John Madden: If needed, 49ers should choose Harbaugh over Baalke


The recent revelation of a trade bid by the Browns for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has renewed discussion about the uncertain future for Harbaugh in San Francisco.

Contract demands play a big role in that uncertainty, but so does talk of friction between Harbaugh and General Manager Trent Baalke. John Madden offered them some advice during a radio interview this week if push comes to shove and the 49ers reach the point of moving forward without one or the other. It probably shouldn’t come as much surprise that the former head coach is siding with the current one.

“You tell me where they’re going to get a guy that’s any better than him?” Madden said on KCBS. “It’s a lot easier to get a suit than it is to get a coach.”

Madden coached in a different time, when the guys in suits didn’t have to deal with the salary cap and other issues that make them perhaps more vital to a team’s success than they were 30-plus years ago. In Al Davis, Madden also worked for a guy whose suits tended to be of the track variety and whose power in the organization was tough to question given the fact that he owned the team.

Regardless, he thinks the 49ers should prioritize keeping Harbaugh. We’ll see if things escalate to a point where the 49ers have to consider Madden’s advice.

78 responses to “John Madden: If needed, 49ers should choose Harbaugh over Baalke

  1. There have been comments that Harbaugh’s successful because of Baalke’s picks. Question I’ve is who has been calling the shots for the 49ers draft since Harbaugh came in. Their picks have been rather underwhelming so far but is Harbaugh the one who decides ? Reason I ask because I cannot recall the guy’s name but there was a 49ers executive who resigned due to personal reasons but he’s believed to be more responsible for their successful picks than Baalke himself.

  2. It’s not like they haven’t had success together… SF’s being great on the field has a lot to do with the front office and scouting.

    I’d be ecstatic if my football club were able to get Balke as GM, minus the Seahawk’s and a handful of other organization’s.

  3. Any bean counter or scumbag lawyer can negotiate contracts and manage the salary cap. There are a ton of great scouts out there to help find talent. Trent Baalke was in the scouting department for 6 full years before the 9ers ever hired Jim Harbaugh. If Baalke was so special, why didn’t the 9ers win before Harbaugh’s arrival?

    Coaches are special. Pay Harbaugh and fire Baalke if you need to.

  4. I love Harbaugh, great coach – not like he took over the Raider’s and made them into a championship contending team.. they’re both (Balke) critical to the success SF has enjoyed..

  5. I’d get rid of both. Coaches and GMs would be lined up to get a crack at the talent on the niner’s roster. If they can’t play nice with each other, find someone who will…someone who brings some stability to the franchise (and a little more class…I’m talking about you, Jim).

  6. The guys in suits were there before Harbaugh. Harbaugh is the one who turned that thing around from his X’s and O’s to his staff hires.

    If Harbaugh leaves, the 49ers will be good for a year or two. Then fade back to oblivion.

    Harbaugh is ahead of the game that is why the 9ers are able to contend at a high level. Once he’s gone…it’s a wrap.

  7. I don’t agree with Madden. It’s more of a chicken and the egg thing. The players Baalke has drafted or signed as free agents have been pretty darn good. Without that roster, Harbaugh would not as successful of a coach.

    If I’m York, I tell them both to knock that crap off and be team players. They don’t have to be buddies, just be professionals.

  8. I’d even go a step further .. there has been a tendency to hire “suits” as the anchor of rebuilding an operation, Mike Holmgren in Cleveland for instance. Garbage.
    You hear similar things in Miami with the unofficial suit, Carl Peterson. Garbage.
    There is an accountability problem with these wraiths hanging around in the background. Sadly, a guy I admire a lot, John Elway is in that role. It looks good there right now, but that is 100% Peyton.
    There are basics in this business like any other. In football it is players, coaches and owners. The rest are supporting cast.

  9. Madden is probably right.

    But, years ago on a sports radio show the host posed the question, “If your favorite team could have the greatest GM, Coach, or QB, which would you want?” Every time I think I know the answer, I change my mind. It’s tough to know where to assign the responsibility for success (and failure) in football.

