Even as the 49ers make a late-season push that could carry them back to the Super Bowl, everything isn’t completely perfect.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News shines a light on what he calls “creative tensions” between coach Jim Harbaugh and G.M. Trent Baalke. With Harbaugh, who doesn’t have final say over the roster, due to get a new contract after the season, Harbaugh could be trying to parlay his success into more control over the team.
Kawakami points to a couple of recent incidents as proof of a potential problem. With fullback Bruce Miller out, Harbaugh publicly declared the team would bring back Owen Marecic. And Marecic wasn’t brought back. (Kawami, citing an unnamed source, says that Marecic chose not to come.) Also, Harbaugh’s open plea for kicker Phil Dawson to return next year was seen by Kawakami as a message to Baalke.
Kawakami attributes some of the push and pull between Harbaugh and Baalke to the placement of “two alpha dogs” in the same environment for three years. But Kawakami reports that the relationship has indeed changed between the two men over nearly three years of working together.
Evidence of potential friction could come not only from Harbaugh wanting guys who aren’t signed but from Harbaugh not using players already on the roster. (Receiver A.J. Jenkins, a first-round pick in 2012, was mainly ignored by Harbaugh until Jenkins was traded.) Or from Harbaugh using a guy more than expected. Kawakami reports that Baalke and CEO Jed York believed linebacker Aldon Smith would play only sparingly two days after a DUI arrest; Harbaugh used Smith for all 72 defensive snaps.
Problems haven’t emerged between the two men, but a winning program helps smooth any rough edges. Winning also has given Harbaugh the leverage to try to get that which he reportedly didn’t request when he got the job in 2011 — control over the composition of the roster.
The mere fact that these details of the Harbaugh-Baalke relationship have emerged in the wake of news that the University of Texas wants Harbaugh and that the 49ers plan to give him a new contract after the season suggests that Harbaugh or someone close to him already is laying the foundation to get more than money when it’s time to get that new contract.