Harbaugh vs Baalke: Who should stay?

Feb 26, 2014 at 6:02 PM

The friction between Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke has been well documented throughout the 2013 season. The chatter amongst media and fans had begun to fade until reports surfaced at the beginning of the NFL Scouting Combine that the 49ers had been approached by the Cleveland Browns regarding a potential trade involving Harbaugh and draft picks. While the topic may not be one that 49ers fans want to discuss, the friction between Harbaugh and Baalke is actually good news for the team and it's fans.

Through the 2014 season at least.

The tension has turned 2014 into championship or bust for the organization. The last time the environment at 4949 Centennial was this tense and focused heading into a season was 1994. Coming off back to back NFC Championship Game losses at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys and facing a new salary cap, the 49ers led by Eddie DeBartolo, Carmen Policy and George Seifert went all in to rebuild the defense and add a few pieces to the offense with the sole purpose of taking down the Cowboys.

The result was the fifth Super Bowl title for the organization. It is also its last.

Jim Harbaugh heads into 2014 with two years left on the five year deal he signed when he was hired in 2011, but for all intents and purposes this could be his final season on the 49ers sideline.

If the 49ers fail to win the Super Bowl this season it is very likely that Jed York will be forced to make a choice between Harbaugh and Baalke, and if it were to come to that, Baalke should be the choice.

Baalke has put together a roster capable of winning the championship, and while Harbaugh has done a good job of getting them close he has ultimately fallen short. In 2012, the team came up five yards short. To help fix the problems in the red zone Baalke made a move in the offseason to acquire Anquan Boldin, the receiver who made clutch play after clutch play in the red zone throughout the Ravens postseason run.

With a return trip to the Super Bowl on the line in the 2013 NFC Championship Game in Seattle, Harbaugh and his offensive staff called for Boldin to be targeted a grand total of zero times. That is unacceptable.

We saw a similar power struggle take place in Dallas between Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones, with Johnson ultimately leaving the Cowboys and Johnson replacing him with Barry Switzer.

While many 49ers fans will point to this as a reason the organization should stand behind Harbaugh, the situations are much different. During his time in Dallas, Johnson was heavily involved in the personnel side of building them into a Super Bowl contender. That's not the case in Santa Clara where Jed York has given Baalke complete control over the final roster.

Also, it's not as though the Cowboys lacked success after Johnson left. In their first two seasons under Switzer, the Cowboys reached the NFC Championship Game and won their third Super Bowl in four seasons. The eventual demise of the team had more to do with being unable to replace an aging core of veterans due to an inept front office led by Jones than the coaching. That would not happen in San Francisco.

If the 49ers were to move forward with Baalke, they would have a solid talent evaluator to continue to bring new talent to the roster and several potential coaching replacements already in the building.

One potential replacement would be current defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Tomsula has experience as a head coach, having won a championship in NFL Europe before coaching the 49ers to victory in their 2010 season finale after the firing of Mike Singletary. From the outside it would appear that Tomsula would be a breath of fresh air to the front office with a loose style that in many ways resembles the head coach of the 49ers biggest rival up in Seattle.