  10. 1. The 49ers were terrible for a really really long time, giving them the draft picks to put together a team of above-average talent (and not just in the first round, you get the advantage throughout the draft)

    2. They got a very competent quarterback in the 2nd round, meaning he’s on a bargain contract – and let’s not give Harbaugh too much credit for Kaep’s or Alex Smith’s success, as Smith had a damn good year in Kansas City

    3. The division was good this year, but before that they were going up against bad Cardinals and Rams teams, and a Seattle team that took at least all of 2012 to really become the juggernaut it is today

    Baalke and Harbaugh deserve all the credit in the world for taking advantage of these circumstances, but let’s not anoint either of them just yet.

  11. I said it before Baalke is getting credit for Scot Mccloughan’s work in putting together such a stacked roster. Sure he had a draft where he hit it with Al. Smith but he also missed the entire 2012 draft. Most people don’t have love for Harbaugh because of the way he carries himself on the sideline but the guy gets the most out of his players. I know a Super Bowl appearance and 2 NFC Championship games isn’t a small thing.

    I still love listening to John Madden talk football. That quote is classic.

  12. Tear it down and start over, frisco. You’ll basically be the cardinals for 3-5 years, but then you’ll start to be talked about again. Everyone will be talking about how Kaep was the worst qb you’ve ever had…how Baalke and Harbs suck at their new gigs…how if Kaep had thrown it one foot farther…lot’s of shoulda, woulda, couldas…

    …or you could just quit acting like a bunch of whiny little control freaking babies…there’s that.

  13. Look. Madden is 100% correct and it’s foolish to think he’s off base. A head coach, especially an elite, top 5 Head coach is harder to replace than a suit.

    That’s why there is 7 Head Coach openings every year. How many GM jobs become open every year.

    Harbaugh tenure with the 49ers
    2011: 13-3 NFC Championship
    2012: 12-4 Super Bowl
    2013: 12-4 NFC Championship

    Discovered and developed a Franchise QB. Developed Alex a Smith and got 2 second rounders for him. Stablized the offense for a team that had 6 offensive systems in 6 years.

    It will take the 49ers decades to replace a Head Coach like that. Unless they’re able to lure Gruden from the booth. Don’t know if that’s a upgrade though. But he’s a more affable version of Harbaugh who has a ring.

  14. But, years ago on a sports radio show the host posed the question, “If your favorite team could have the greatest GM, Coach, or QB, which would you want?” Every time I think I know the answer, I change my mind. It’s tough to know where to assign the responsibility for success (and failure) in football.
    Let’s define greatness as multiple years of high level play, playoff contender every year, and SB contestant.

    The truth is that the SYSTEM, coaches and players together, produce greatness. Remove either piece and things start to fall apart. You need both pieces for greatness.

    Brady in NE, Manning in Indy show the benefit of keeping the winning act together. remove the great player from the coach, and you get mediocre results, but not great.

  15. It’s tough to argue against Harbaugh’s on-the-field results since he took over the helm.

  16. Jed York is the one that needs to step in, bang their heads together and tell them to make it work.

    Harbaugh needs to answer once and for all (if his agent is responsible for any of the hoop la) whether he is serious about SF or are stories about him being interested in other jobs going to continue?

    There needs to be less drama and more focus on the product – as Harbaugh likes to say, the team, the team, the team.

    If none of the above works, well, then they part ways with no ill feelings – it is a business, after all.

  17. Can they really afford to lose either? I understand the value of a good HC…but look at the disasters on other teams from a personnel and salary cap standpoint. The talent on the 49rs roster is amazing…and it’s mostly draft picks. What good is a good HC if you’ve got some schmucks running things like they do in Cleveland or Jax?

  18. 100% correct.

    he took a team that was a perrenial flop, to 3 consecutive playoff runs..

    talent doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the scheme to put them in positions for success.

    his first year he had basically the same squad from the previous year , minus his draft selections. Turned that franchise around.

    look what belicheck does year after year.

    do you really think the eagles had 10-6 talent?

  19. It’s also easy to ppick Harbaugh over Baalke because he’s kind of great at his job, while Baalke is not. If they do eventually pick Baalke over Harbaugh because it’s an either/or scenario, it’s going to play out much like the San Diego disaster, probably worse because the 49ers play in a much tougher division as opposed to the joke that was the AFC West when Schottenheimer was fired.

