Power struggles are common in the NFL. Owners, general managers, head coaches and players all have big egos and Type-A personalities.
So when news surfaced recently that there’s friction between 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke, it wasn’t all that unusual. And as this offseason and 2014 season play out, the reporters who cover the 49ers will be writing much more about the way the 49ers function (or don’t function) because of the fracture.
Just this past weekend, for instance, Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that even many 49ers players have gotten a bit tired of Harbaugh’s ways.
“From what I’ve been told, the tension isn’t just upstairs in the building,” wrote Killion, of the 49ers headquarters. “One source with inside knowledge of the team says that Harbaugh’s act has worn thin in the locker room, particularly among some key ‘face of the 49ers’ type players. While the team is winning, that’s not a problem. But a few losses could expose a widening rift.”
The question is, if the rift between Harbaugh and the front office continues, can the team continue to prosper? And if the feud remains, would the 49ers eventually have to get rid of either Baalke or Harbaugh?
History shows us that when teams pick the GMs over proven coaches, it’s the team that suffers. As Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com wrote, in a story about such feuds several years ago, Jimmy Johnson (Cowboys), Jon Gruden (Bucs), Bill Parcells (Giants) and Marty Schottenheimer (Chargers) all were booted or allowed to leave because of feuds with owners or executives above them. The Chargers, in fact, did it twice, also siding with GM Bobby Beathard over head coach Bobby Ross, who took the team to its only Super Bowl.
Hall of Fame coach John Madden obviously would seem to have a bias toward coaches, but he’s also spent a lifetime in football as both a coach and broadcaster, and he sees the Harbaugh-Baalke feud as a chance for the 49ers to make a huge mistake.
Without Harbaugh, the Niners struggled. In the three years since he took over the team, it’s been to three NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl, and it’s again positioned to be an NFL championship contender in 2014. As far as Madden is concerned, if team owner Jed York has to eventually pick between one or the other, he should go with Harbaugh.
“It’s a lot easier to get a suit than it is to get a coach,” Madden recently told KCBS. “The owner has to pick the coach.”
“Jim Harbaugh has done a great job of coaching in the NFL no matter how you put it,” Madden added. “Getting to three championship games in a row with that group or with any group is a heck of a thing that he’s done. … You tell me where they’re going to get a guy that’s better than him.”
And history, as ESPN.com’s Yasinskas documented, backs up Madden.