Will it come to this? Only time will tell. For now, 49ers fans should keep their seat belts fastened and trays in their full upright and locked position. There is sure to be plenty of turbulence on this ride.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Ed
    You still think Baalke is the one to keep after what he's doing to the team in free agency? Makes a heckuva lot of sense to let Whitner walk and replace him with an older Bethea while saving a measly couple million over the life of the contract. And then trading for Blaine Gabbert? Seriously?? Baalke is single-handedly taking the team apart and reconstructing it with cast-off's. Yeah, he's the man, Jack.
    Mar 11, 2014 at 2:52 PM
    Response: LOL. You don't even know what the terms of the Bethea deal are yet. He's a very good tackler and should thrive in the 49ers D. As for Gabbert, it's the backup QB. How many games do you expect him to effect the outcome of?
  • Gonzola
    Thanks for the censorship. I say they both stay, but for another very big reason... Not sure why my comment appeared and then disappeared?! Maybe it is just painfully obvious or perhaps the NFL forced you to remove the post. 49ers (finally) win Super Bowl L with Baalke and Harbaugh both thanks to the NFL allowing it. Start a petition to have the NFL release full game tapes back to the 1990s. The 49ers have to lose the big games (for now) because the NFL pre-determines outcomes and steers games.
    Mar 9, 2014 at 5:05 AM
  • steve
    Wholeheartedly disagree with keeping Baalke over Harbaugh. Look no further than Bill Belichick over the course of his career but especially this past season. He took a very subpar roster and got the most out of it, leading the Pats to a Championship appearance. On the other hand, you can have all the talent in the world and it won't matter one bit if you don't have a coach who can maximize it. Just look at the Niners tenure under Singletary; very similar roster, entirely different results. Great coaches don't grow on trees and their impact is far greater than a GM's. If Baalke and Harbs can't coexist, you extend Harbaugh, pack Baalke's bags, give Harbaugh an increased role in personnel and hire a Director of Player Personnel to collaborate with Harbaugh on the roster. http://www.ninersnation.com/2014/2/26/5447764/49ers-Jim-Harbaugh-Jed-York-Trent-Baalke-Front-Office-Contract
    Mar 6, 2014 at 12:40 PM
  • Frank M
    Jack, This Baalke-Harbaugh thing has resembled a media feeding frenzy. We fans get the supposed "deal" the Browns seem to think was on the table is newsworthy. This "feud" as it's been referred to isn't. So what if they don't exactly see eye-to-eye. They're winning...and are once again a legit SB contender. You probably weren't writing about the Niners during Walsh's era...but in addition to being a brilliant GM/head coach, BW was also something of a tyrant. He, Policy, even Eddie D often didn't agree on things. Their commonality was winning. Fast forward to now and it's the same thing...winning. Pls stop this insanity...we fans are much more interested in how this team's building up for another SB run, the new stadium, player profiles, etc. I seriously doubt either Baalke or Harbaugh are going anywhere anytime soon.
    Mar 6, 2014 at 3:53 AM
  • AZ9er
    As in any situation not everyone is going to agree. But they can work together. The GM is important, but so are the coaches. Each are a piece of a bigger puzzle. You can pick at each part. This GM selected Jenkins. Has the 49ers scouting improved? The coaching has been inconsistent. Often, they have stopped running the football. Got too cute with a WR sweep. Called a play for Crabs in the corner in SB and NFL title game. Both times he was doubled. Really. Organization to follow is New England. players ckme and go, coaches come and go, still they seem to be able to find parts that can work together. Even though, they draft near the bottom every year. They don't have to love each other. They just have to work together. Heard Dion and Rice didn't hit it off either. But they won a SB together.
    Mar 3, 2014 at 1:45 PM
  • Frank M
    Flash back to the Walsh era...don't think for a minute there wasn't friction between Bill, Eddie D, Policy and others. Walsh was often frenetic, in some of the same ways Harbaugh is. The difference is he won 3 Lombardi's...his first in his 3rd year at the helm. There wasn't the media feeding frenzy we see today...which contributes mightily to what we're seeing now. Sometimes friction is a good thing...it prompts discussions, can promote good ideas, jettison bad ones, etc. I think there's waaay too much hyperbole and not nearly enough fact. If Harbaugh's so bad, why do his players and coaches want to stay? Just today Ed Donatell signed up for another 2 years...what does that say to you?
    Mar 3, 2014 at 11:37 AM
  • Ed
    You keep saying the success of Stanford since Harbaugh left proves he's expendable. Seriously the most ludicrous leap of logic I've heard in a long time. Shaw may be a good coach but we don't know if he could've built Stanford into the program it is if not for following in JH's footsteps. Their ability to recruit top talent is directly attributable to Harbaugh's success there. You're nuts for thinking Harbaugh is expendable and Baalke is not. Niners don't skip a beat if Baalke is gone tomorrow,
    Feb 28, 2014 at 12:54 PM
    Response: The success of Stanford post Harbaugh shows that a competent head coach can build upon the foundation that Harbaugh set. How is that a ludicrous leap of logic? It's actually happening in front of your eyes.
  • Dan
