Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Letting Go of Jim Harbaugh So Quickly Is a Big Mistake

Dec 22, 2014 at 10:04 AM43

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On Sunday, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported that San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York had decided to part ways with head coach Jim Harbaugh within 48 hours of the team's final game of the season. That game will be a matchup against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on Sunday, December 28th. It will be Harbaugh's final game with the 49ers. However, it should not be.

A couple of weeks ago, Stewart M. Cockrell wrote an excellent piece entitled An Open Letter to Jed York. It was a plea to team CEO Jed York to keep Harbaugh as the 49ers head coach and stated many reasons why letting him go after one disappointing season would be a mistake. Cockrell's article quickly became one of the most viewed and shared articles in the history of this site. The majority of fans do not want Harbaugh to leave and I agree with those fans.

There are a lot of things wrong with this team and stating that the 2014 season has been a train wreck would be an understatement. I understand that NFL head coaches are the captains of their ships and must take responsibility for any of their team's faults. However, no one could have predicted this absolute mess of a season and placing complete blame on Harbaugh is not fair.

In an ideal world, Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke would let Harbaugh coach the final year of his contract in a "prove it" season and Harbaugh would be forced to make some offensive staff changes. Then, depending on how the 2015 season turns out, a decision would then be made on whether or not Harbaugh and the 49ers should part ways. After all, two failed seasons is more of a benchmark for comparison than a single anomaly of a season.

What will likely happen following Sunday's game is that York and Baalke will begin looking for trade partners to see what they can get for Harbaugh. Likely partners would include the Oakland Raiders or possibly even the New York Jets. Harbaugh interviewed for the head coaching job with the Jets in 2009. The job would eventually go to Rex Ryan. Of course, Harbaugh would have to approve such a trade and there is no reason for him to do so. Why would he help the 49ers, the team trading him, and weaken his new team in the process? This is all assuming that Harbaugh doesn't just bolt for the University of Michigan and their rumored 6-year, $48 million offer. If no trade partner can be found or if the team is too greedy in their demands, Harbaugh and some of his staff will be fired shortly after. Head coach needy teams will then fall over themselves trying to lure Harbaugh in and he will become the highest paid coach in the NFL.

The 49ers will likely make someone like current defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, a favorite among team management, Harbaugh's replacement. There is also the possibility that — if rumors are true — someone like New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who reportedly turned down an interview request by the 49ers in 2011 due to concerns over the organization's management structure, could be brought in to interview for the position. McDaniels' name is an intriguing, yet somewhat frightening prospect if you are a fan of the team. Anyone would be because there are no names out there that can be considered an upgrade over Harbaugh.

Regardless of the potential coaching candidates, letting go of Harbaugh would be a mistake. There was an excellent photo on Twitter that we shared on our Facebook page. It had the following quote on it:

"Dear Jed: We Were Faithful during the Bad Years. Now It's Your Turn. #keepharbaugh"

This is probably the best Harbaugh related meme that I have recently seen and is a good example of how fans are feel about the situation.

49ers fans are great at remembering the storied history of this franchise. Players that were the best at their positions like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott. They were the first team to win five championships. They innovated the way the game was played. However, it would seem that management is quick to forget some of the 49ers' more recent not-so-great history.

Here are a few reasons why Harbaugh should be retained for at least one more season. The first two are a reminder to 49ers ownership and management of the team's recent history.

Reason One: 2003 through 2010

This is the post-Mariucci era. Steve Mariucci was hired as the 49ers' head coach in 1997 following the resignation of George Seifert. He took his team to the playoffs during his first two seasons, but the team's salary cap issues would soon take their toll and the 49ers would miss the playoffs during the next two season. Following that, the 49ers would return to the playoffs in Mariucci's final two seasons and he was be fired after a Divisional Playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2002 season.

What followed was eight long seasons of disfunction. During those eight seasons, the 49ers would not make any playoff appearances and would reach a .500 record only once.

Younger fans refer to this as the dark ages. Older fans remember the dark ages as the pre-Walsh era.

In 2011, Harbaugh came in and worked with nearly the identical roster that posted a 6-10 record the year before and coached them to the NFC Championship game in his first season as head coach.

Reason Two: Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary

These were the coaches that succeeded Mariucci and preceded Harbaugh. These were some frustrating and dark years for the 49ers. There was a little hope with Nolan, who at one point was even a fan favorite. However, he would never get the 49ers to reach their true potential. Singletary, who was popular among the players, turned out to be a horrible head coach.

This just goes to show how extremely difficult it is to find a good NFL head coach. The 49ers tried on three different occasions to replace Mariucci and failed miserably. It is unlikely that another Harbaugh is just going to fall into their laps.

Reason Three: A season full of media-created distractions

Let's face the truth — the media played their part in the 49ers' 2014 demise. They created so many distractions for the 49ers that it was tough for the team to regain focus.

