Jim Harbaugh: Head Coach of Michigan, Winner of 49ers Turf War


Jim Harbaugh rode into the lavender sunset with his head held high following yesterday’s 20-17 victory over the playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals.

It wasn’t his 44 wins or countless memories as Captain of the San Francisco 49ers that created this euphoria, nor was it a successful foray into NFL head coaching that ended without the ultimate prize: a Super Bowl win for one of the most storied-yet-demanding franchises in NFL history.

No, his gauze peered towards the nebula because he had won a more coveted prize: a thundering victory against the 49ers’ front office spearheaded not by it’s supposed leader and owner in Jed York, but rather by its true superior:Trent Baalke (this isn’t to say that York isn’t a hands-on owner, but that Baalke controls the direction of the team).

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49ers assembled a golden roster via NFL Draft despite misses
49ers assembled a golden roster via NFL Draft despite misses /

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  • The diehard 49ers’ fans (the brave ones too) have seen the writing on the wall for quite some time. The well-documented sour relationship between Harbaugh and Baalke manifested from day one: While in the ‘War Room’ during the 2011 NFL Draft, the two bickered over impending selections and discovered that finding a common ground and building a quality work milieu would be a difficult task. For three years, they battered their heads together like Bighorn Sheep over both the trivial and the nontrivial. Behind closed doors, Baalke quietly moved his chess pieces against Harbaugh, plotting and planning a way to beat him, not the opponent on the opposite sideline.

    One has to wonder: why is our General Manager undermining our coach at every turn, and can’t he see the error in his ways?

    Stubborn (stuhb-ern):


    unreasonably obstinate; obstinately unmoving. A stubborn child; Trent Baalke is a stubborn man.

    Using the word stubborn is a kindness – Thick-headed, obtuse, arrogant and explosive are all better suited.

    I present to you another situation, and although slightly ambiguous, it perfectly describes a horrific power struggle between coach and General Manager:

    Shayne Skov, a 49ers’ linebacker who was lured to Stanford University by Harbaugh, was preparing for his first NFL start following an injury to the ever-talented Chris Borland. His time had finally come, and with Harbaugh in his corner, the sky was the limit. Now to get off this practice squad…

    Harbaugh lobbied for Skov’s promotion to the active roster, but was instead blocked by the stubbornness of Baalke, who bypassed Skov – a player familiar to Harbaugh’s idiosyncrasies and football acumen who oozes ‘above reproach’ character that is sorely lacking on this roster – and signed Desmond Bishop to fill the vacancy created by Borland’s misfortune. Nick Moody started for Borland, but not promoting Skov and undermining your head coach is inauspicious work. 

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    But this wasn’t Baalke’s last blow.

    It’s common knowledge that the Oakland Raiders wanted Harbaugh to be their next head coach. We can speculate all we want, but the assumption is that Mark Davis, the Raiders’ All Everything owner, approached Baalke to discuss Harbaugh’s future. While the details are unknown, Davis is a forthright man who speaks freely. It’s unlikely he left any meeting without making his intentions – signing Harbaugh – crystal clear.

    And if you follow the breadcrumb trail while subscribing to an old NFL adage, you begin to see that Baalke’s disdain for Harbaugh reached personal levels.

    Davis knew that signing Harbaugh would be costly, but rumor is that the Raiders were on board to pay Harbaugh equal to or slightly higher than the contract offered by the University of Michigan, which allocates $48 million over a six-year period. A rumor, but with a proclivity towards the truth.

    Update: my source proved true, as Fox Sports just released information that the Raiders did indeed offer Harbaugh a larger contract than Michigan.

    The adage I speak of is a throwback NFL ideology: when a player or coach is offered a chance for greener pastures or greener wallets, you don’t impede or limit their opportunity with ticky-tack politics unless it directly affects the outcome of your team: I.E. Making moves that improve your division or conference rivals, neither being relevant to the Raiders. By nixing an accord with the Raiders, Baalke lost a probable draft pick while taking figurative money from Jim’s bankroll, if we assume the Raiders were willing to win a bidding war with Michigan.

    Residing over a franchise is no small task; It’s difficult work and its rigors produce copious amounts of stress. Baalke’s had a bad year, but he’s also been a talented scout who has netted the likes of Aldon Smith, Anthony Davis, and Mike Iupati in the past. Still, his handling of Harbaugh was drastically sub par. 

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    If you eliminate the idea of Harbaugh shining brightly for a fellow Bay Area football team from your thought process, an agreement between Baalke and the Raiders would improve the 49ers – who are at this point mentally beyond the idea of Harbaugh returning for his fifth and final season – by yielding a potential draft pick. If Baalke’s intentions were pure and the health of the franchise was his foremost thought, a trade to any NFL team was a better move than allowing Harbaugh to waltz spectacularly to his Alma Mater in Ann Arbor.

    I can understand a tiff; they happen, egos rise and fall, but generally the involved parties are worser for the wear. But when overseeing the status of a professional sports franchise, one must eliminate personal differences and seek only what positively affects the team. Baalke will still govern the 49ers as its General Manager, but his shadowy dealings have damaged the wholeness of the beloved Red and Gold.

    Today, Jed York barreled into the media with snippy comments that condescended to  49ers’ fans:

    After an 8-8 season filled with drama, this comment feels all too smug. Question us as fans because your title affords you the ability to make decisions that hold sway over the direction of the 49ers and we cannot, but know that we question your actions as the franchise’s head (If evidence is required, open your Twitter app and see what social media has to say).

    At the zenith of the 49ers’ Empire is two diligent men who work hard to better the material product. But this season, questionable gaffes by the two stormed the Niners and left disaster in their wake. The puppet and the puppeteer, but this marionette is a tired gig.

    But through all the disarray, one constant held foundation and pushed on through malady: Jim Harbaugh.

    Harbaugh isn’t perfect; he can be abrasive with his driving honesty, and he never tightened the leash on Greg Roman when the offense crumbled to historic lows. But he fights, always, with heart and desire, letting his love of football and nurturing the growth of those who share his affinity guide his plight.

    Harbaugh has unfinished business in the NFL, and an eventual return would not come as a surprise. Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner of the Miami Dolphins, is a fellow Michigan alum, and if Harbaugh does decide to reenter the game’s best arena, he’ll find an open door.

    There are winners and losers in fallout. Harbaugh – the steely-jawed Jive Turkey – lived up to his ‘above reproach’ mantra and stayed true to himself throughout this debacle, doing so with commendable character.

    Can we say the same about the 49ers brass?