As 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wraps up the fourth season of a five-year deal, it’s becoming more and more clear that he won’t be back in 2015. The goal for the current campaign was to set aside the looming divorce and to focus on getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it.
Now that the season has begun the process of slipping away with a home loss to a Seahawks team the 49ers will visit in 16 days, the 49ers soon will have to implement their plan for resolving their relationship with Harbaugh.
If the many (and largely unrefuted) reports of persistent dysfunction between Harbaugh and the front office are true, and if it’s now clear that the season has begun the process of disintegrating, the 49ers must decide whether to keep Harbaugh through the next four weeks and try to trade the final year of his contract — or to part ways now, elevate Jim Tomsula to head coach, and hope that the switch will spur the 49ers to run the table and earn a berth in the postseason. The notion of firing Harbaugh with games left seems beyond ludicrous on the surface, but only those inside the organization know the full extent of the four-year tug-of-war that has created a strong sense in league circles that the front office looks forward to the day he exits the building for good.
The frustrations that have lingered while the team has thrived could quickly rush to the surface, now that the season is starting to go off the rails. Even though the 49ers remain two games above .500, 7-5 isn’t good enough with the Eagles at 9-3, the Packers at 8-3, the Cowboys at 8-4, the Lions at 8-4, the Cardinals at 9-2, and the Seahawks at 8-4.
Including that 49ers, that’s seven total teams vying for five playoff berths that will go to the NFC teams not assigned to the South division. Currently, the 49ers sit seventh of seven.
While it would be shocking for the 49ers to make a change, it’s impossible to rule out anything in the aftermath of the kind of outcome that proves to the 49ers and everyone else that this isn’t the team it had been in 2011, 2012, and 2013. If Tomsula is going to be considered for the head-coaching job in 2015 (and multiple league insiders believe he’ll have the inside track to succeed Harbaugh), why not give him a chance to get his feet wet now?
The only reason to stay the course would be to obtain draft picks from the Raiders or whoever else would be interested in making a run at Harbaugh. Only those inside the organization know whether it’s gotten so bad that they’d prefer to let Harbaugh walk away now than to tread through troubled waters for the next month.