An excellent example is Deion Sanders stating that, according to "inside sources," the 49ers players wanted Harbaugh out. All this came out after the team's first regular season victory at Levi's Stadium. Numerous players were quick to jump to Harbaugh's defense, including Michael Crabtree, who is very close with Sanders. Crabtree tweeted, "I don't know what people are talking about with Mr Deion... But we good over here!"

Former 49ers quarterback Trent Dilfer added fuel to the fire saying, "I do think it's become almost toxic."

Harbaugh's response? "I haven't seen Trent or Deion around much."

Another example is a story that ran back in October by Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio giving the impression that Harbaugh was nearly traded to the Cleveland Browns. Everyone within the media loves to break a story and that's fine. However, this one was done in an irresponsible manner. Was there truth behind it? Absolutely. Was the story exaggerated in order to create a sense of shock and alarm? Absolutely.

Later, the 49ers would admit that the Browns did approach the team about a potential trade. Harbaugh was asked if this was something that he would like to pursue, he said no, and that was it. Perhaps the headline should have read, "Browns were interested in trading for Harbaugh."

The actual headline turned out to be "Browns nearly had Harbaugh for two third-round picks," making it seem like a deal nearly went through, but fell apart for some unknown reason. Florio created his stir and the rest of the media jumped all over it.

These are just two examples of the numerous incidents of unnecessary drama during the season. Tight end Vernon Davis even recently confirmed that the distractions have had an impact among the team. "All season long there were a lot of distractions. But we tried our best to fight through them," said Davis.

Reason Four: LB Chris Borland, LB Patrick Willis, LB NaVorro Bowman, NT Glenn Dorsey, NT Ian Williams, DB Jimmie Ward, C Daniel Kilgore, TE Vance McDonald, RB Kendall Hunter, TE Derek Carrier, CB Chris Cook, WR Kassim Osgood, TE Garrett Celek, WR Chuck Jacobs, CB Kenneth Acker, and G Fouimalo Fonoti

What do all of these players have in common? They are the 16 players that have been placed on injured reserve by the 49ers this season. Then there are the players like Chris Culliver, Tramaine Brock, Anthony Davis, and many more that have been banged up for good chunks of the season. It is tough enough to win when you are completely healthy, but the 49ers have had an absurd amount of bad luck on the injury front. Still, their patched-together defense somehow remains within the league's top 5 overall.

Toward the end of Saturday's loss to the San Diego Chargers, Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area noted that Justin Smith, Chris Culliver, and Antoine Bethea were the only 49ers defensive players on the field who were earmarked as starters in the offseason.

It would be a tall task to ask anyone to make a Super Bowl run with the kind of injury misfortune that the 49ers have had in 2014.

Reason Five: Harbaugh's resume

Jim Harbaugh has proven that he can succeed at any level. As the head coach of the San Diego Toreros, he spent three years guiding his team to a 29-6 overall record. In each of the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the Toreros were 11-1 and won the Pioneer Football League Championship.

At Stanford University, he went 29-21 and created an early rivalry with then USC head coach Pete Carroll. The Cardinal went 8-4 in 2009 finishing #21 in the rankings and playing in the Sun Bowl, Sanford's first bowl appearance since 2001. In 2010, the Cardinal finished 11-1 and earned a #4 BCS ranking and an invitation to the Orange Bowl where they would defeat Virginia Tech 40-12. It would be Stanford's first bowl victory since 1996.

In 2011, he became the 49ers' 18th head coach and then went on to lead the team to three straight NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl, which he nearly won. He has a regular season record of 43-19-1 and a postseason record of 5-3. He was named the 2011 AP NFL Coach of the Year. Harbaugh is also the first coach in NFL history to reach the conference championship in each of his first three seasons.

Reason Six: The fans have a voice

It's no secret that former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo let his passion for winning and disgust for losing sometimes cloud his judgement. On multiple occasions, he nearly fired legendary head coach Bill Walsh after disappointing losses. He could usually be talked down from making such a brash decision.

Today, the media is everywhere and fans have more access to the day-to-day happenings of an NFL team than ever before. DeBartolo didn't have to worry about fan outrage being expressed on social media. Fans have a voice and it is stronger than it has ever been.

York has to worry about the backlash that will ensue when Harbaugh is let go. Fans love Harbaugh. York, who has exhibited on multiple occasions that he values the opinion of the fans, could have his image take a serious hit. After a loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thanksgiving night, York tweeted out an apology to fans, saying that the team's performance "wasn't acceptable." After cementing himself as a fan favorite, bringing in Harbaugh and working to build a brand new state-of-the-art home for the team at Levi's Stadium, he could quickly become one of the most hated 49ers figures in recent history once Harbaugh is fired.

Upon the news that Harbaugh would be let go following the 49ers' season finale, outraged fans took to our Facebook page and expressed their disgust toward York and the seemingly knee-jerk decision that he is making.

