After denying the story when it broke on Friday, San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York admitted Monday that the Cleveland Browns did, in fact, inquire about the possibility of trading for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, York said the idea was quickly shot down and never got to the discussion stage.
“Not far at all,” York said in regard to how far the talks progressed. “We had no interest in entering those discussions.”
Pro Football Talk initially reported on Friday that the Browns and 49ers had been close to a deal that would have sent multiple draft picks to the 49ers in exchange for Harbaugh’s services as head coach.
York denied the report on Twitter, sending direct messages to PFT’s Mike Florio and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told USA Today on Sunday there were discussions, leading to York’s turnabout on the topic.
So it begs the question: Just what in the hell is going on at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara?
There are reports that the divide between general manager Trent Baalke and Harbaugh is widening. CBSSports.com reported Sunday that there was “a persistent rumble throughout the combine about the extent of the rift between coach Jim Harbaugh and the team’s front office.”
In that report, Jason La Canfora said his sources say the two are barely speaking, with almost all of the interaction between Baalke and Harbaugh being via email.
Harbaugh has two years remaining on his contract. His track record of success is undeniable. The 49ers are 36-11-1 in three seasons under Harbaugh and are 5-3 in the playoffs, reaching the NFC Championship all three years and losing Super Bowl XLVII to the Baltimore Ravens—coached by Harbaugh’s brother John—after the 2012 season.
York comes out of this looking bad—denials followed by admissions never look good. But it’s not like Baalke or Harbaugh look great, either; grown people ought to be able to work together, particularly when an organization is having as much success as the 49ers have had after a decade lost in the wilderness.
So the most interesting question in town is whether or not the San Francisco 49ers can survive the personality conflict between its coach and general manager or whether at least one of them is going to have to go.