field issues. While some of the offseason issues have been overblown by some in the media, there have still been some question marks that raise concerns. Aldon Smith has been the primary player on the radar. Although the LAX bomb threat incident is seemingly tapering off, his court concerns remain an issue. Jed York also made an appearance on the radio yesterday afternoon, and he made a good point about how the personal issues of a lot of players never make it into the public consciousness. That's not to downplay the ones that do show up, but there is some context to be considered.
Coach Harbaugh was asked about Aldon's situation, and he provided a fairly detailed answer about some of his own thoughts on dealing with players that might face some adversity in life:
He’s doing well. He’s showing up. He’s working hard. He’s listening, and he has the opportunity to do what he says he’s going to do. That’s what we’re all very hopeful for … I want you to know where I stand, and that is due process. And another place I stand is that I can help someone, we can help someone. If someone comes to us and asks for help, I don’t want to ever say I can’t help you. We’ll help someone or find somebody who can, and that includes working with the players. Working with a player like Aldon, and others. I believe some changes ought to be made. And some of those changes need to be made at the top. And I’m not at the top-top, but I’m at or near the top, and I’ll do anything it takes to get something done, or to improve something, or get better at something. And that’s where Aldon is. That’s what Aldon has said that he’s going to do, and we give him that opportunity to do what he says he is going to do.
The 49ers reportedly sat down with Aldon Smith before they finalized their decision on his fifth year option. This is not a surprising report. It sounds like Aldon told the team he was prepared to get things going in the right direction, and keep it that way. That's great and all, but obviously he needs to actually walk the walk on this one.
Harbaugh's comments led to a column from Tim Kawakami that seems a bit speculative, but still raised some interesting points. Kawakami initially made the assumption that Harbaugh was saying the team needed another executive who might not feel overwhelmed by the Baalke/Harbaugh tag-team combination. Harbaugh later corrected him through a 49ers spokesperson, stating that he was speaking for what he himself could do better. That he could find ways to help out his players on and off the field.
Kawakami still felt his point stood. He argued that the 49ers could use a Carmen Policy-type figure to help balance things out with Baalke, Harbaugh and York. Even if that kind of person is actually necessary, it's a lot easier said than done. It's an interesting notion, but that also assumes Kawakami's view of the 49ers is the way things really are. TK's view appears to stem in large part from how he feels the 49ers mishandled aspects of the Aldon Smith situation. He refers to the team's off-the-field issues as a whole, but more often than not, it comes back to Aldon Smith.
And with that in mind, you can sort of make your own assumptions based on how you feel the 49ers have handled Aldon Smith's off-field issues. I certainly don't think you can ever handle these kinds of things in any sort of "perfect" manner. When it comes to substance abuse and maturity issues, there is no blueprint. It's easy to speak about it from the outside looking in, particularly in hindsight. The 49ers key decision-makers are in this thing to win championships, and sometimes they might err on the side of competition over what's the best situation for a person. I don't think this is a matter of deciding, "screw them, we want to win." I do think it can impact the decision, but I also do think the 49ers want to help Aldon Smith get and keep his life in order.
Ideally, we'll never see another incident that potentially forces the 49ers hand. Ideally, Jim Harbaugh, Trent Baalke, Jed York, and anybody else involved is able to work with Aldon Smith and all will be well. For now we have to just wait and hope for the best. It's up to Aldon at this point. The 49ers have given him chances, and now we wait and find out if he's serious about this.