    I am tired of people throwing out ad hoc statements like "the tension between Harbaugh and Baalke has been well documented." It hasn't been. Neither Jim nor Trent, nor anyone in the 49ers organization that has actually gone on record has documented any tension. Kawakami wrote an article, citing to nothing concrete and offering no statements from anybody even remotely involved in the organization, that there was tension so now the tension is "well documented"? Please. The Browns trade was first reported as "serious" - until both the owner of the team and Harbaugh went on the record to refute the story. But you and others like you disregard these statements, apparently favoring "unnamed sources" whose statements are never quoted or verified or later supported by on the record statements or facts. May there be tension between two co-workers? It's speculation. Is the tension so great that the situation is untenable? Speculation on top of speculation. Ridiculous journalism. Re-tweeting a tweet does not legitimize the tweet. It just confirms that you have nothing original to say.
    Feb 28, 2014 at 12:33 PM
    Response: Ok, there have been numerous reports. Is that better? Where did I say anything about the Browns trade in this piece? Harbaugh and Baalke have both confirmed that there is tension, and as you mention here they call it normal among co-workers which is true. Is the tension untenable? I don't know and never tried to make it seem as though I did. This piece had to do with what I feel the team should do if a choice needed to be made. Thank you for taking the time to read the piece, put thought into it and respond. It's appreciated.
  • Marty
    Its one thing to beat teams with losing record. Against playoff teams in 2013 the 49ers were 2 & 4. In three big playoff & SB games the 49ers blew it. They were close games, 49ers had a chance to win. One fact will not change, Harbaugh is the only 49er coach who lost a SB. Am I the only one who looks at Harbaugh on the sidelines thinking he is hurting the team. How can you manage a game or make big critical decisions when you act like him. In my opinion he is the worst game manager HC in the NFC West. With this roster I total believe the coaching staff has way underachieve. With the starters on offense, why does this team have so many problems scoring TDs & next to last in the NFL with their passing game. This is all a reflection of the coaching staff. Let Baalke go, in a very short time 49ers with regress.
    Feb 28, 2014 at 10:08 AM
  • frank
    Time and again you hear a team is not winning because of lack of talent, I would definitely keep baalke over harbaugh. Yes baalke hasnt been able to draft a WR to pair with crab , but he did bring in manningham who help the gaints win a superbowl. You can credit JH for boldin who was instrumental on beating us in the superbowl. The talent was put in front of JH to beat the gaints in NFC title game but he Couldn't design up a play to get a receiver Open. One year and a dynamic QB later we were within five yards of a title he calls 4 pass plays with a run first oriented Offense. JH brought in boldin to help the WR position and doesn't target him in the redzone. JH is known has a QB guru, kaepernick has been on the team 3 years and struggles with progression and feet work in the pocket. JH is a good coach but if given the choice I'll choose baalke.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 8:01 PM
  • TJ
    I don't understand why they just cant work it out, they are both good at what they do they have a super bowl capable team just work together & stop the childish bickering I mean my God!!
    Feb 27, 2014 at 7:52 PM
  • Mike
    Great coaching is the hardest thing to find and Harbaugh is no way easier to replace IMO. Harbaugh turned the organization around with mostly the same personnel. Choice should be easy
    Feb 27, 2014 at 5:05 PM
  • Dallas Niner Fan
    Excuse me? Stanford proves that? First of all there is no comparison between college and the pros ask Steve Spurrier about that. Second who won the Rose Bowl last year? Let's see what the Cardinal does next year. If the niners replace Habaugh next year they are crazy, plain and simple.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 4:47 PM
    Response: Yes, Stanford proves that a competent coach can build upon the foundation laid by Harbaugh. Stanford has been in back to back Rose Bowls for the first time since the early 70's under Shaw. Come to think of it, if they decide to replace Harbaugh...
  • Dallas Niner Fan
    I am tired of hearing that the Niners should let Harbaugh walk, that is the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard. He is the best coach in the league right now and for those idiots who are not happy with him being the coach name one other coach that has gone to 3 NFL championship games in his first 3 years in the league. Other fans in other cities would die for a record like that. I mean, what does the guy have to do to make you people happy? If he has an abrasive personality who cares, "just win baby." Your not trying to win a personality contest here your trying to win football games. The bottom line here is that Ballke is replaceable, Harbaugh is not. Are you kidding me!!! Pay Harbaugh what he wants and move on. Yes, he is that good. Mark my words if he leaves the Niners will go downhill from where they are now. I don't think you really believe this Jack, I just think your trying to stir up the fan base to get more readers and to get more comments. Great strategy I might add.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 4:16 PM