  20. Interesting comment by Madden. Coaches are like QB’s . they get a lot of credit when the team wins and the blame when they lose, fans forgetting that their are assistant coaches that make and break a team . Is it easier to get a good coach or a good GM ?? Neither, it is harder to get a good GM and a good coach that works together and can make great teams. I think , in this instance, there is a lot of ego involved, on both sides . The 49ers have been good under Harbaugh, helped by good QB play that happens to be getting paid at a minimum , which opens up more money to other areas. They can be deeper than most teams because of it . That takes BOTH a good GM to find Kaepernick and a good coach to develop him

  21. If I had to pick one to stay it would be Harbaugh. Great coach with good chemistry with the team. Very hard to replace. Im a lifetime 49er fan, Harbaugh in 3 yr has won at least 12 games. Baalke was the gm prior to his arrival and we were the laughing stock of the league. With that said I enjoy the tandem of Harbaugh and Baalke, but i’ll take Harbaugh and dump Baalke ant day. NIINER NATION

  22. It’s obvious Harbaugh initiated the turnaround, not Baalke, but Harbaugh’s problems go beyond Baalke. They go back to Stanford where the administration and players loathed him, and they extend to almost everyone in the 49ers organization. So the question is, do you want to submit to a reign of terror from a tinpot despot or roll the dice with a new coach?

  23. Harbaugh will never, ever get a Lombardi…He’s had 3 chances in as many years, no cigar…San Fran won’t even make it to the playoffs next year, wait and see…

  24. A lot of people here are missing the background. The niners are basing their decision in retaining the front office on the niners past.

    Remember- the niners still were winning super bowls when Bill Walsh left- George Seifert actually had a better win/loss and did better in the playoffs (more blow outs) than walsh. The system is in place- the niners will be able to continue the success with another coach that is in house.

  25. The players are already there! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to draft for the niners the next 3-5 years. Most of the skill positions are set. Keep the coach you idiots

  26. Harbaugh doesn’t have a great track record of hanging around an organization for long

    I’d like to keep them both
    But, if it’s me or him, keep Baalke and hire David Shaw of Stanford

    Baalke’s been pretty good as GM

  27. Think of the mess A.J. Smith made in San Diego. Fired a 14-2 coach. Drove away his own stars (Brees, Tomlinson). Spooked young players good enough to call their own shots (Manning).

    What value did this suit create?

    There are owners who do not know how to own a football team and these suits prey on them. The young owner York in San Francisco is one of them. By all accounts a very good guy, but not able to take charge of his team, so he is stuck.

  28. Chargers kept thier GM and fired Marty after 14-2. And that was after consecutive FIRST round playoff losses. they did go to the AFC championship in Norvs first year but it was downhill after that

  29. I am nearly certain that Harbaugh and Baalke are drinking a beer and reading these articles together and having a good laugh.

    Cant believe so many people are getting so worked up over these stories that have taken a life of their own.

    If it wasn’t for the media I see very little tension between the two. They might not be best buddies, but where is the indication of all the bad blood? Its all speculation and here say and blah blah blah.


  30. Should they get rid of Baalke, they’ll just be in the same situation soon with the new GM. You can’t give Harbaugh so much money that he in effect has more power than the GM.

    The man can coach, but he’s also the same guy who publicly stated he wanted the team to resign Goldson last year and did the same thing with Whitner this year. He wants to roll with “his guys”, which is understandable, but he obviously doesn’t understand how football under a salary cap works. You constantly need to be getting younger and cheaper at some positions to offset other contracts. It’s not about “feelings”.

    If left to Harbaugh, this team would be old and capped-out in a few years. If I wanted that, I’d just root for the Cowboys.

  31. Think about KC — in 2012, they had 6 guys voted to the pro-bowl, yet had a terrible record. The problem obviously wasn’t talent.

    In 2013, they get a better coach and the team turns around.

    Talent does not overcome poor coaches.

  32. First of all I told everybody that this relationship won’t work, Baalke was/is jealous at Harbaugh success, Baalke was the same way with Singletary. In my book I never like Baalke, I say get rid of Baalke and sign that long-term contract for Harbaugh because we have a few million to wrk with and with the opening of Levi stadium will make a lot of revenue, so kick Baalke to the curd and make Harbaugh in control.

  33. Furthermore, the 49ers need to fire and upgrade Baalke, Roman and just dump Mangini, however it won’t happen till after this season when they probably won’t even get to the NFCC. Someone will have to take the blame and those 3 are on the top of the list. Watch.

