San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh met with the media, and he had a chance to address an issue that has festered the last couple days. On Sunday, Ann Killion asked Michael Crabtree was asked about his big play against the Saints. Crabtree responded with this. They had this exchange (per TK transcript):
-Q: Your reception was the moment of the game.
-CRABTREE: Third down. I'm a third-down receiver. I mean, I'm like the third option. So I come in and I do my job.
-Q: That was fourth down, I think.
-CRABTREE: Fourth down. I guess when they need me, you know, I guess that's when I play.
I know you all count stats-look that up.
-Q: You weren't on the field all the time.
-CRABTREE: No, no, no. Do what I'm supposed to do, you know?
There was some chatter about Crabtree being unhappy with his role, and the next day, Jim Harbaugh was asked about it during his normal Monday press conference.
After the game, WR Michael Crabtree had some quotes to some of our colleagues that were there about that he now considers himself just a third-down back and he seemed to express some dissatisfaction with that perhaps. Will you address that with him and what is your response to that?
"Well, my response is, and I was there, I caught the tail end of it, I didn't catch all of it, so I don't have it all verbatim, but I did see the two reporters that were talking to him and here was my view of the battlefield as I walked up to it: There's Michael Crabtree catching a 4th-down-and-10 play, where he comes open, Colin hits him with the long pass. Great catch. Sets up a chance for us to kick a field goal to tie the game and togo into overtime. And again, I just caught the end of it, but what I heard the two reporters asking him was, ‘You don't seem like you're getting the ball as much. Are you not part of the offense? Why aren't you getting the ball? You dropped some balls.' Again, I didn't see the whole thing, but I felt a little defensive for Michael. Here's a guy who makes a great play and now he's answering this question or that question. Maybe I might've gotten a little defensive too.
Tim Kawakami was not on hand for the Monday press conference, but when he found out about these comments, he was fairly unhappy. He said Harbaugh misrepresented his comments, and in his column on the issue, appeared to question Harbaugh's integrity.
Harbaugh met with the media on Wednesday for his normal mid-week press conference, and he addressed the issues that had arisen over this whole situation. We'll have the full transcript later today, but Harbaugh pointed to his multiple disclaimers that he did not hear the entire conversation. He talked about how it was his perception of the conversation, and the way he heard it, he was defensive for Crabtree, and understood that Crabtree was defensive as well.
Kawakami asked Harbaugh if Crabtree had a problem with the offense, and Harbaugh said he did not think so. Harbaugh also said that it was the heat of the moment, ten minutes after the game, and he would not go by that. That latter comment would seem to indicate he is not inclined to get worked up over comments made immediately after the game.
I think this particularly story is mostly a non-issue. I don't doubt that Jim Harbaugh thinks he heard something that put him on the defensive. He loves the us against the world mentality, so I could see him overhearing something and thinking it was different than reality. People mis-hear things all the time. I don't think he was going out of his way to misrepresent what he heard, although some will obviously disagree.
The bigger question is whether or not Crabtree is unhappy with his role in the offense. While it would be great to hear nothing but positive comments after a win, we also know that Crabtree is struggling compared to previous seasons. Eric Branch put together some thoughts on what might be the source of frustration. We don't have a clear answer on what the deal is, but given his struggles, I would be surprised if he was not frustrated in general. I don't think this is enough to cause problems with the team, but it is something that probably will not go away anytime soon from a media perspective.
I don't know when he will next speak to the media, so it might be a while before we get any further clarification on what exactly is going on.