    Response: I don't write anything that I don't believe in. This isn't about if Harbaugh is good or not. The man's record speaks for itself. It's about what the team should do if forced to choose. Harbaugh is replaceable. The success of Stanford since he left proves that.
  • JESS
    Feb 27, 2014 at 2:45 PM
  • Mike B
    I take it you're either selective reading/hearing or I stumped you w/ my response. You first said that JH inherited a different team. Then, I rebuttal your statement by providing names that Singletary, Nolan, and JH both had. Then you only comment on my last sentence that JH is the "second coming to most fans." I don't disagree w/ you, b/c frankly, I think JH is a great coach. You can't just plug in any coach and think we'd get the same results. Just ask Dennis Erickson, Singletary, and Nolan. All 3 had talent, but failed to produce.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 2:04 PM
    Response: I purposely skipped over the part about players because I felt that deserved it's own post. 42 of the 53 players on the 2013 active roster were not around in 2010.
  • louie
    The time is NOW in the NFL. Or maybe it was last year or the year before. My point is that it is very unlikely a team can keep up a string of NFC championship games longer than the 49ers have. It happened in the blink of an eye and now the whole brain trust realizes it might already be over. (Think about the odds.) So Prince Jed has to figure if the 49ers take a step back for a year or two and re-build for the next run will it /can it include Harbaugh and/ or Baalke. If you try to compare them since Harbaugh was hired, Harbaugh is more valuable than Baalke. But even if Jed agreed with that, how long does he think he can keep Harbaugh happy if Baalke goes? If I were Jed ( personally $ecure) I would make them work together for one more year and go for it NOW and not care if one or both left in 2015.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 1:58 PM
  • Richard Bonitz
    It's not about Harbaugh being the second coming Jack. He is who he is. But guess who has a winning record against these Super Bowl champ head coaches in three short years: Bill Bellichik, Sean Payton, Pete Caroll, Mike Tomlin, Mike MCCarthy? You don't beat those top line coaches with just talent alone. You better be a top game planner and play caller too.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 1:58 PM
    Response: Where did I say Harbaugh wasn't a top coach? He's very good, but can be replaced.
  • Zryder
    I have no doubt in my mind that JH rocks and Baalke Sucks. last two years of his drafts suck or not performing yet. He failed to bring in or draft a good vertical threat WR and that was the difference in losing two championship games and one Superbowl. Baalke is a very bad evaluator of college players. He picked few good players in Free agency thats all. Let Baalke go now and win a Superbowl next year
    Feb 27, 2014 at 11:29 AM
    Response: I guess you're not a big fan of NaVarro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis or Colin Kaepernick?
  • Mike B
    A response from your response to me: Let's see, Jim Harbaugh inherited the following players: Justin Smith, Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, Alex Smith (to an extent and also turned his career around), Navorro Bowman (was a backup), Ray Macdonald (a backup turned starter from JH's tenure), Iupati, Staley, Dashon Goldson (traded and turned into an All Pro w/ JH). These same players were w/ Singletary, and some w/ Nolan. During the time w/ Singletary, I hear a lot of pundits and media heads saying these same players were not that talented when Singletary and Nolan were around. When JH comes and takes them to 3 NFCCG, they're all of a sudden talented. Need I say more? Also, from the majority of the comments, It seems that most disagree with your article.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 10:41 AM
    Response: I'm not surprised by the disagreements. Harbaugh is the second coming to most fans.
  • VaNiner
    Winning cures all! Win a Super Bowl and then sort it out. Choosing between Harbaugh or Balke? Ridiculous! Jed York needs to step up. No organization is just one person. Harbaugh would be absolutely lost without Balke finding and replacing talent. If Harbaugh walks even after winning a Super Bowl, the Niner roster is so loaded that a number of veteran high quality winning coaches would jump at the chance to replace Harbaugh. Heck, a Mike Shanahan would be available in 2015 and would jump at a chance to coach this roster. John Gruden is smart enough to avoid the DC like the plague. But, he's love to rub it Oaklands face and win in SF.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 10:32 AM
  • Big Ken
    I am sorry but Jim Harbaugh was instrumental in getting Anquan Boldin to the 49ers, not Baalke. Jim H should get the credit for that trade, not Baalke. Please remember that Baalke is not a blood brother of John Harbaugh who was head coach of Anquan Boldin before he got traded to the 49ers while Jim H is blood brother of John H. The only draft choice really picked by Jim H last season is Eric Reed, who contributed well. However, Baalke drafted 2 injured college players (knowingly would not play for at least the entire last season), so Baalke intentionally or unintentionally underminded Jim H's ability to bring the 49ers to the Super Bowl last season.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 10:18 AM
    Response: Please educate all of us on how Baalke underminded Harbaugh's ability to get the 49ers to the Super Bowl last year. Would love to read it.
