The 49ers in recent weeks have done a lot of damage control after reports surfaced that head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke often are in conflict.
Team CEO Jed York acknowledged this week at the NFL owners’ meetings that there’s tension between the two, but says it’s a creative tension that helps drive the team’s success.
“They get along,” York told reporters. “They’re just grinding. They want a ring. They’re battling and fighting to get to a ring. And sometimes it wears on people. But I like the tension. I think they like that tension. Both of them compete better when there’s something to compete against. I think we’re in a good spot.”
If push came to shove, and one – Harbuagh or Baalke – had to go, many in the media have suggested that it’s Harbaugh who should stay. That history shows that tremendous head coaches are more valuable in the long run than successful GMs.
But York suggests it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation, and that head coach-GM relationships often are contentious and he doesn’t want to see a split.
“Those guys find a way to work together to make sure we’re always competing for a Super Bowl,” York told the media.
Also, there’s this: Harbaugh gets the headlines. He’s always in the spotlight. But Baalke, behind the scenes, is equally as valuable. On his Monday Morning Quarterback site for Sports Illustrated, longtime NFL writer Peter King this week wrote: “Trent Baalke is a force to be reckoned with in the NFL.”
In writing about the five things he’s learned at the owners’ meetings in Orlando, King put Baalke’s talents as a talent evaluator and GM as his No. 1. After watching Baalke quietly move around the meetings, having one-on-one conversations with scouts and personnel people, King praises Baalke for laying the foundation of the 49ers success and continually improving the roster without breaking the team’s bank or jeopardizing its long-term outlook.
“Baalke runs the draft the way Jimmy Johnson used to in Dallas, wheeling and dealng for extra picks to allow the Niners the freedom on draft day to do what they want in moving up or down or into better position for next season,” he wrote.
He also points to the trade of quarterback Alex Smith to the Chiefs last year as a classic Baalke move. Through that trade and a subsequent deal, the 49ers received two second-rounders, a third-rounder and a seventh-rounder for a QB who had been supplanted by Colin Kaepernick.
“That’s why he’s admired among his peers,” wrote King. “Baalke consistently takes medium value and makes very good value out of it.”
And, says King, by stockpiling picks and being careful with money, Baalke doesn’t have to gamble by going after high-priced free agents, such as wide receivers this offseason. He can fulfill the team’s needs through the draft, getting younger, less-expensive talent that will help now and in the future.
All of Baalke’s efforts, he says, create this bottom line: “These Niners are going to be good for a long, long time.”
Especially if Baalke, Harbaugh and York find a way to maintain all the creative tension without having one walk away.