Baalke, Harbaugh tension is real, despite wins
In the same week the 49ers prepare to say farewell to their long-time home of Candlestick Park, plenty of time and attention has been devoted to the possibility of bidding adieu to the man who has been their coach for only three years.
While the franchise wouldn’t stop him from leaving for Texas or any other college job, the time has come for a contract extension, and an impasse regarding money or other terms could result in an eventual exit -- perhaps as soon as next year.
The 49ers don’t believe Harbaugh plans to make a play for more power, but a league source tells PFT that the tension between Harbaugh and G.M. Trent Baalke is real. Indeed, the source says that the article from Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News that shines a light on the situation actually understates the degree of friction between Harbaugh and Baalke.
The friction has occurred despite the fact that the team has been consistently successful since both men arrived in early 2011, with a pair of division titles, two NFC title games, and a Super Bowl appearance. A third straight playoff berth is on the immediate horizon, and the team seems to be peaking at the right time.
Of course, winning early creates pressure to keep winning. Which only adds to the tension, especially during uncharacteristic losing skids. Publicly and privately, the team disputes that the relationship between the two men is unhealthy or even unusual.
In that sense, the 49ers are right. Jim Harbaugh isn’t the only NFL coach who is so driven to win that things can get a little tense when winning isn’t happening; indeed, he’s likely not the only NFL coach named Harbaugh with that sort of competitive temperament.
Still, it’s likely that tales of friction between Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh didn’t emerge this week by accident. With contract talks between the 49ers and Harbaugh looming, it’s appropriate to wonder whether someone deliberately leaked that information.
The obvious culprit would be Harbaugh’s camp. It’s also possible that the 49ers wanted to pull the curtain back in the hopes of possibly shaming Harbaugh into toning it down a bit once he inks a new long-term commitment with the team.
The 49ers believe a long-term commitment is inevitable. Harbaugh has said he absolutely wants to stay. Regardless of how it all works out, the hiccups that have emerged in recent days suggest that a frank, candid conversation or two will be needed in order to lay the right foundation for a future working relationship between Harbaugh and Baalke.