  34. Madden is correct. You can draft talented studs all day long, but if you can’t coach them up, all you have is a bunch of talented losers….It’s been proven time and time again…even is this era.

  35. Why was Jim sitting next to John, instead of Baalke, at the combine? Cause Anquan Boldin, who won the Bill Walsh Award (The Bill Walsh Award is presented to the team’s most valuable player by vote of the 49ers’ coaches) was a trade made possible between John and Jim as a favor cause John took the SB win over Jim, not cause Baalke.

    Baalke is pure trash as GM cause he NEVER fixed the 9er WR Crop problem, reason they lose in 2011 NFCC, 2012, and 2013. Still no speed at WR and a bad pick in AJ Jenkin and a even worse trade for the real bust Baldwin.

    If someone needs to go, it would be Baalke before Jim Harb as Harb actually coaches the team and Baalke has failed addressing the WR problem for 3+ years as GM.

  36. I just love this. A whining, abrasive, petulant coach who dirties the nest wherever he goes. Yes, I’ll admit he’s done well but so could any quality coach given the talent he’s got. As a Seahawks/Packer fan I love the turmoil and chaos he brings. Keep it up Jim. I doubt you will ever reach the promised land. And if he does try living with him then. The guys a headcase and will always be.

  37. “It’s a lot easier to get a suit than it is to get a coach.”

    We should be like that Character Mozzie in “White Collar,” who refers to the FBI agent and his wife as “Mr. and Mrs. Suit,” and now refer to Trent Baalke as “Mr. Suit.”

  38. Madden is right. The whole Harbaugh incident is way overblown. There is undoubtedly some disagreement between Baalke and Harbaugh but they do work closely together. Kap was recommended to Harbaugh by Andrew Luck, and the Niners had to trade up to draft him. If Harbaugh has no say on which players to pick, then Kap would not have been chosen. Same thing with last year’s first round pick. Harbaugh tried to recruit Eric Reid for Stanford, but failed. So, Harbaugh must have wanted to draft Reid, and the Niners traded up again to pick him. Once again, it shows Baalke and Harbaugh are working together. This BS about them having a deep rift, not talking to each other and wanting the other guy fired, and so forth, is just manufactured BS.

  39. All you have to do is go look back at the chargers. They Chose AJ over Marty and how did the turn out for them? If you have a coach taking you to SB and nfc champ games on a consistent basis you keep that guy. Hell even look at the Pats, the front office and staff keeps changing, but with Bill and Tom they continue to be successful every year. So yeah, great coaches > good gms. In a perfect world you’d hope that both could wise up and work together.

  40. Think of Kansas and Pioli. What they needed, and now have, is a first class coach. Build on that. This “suit” strategy just gets you second class coaching.

  41. Who is Trent Baalke, and why does he matter? Madden is right, there are at least 100 suits probably more qualified , who would kill for that job. They would all love to work with a coach who is that successful. Wake up York before you do something stupid again.

  42. This is a defining moment for Jed York and the organization. You got the new stadium, a legitimate title contender of a team for the long haul and a top notch head coach. He needs to ask his uncle Eddie D how the whole Bill Walsh situation was handled back in 1988 when Walsh was almost fired. Niners would be foolish to let Harbaugh go… on so many levels. Interesting to see if York inherited his father’s pedigree or his uncle’s.

  43. Two Words: Scot McCloughan

    Former 49er Exec Scot McCloughan’s draft picks

    -Frank Gore.

    -Vernon Davis.

    -Patrick Willis.

    -Joe Staley.

    -Justin Smith.

    -Ray McDonald.

    -Michael Crabtree.

    -Ahmad Brooks.

    -Dashon Goldson.

    Ya, if it came down to it fire Trent Baalke and we gotta keep Jim Harbaugh but the empire would like to keep both together and continue winning.

    While Scot continues to build that monster in the Pacific Northwest..

  44. Won a Pioneer League Champioship at University of San Diego of all places, (going 22-2 his last two seasons). Brought Stanford back from the grave, and then San Francisco. But you want a new coach because he doesn’t get along with one person and acts like a goof on the sideline. Is that it?

