The best way for the 49ers to turn the page on an offseason of turmoil would be to sign coach Jim Harbaugh to a long-term contract that still gives G.M. Trent Baalke final say over personnel.
The far cheaper and easier approach would be to make it clear to both Harbaugh and Baalke that it’s in their mutual best interests to publicly declare that everything is fine. And that nothing was ever wrong.
It looks like the latter has happened.
To get the message out, the 49ers have again turned to the umbrella of Sports Illustrated. Previously, Harbaugh went on the record to dispel the notion that he’s money and/or power hungry with Michael Rosenberg of SI.com. This time, both Harbaugh and Baalke welcomed Peter King’s microsite into the building for separate discussions with Baalke, Harbaugh, team president Paraag Marathe, and CEO Jed York.
Greg Bedard of The MMQB.com, who acknowledges that “sources” previously had told him “that Harbaugh has a tendency to grate on people and that the 49ers wouldn’t be too disappointed if Harbaugh ended up taking another opportunity somewhere else down the line,” explains that he acquired the sense that the organization has a strong desire to “push through” and win the Super Bowl, and that he “never sensed any strain between Harbaugh and Baalke.”
(In all fairness, it’s a little harder to sense strain when not meeting with them at the same time.)
We’ll defer to Bedard’s article for the somewhat predictable quotes from both Harbaugh and Baalke about their relationship and interactions. While reading the quotes, keep in mind that these are the same guys who once insisted that they weren’t pursuing Peyton Manning two years ago, but merely evaluating him.
A tendency to say the right things at the right times doesn’t make the failure to tell the unvarnished truth in these settings wrong. Success in football is premised in many ways on deception of the opposition. The military mindset that permeates the process easily spills over to any and all comments about strategy, planning, and even internal relationships.
It’s not a lie, some would suggest, if it serves the greater effort of pursuing championships.
Every NFL team will from time to time say things other than the truth in order to serve the greater effort of pursuing championships. In this specific case, the turmoil surrounding Harbaugh and Baalke became so intense that it ultimately was critical for the team and for the individuals involved to bury the hatchet so deep that, publicly, the appearance will be that there was never even a hatchet at all.
As one source with knowledge of the dynamics in the front office explained it to PFT, “They were told to play well in the sandbox together and that they realize that for their own futures that they have to. Trent is much more relenting than Harbaugh. If it works then it is because Trent compromised more, because Harbaugh won’t.”
Whether Harbaugh is with the 49ers or another team and/or whether Baalke is with the 49ers or another team, neither man benefits from a lingering perception that he can’t get along with colleagues. That perception became so strong in recent months it doesn’t matter what the reality is.
So all they can do now — albeit a little too late — is try to change the perception.