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Jed York on Jim Harbaugh: ‘I regret that the relationship was frayed’

The 49ers CEO was asked about Jim Harbaugh. This is the most he’s really had to say.

The San Francisco 49ers hosted MMQB author Peter King in their draft room all last week, and it resulted in a fantastic article about the team’s process. If you have not read the article yet, I highly recommend giving it a read. It’s the best piece you’ll read about the 49ers draft.

While out there, 49ers CEO Jed York made an appearance on Peter King’s podcast. They talked about John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, but at the 50:30 mark, they got into the team’s recent failures and the view that he is responsible for those failures. York had the usual song and dance about how he can’t take the applause if he isn’t willing to take the blame when things go bad. It goes back to his past comments about being held “accountable.”

However, the podcast got a little more interesting when King brought up Jim Harbaugh. He asked York if there were any regrets with anything that went down with the former 49ers coach. Here is what Jed had to say:

“I don’t know if ‘regret’ is the right word. We had a lot of success together. We tried several times to get an extension done with Jim and, for whatever reason, those didn’t culminate. And ultimately, as successful as it was here, I think Jim is very happy. He’s doing an unbelievable job at Michigan.

“We obviously didn’t have success after Jim left — I don’t know if we’d be sitting here with John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan if something happened. And I don’t know if it would have worked in the long-term if we did get something done.

“I regret how we performed the last two years. I regret that the relationship was frayed between me and a coach that did a lot of great things for this franchise.

“I actually talked to his brother John briefly at the owners’ meeting and he said, ‘You know, you guys need to get together some time and have dinner,’ and I said, ‘I’d love to do that.’ I’d love to get together. And I think enough time has kind of passed where you can let whatever issues were there be buried and just truly be thankful for three great years when nobody expected us, certainly in 2011, to beat the Saints the way we did, to get close and, you know, be two muffed punts away from going to a Super Bowl in ‘11. Just all the things that happened.

“I’d love to sit down with Jim. Not in front of cameras, not in front of anybody else, but just share an evening with him and truly say thank you and wish him the best of luck. Not obviously when he plays Notre Dame, but for the rest of the season, wish him the best of luck.”

First off, I would pay PPV prices to see Jim Harbaugh and Jed York sit down for dinner.

Most of the comment is just fluff, but one line strikes me as the closest we’ll ever get to Jed York taking real blame for how this situation went down.

I regret that the relationship was frayed between me and a coach that did a lot of great things for this franchise.

The only thing I’ve ever really wanted over the past two years is to hear Jed York say, “The relationship fell apart, and as the CEO, I should have done more to prevent that from happening.”

I have never met or interacted with Jim Harbaugh outside of the press conference room, but by pretty much any account, he is a difficult person to work with. And based on some of the family stories, he might be a difficult person to interact with in some basic social settings.

I don’t doubt that he made life difficult for people in the 49ers building. But as CEO, it was on Jed York to try and make that relationship work. Maybe he did, but he has not offered up the kinds of details for us to say, “Oh, ok, I get why this went down the way it did.” We’ve got Tim Kawakami’s reports of the back-stabbing, but not much else. And even if only half of what he reported is true, it was a recipe for dysfunction.

Jed York is the CEO. Whatever his parents role as owners, he is for all intents and purposes the one in charge. As far as public perception is concerned, the buck stops with him. If we are not going to get a full explanation of everything that went down, he is left to simply acknowledge his failure as a people manager. Yes, he did a lot of important work to get the stadium built. Yes, he landed Harbaugh in the first place and the team turned things around briefly. But at the highest level, a CEO is a people manager. And in managing Jim Harbaugh, the perception is that York failed in his people management skills.

York came pretty close with that regret line to acknowledging something. And give how the past three years have gone, that might be all we get. I’m not here to tell people to just move on and think about the future. The perception of the York/Harbaugh issues remains that it was a piss-poor display of personnel management by the 49ers CEO. Given how good those teams were, I think it is entirely reasonable to maintain some bitterness about the way the organization self-destructed from a football perspective.

There are all sorts of variables that raise questions about how the past three seasons would have gone without such an unhealthy relationship. It’s all hypotheticals that are entire At this point, all I really hope for is that the apparently strong relationship between John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan is enough to move this franchise forward from a football perspective.