  45. Harbough is a fair coach but he’s got zero class and is a poor loser.
    If I was a 49er fan I’d welcome his departure.
    I’m not a 49er fan though so it’s a joy to watch from the sidelines as the organization slowly implodes.
    It’s all over but the whining for them now and it’s my guess that the coach will leave within a year and the GM will follow shortly after.
    Good riddance to Harbough and his antics.
    Frank Caliendo nailed him perfectly in his Sportcenter 30 for 30 routine.
    Guys a putz.

  46. gurjitholiat says:
    Feb 28, 2014 5:05 PM
    Two Words: Scot McCloughan

    Justin Smith and Brooks were free agents, everyone wants to give McCloughan all the credit but he also drafted Rashawn Woods, Balmer and many other guys that are out of the league. Trent was the director of scouting during those years and had a lot of say in who was picked. This is one of the most talented teams and they have big contracts yet no cap trouble. Not to many front offices can say that. Seattle did a great job building organically but we have yet to see how they will handle all there stars that will be demanding money soon.

  47. Harbaugh walked into a team with a lot of great players. He took the read option and started using it a little more.
    But let’s look at what he REALLY has done:

    He made a big mistake by letting Alex Smith go.

    He put Kappanack in as QB. K just does not make good reads under pressure.

    Harbaugh blew it in the Super Bowl when he had a chance to win but had the QB throw four incomplete passes from the 4 yard line (with a first round Hall of Fame running back sitting in the backfield).

    Under Harbaugh’s leadership the defense is starting to fade. The ‘D’ is what kept SF in the game and even won a few of them out right.

  48. I hardly doubt Frank Caliendo nailed him. I’ve seen Caliendo’s act, it’s kinda funny, but many of his impersonations are more hit than miss. And Seahawk fan, It isn’t all over but the whining. I know you hope that. But it aint’ gonna happen.

  49. All Harbaugh has proven so far in SF is, just like his playing career, he can’t get the win in the big game. He doesn’t call the plays. He doesn’t manage games exceptionally well.

    Put Roman or Tomsula in charge and the results are exactly the same at worst.

  50. we love baalke, but hate to say it. madden is absolutely right. baalke has made some great picks (Aldon Smith) , but harbaugh has been nothing short of great the last three years.
    us fans in the bay miss the times we could simply call the powerhouse duo: Harbaalke.

  51. The niners were bad one year and suddenly in the nfccg. Big difference? Coach. Baalke isn’t even responsible for the majority of the key players on that team. Kaep is a great pickup no doubt, but they made the nfccg without him with a quarterback who did NOTHING before harbaugh.

  52. Harbaugh has a couple years to go at his current pay. Unless his contract has “incentives” and he has fulfilled those, he should continue to coach at his current pay. Ditto for players. Otherwise contracts have no meaning.

  53. Madden is senile.

    Baalke, in 2008, became the Director of Player Personnel, a position largely responsible for overseeing the team’s college scouting operations. In 2010, Baalke was chosen to lead the 49ers in the 2010 NFL Draft in place of McCloughan, and a month later was given the title of Vice President of Player Personnel when McCloughan left/was fired.

    Harbaugh, OTOH, who is supposed to be an ‘offense oriented coach’ has done nothing special. Unless the #24 offense featuring the #30 passing attack is considered ‘special.’

    Meanwhile the great defense Baalke has drafted/signed is carrying the team. Just like it has been for YEARS.

  54. One more point to Madden’s Assertion —

    Davis (First season 1963)
    Shell (last season 1994)

    Except Shanahan, they were all winners when Davis was still one of the best personnel men in the NFL. Twenty-one years, with one bump-in-the-road of Shanahan, of success.

    Yet when Davis lost his way as a personnel man, becoming antiquated in his views, the Raiders, with few exceptions, have been pretty crappy with only Gruden finding good success.

    So, is it really so hard to ‘find a good coach?’ I don’t think so. I think it’s much, much, much harder to find a good personnel guy. And I think not only does the Raider history teach us this, but so does the Packer history, the 49er history, the Patriots history, etc…

  55. Baalke is the one of the best GM’s in pro football. In 3 years he has drafted solid starters / borderline stars Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Chris Culliver, Bruce Miller, and Eric Reid.

    He also future starters Daniel Kilgore, Joe Looney, Tank Carradine, Corey Lemonier and Marcus Lattimore who didn’t have a chance to see the field because of the Pro Bowlers starting ahead of them.

    Harbaugh is cooking with an fully stocked gourmet kitchen.

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