  • Richard Bonitz
    I should be writing here Hammer instead of you, would make more sense. How can I get this gig? Harbaugh has a track record of picking up dead football programs and organizations, not Baalke. As a talent evaluator Harbaugh is the one that has the established track record too. Isn't he the one that found & mentored the best young quarterback of this generation in Andrew Luck? Isn't he the one that converted a loudmouth mediocre wide receiver into the now best cornerback in the league? Didn't he find dominant offensive linemen for Stanford that have since littered the 1st & 2nd round in the NFL Draft? Poor little Stanford had two legitimate Heisman Trophy finalists in his 4 years there. Harbaugh is the superior talent evaluator. Keep them both but give Harbaugh more control over his roster, THEN judge him if he doesn't win the big one.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 10:03 AM
    Response: Contact the webmaster.
  • mike49ersgo
    I cannot disagree more..... First off Trent is a very good GM..... But coaching in the NFL plays a HUGE part in sucess... Sure you need all of the parts and it would be great if the two men could figure it out... But coaching trumps GM in this case... The evidence is all around you. Look at the cowboys, look at the niners... look at the Eagles (chip kelly).... Jim Tomsula is a GREAT line coach, and apparently a great guy but does that translate into GREAT NFL coach, in my humble opinion this is pure recklessness, You going go give up a great NFL coach who gets his players to believe and wins for Jim Tomsula!!... Hey Robert Kraft I got an idea why don't you get rid of Bill Bellicheck for Jim Tomsula!!!?????
    Feb 27, 2014 at 9:01 AM
    Response: The Cowboys have double trouble. Jones is terrible at acquiring talent and Garret is equally terrible at coaching it up. Kelly definitely deserves some credit for the turnaround in Philly but so does Gamble who spent time under Baalke in San Francisco.
  • Lucky Phil
    The best move Baalke made was sign Harbaugh. No JH and we wouldn't be building a stadium in Santa Clara we would be filling it with horsesh!t. Before JH we had seven yrs of sh!t with Singleberry and Nowin. I'm not going back to that crap! Baalke should dip JH's turd in platinum gold and nail it to his office wall, frame it, and hold a bible study around it. All JH wants to stay is PAY the man the respect of being the best coach in the league. Give the man a dollar more than any other coach in the league, a lifetime supply of Khaki's from Walmart and a six foot hole at the 50 yrd line after he kicks the bucket. That's It! Stop FucK!ng Around Ballkey
    Feb 27, 2014 at 8:54 AM
    Response: Like the use of Nowin. As for the turd on office wall, I think you will need to decide between platinum and gold.
  • Jerry
    This issue sure is getting an extraordinary amount of interest. I think it is way over blown. 2 super talented and driven men are getting along. This is not unusual. I think it is up to Jed to be the mediator and work this out so both men can stay. If Jed has any talent this will happen. Talk to getting rid of one or the other is very premature. It s in the best interest of all to work this out.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 8:44 AM
  • Mike B
    WTF?!? Are u kidding?? Baalke over Harbaugh?!? Madness!! Okay, first off, John Harbaugh approached Jim for the Anquan trade. Not baalke. Baalke was the one to figure the logistics of it. Also, dont u remember nolan and singletary?!? Almost same roster but with lesser results. JH turned this organization into championship caliber! JH is wayyyy more important than Baalke. Besides, this whole JH vs Baalke has been blown out of proportion. Media is making it bigger than it really is. Browns offered the trade and niners immediately said no. However, Florio n browns' owner, haslam, make it seem like it was close when it really wasnt.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 8:33 AM
    Response: Baalke was not the GM with Nolan, and ended up getting stuck with Singletary when he stepped into the role after McCloughan left. The roster is quite a bit different from the one he inherited.
  • Coop
    Maybe we can do a draft day trade involving LMJ, and maybe mind round pick or 2, to go up and grab the pass catcher we want. I'd be all for going up into the teens to fetch Mike Evans should he get that far. His comments about him wanting to jaw at and go up against R. Sherman was awesome. Gotta like a dude with swag. He could even replace Crabtree if for whatever reason we are unable to resign him.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 7:14 AM
    Response: Jordan Matthews or Donte Moncrief will have better pro careers.
  • Paul
    This organization needs to check itself and stop the drama..we can't be the next Cowboys and have everything spiral down...stop the drama and work TOGETHER... BE A TEAM PLAYER and keep working for the Quest for 6.
    Feb 27, 2014 at 6:30 AM
    Response: Like I always say, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself.
    I love baalke.. but ur smokin crack. A winning coach in the NFL is hard to come by let alone the FIRST one to go to 3 div champ games in his 1st 3 yrs. Remember that scott mccloughan guy? He was just as good if not better than baalke, look wut hes doin in seattle. HARBAUGH > BAALKE but theyre both stayin so this is a useless post
    Feb 27, 2014 at 6:29 AM
    Response: Crack is whack.

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