Of course, we are not part of the organization. We don't have the full story. Is Harbaugh that difficult to work with? Is he so difficult that you are willing to dismiss the resume stated above? Is his "unwavering support" for some of his staff creating an all-or-nothing situation for the team? Whatever the reason, the Harbaugh era in San Francisco is coming to a close and it could be very costly for the team's future.
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.


  • zman
    "As much as everyone says it's a mistake letting Harbaugh go and how teams will be beating down his door, coaches will be beating down our door. We'll be fine." Sure they will. All they have to do is win the SB, have a saintly demeanor, and kowtow to Sonny Boy son-of-owner.
    Dec 30, 2014 at 8:39 AM
  • Oscar
    Get rid of Harbaugh and hire Darrell Blevins
    Dec 24, 2014 at 7:24 PM
  • kareem
    Here's something we never hear mentioned. As much as everyone says it's a mistake letting Harbaugh go and how teams will be beating down his door, coaches will be beating down our door. We'll be fine. I've come 180 on this. I believe Harbaugh's plan going into this year was he knew he'd get a huge offer. So he had no interest in re-signing early. York and Baalke knew it and never gave into it. Good for him, he got the contract he deserves.
    Dec 24, 2014 at 5:09 PM
  • 49ersFanfromMich
    Simple: Harbaugh had the chance to prove his worthy last year when he should have let Roman go and get new OC. I love Harbaugh's energy and leadership with the team but he blew his chance. Time for a new offensive masterminds (along with our great defense team) to run the team to 6th, 7th and 8th Superbowl Trophies. I would invest in Kaep over Harbaugh. Looking forward to next year's superbowl game!
    Dec 24, 2014 at 1:53 PM
  • RishikeshA
    Thanks David, Yes it's a dark day losing the best coach since the legendary Bill Walsh. I don't think the Harbaugh relationship with Jed York played that big a role. The real instigator has to be Baalke. He's behind the scenes and appears to have a low key personality, but he must have York's ear. I'm a fan from the 50's and there have been dark ages where it seemed we would never win again. I'm curious if Dr. John York has anything to say. The Yorks hired 2 novice coaches in Nolan and Singletary that didn't have a clue. There's no excuse for not doing everything in their power to keep Harbaugh. It's so tough to win, I hope it's not back to the dark ages.
    Dec 24, 2014 at 2:24 AM
  • Lucky Phil
    JH is going to Michigan without a doubt. Most teams would only release a coach to another NFL team because they want draft picks in return. Jed is going to release JH from his contract for money in return. And if Michigan is going to offer JH 8 mil. a year, they are willing to pay plenty to the NIners to get his release. Jed is just a money hungry bitch.
    Dec 23, 2014 at 1:21 PM
  • Terry B.
    Bret, stop. Please, for God's sake just stop. It's over. My God, what will it take for people at this site to believe it?
    Dec 23, 2014 at 9:41 AM
  • Bret Wood
    Thank you David!! What you have written has summarized everything that has run through my head in past months or since these Harbaugh rumors have started. Firing, trading or releasing Harbaugh is so unbelievably stupid and unwarranted, I can't even begin to understand York's thought process. I'm hoping and praying that this situation is completely media driven hype. And that behind closed doors, York and Baalke are just as fed up with the media as we all are and have simply chosen to stop trying to answers questions that they have answered a thousand times. I'm hoping at the end of the season that they (York & Baalke) take a couple days and realize what they have in coach Harbaugh. Offer him a grand extension to shut everyone up. And at most... At most, they decide they need to make changes to their offensive coaching staff. Meaning... Harbaugh may simply have to part with Greg Roman. Jim's brother did it. And Jim might have to make that compromise if he wishes to stay on as coach of the 49ers. Great or even good coaches don't grow on trees. Just look at the years before JH. A brand new stadium in 2014... Can you really take a chance on the team being bad for the next 5 to 8 years?
    Dec 23, 2014 at 9:36 AM
  • Terry B.
    This is all just wasted breath. To anyone without his head completely up his ass, it's been obvious since the offseason that this would be Harbaugh's last season in S.F. It's stunning that so many fans are still in denial.
    Dec 23, 2014 at 9:27 AM
  • David Hernandez
    York...ask your uncle Eddie DeBartolo What would he do???...#imaHarbaugh
    Dec 23, 2014 at 1:00 AM
  • Sergio Lara
    2 keys: 1.-Injuries, 2.-and Baalke cant replacement Delanie Walker,( GRo player favorite on the offensive scheme). keep Jim Harbaugh he is our coach right now and next year.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 10:31 PM
  • chris
    If they want to let anyone go from that organization it should be Trent balke. And due to the success of haurbaugh they need to let him coach his team take the reigns off of Jim and let him coach. In my opinion he had nothing to prove, he's already done that. I love Jim he's the salvation of this 49ers team organization. For the first time in many years, I have nut been slammed to be NINER fan. I remember those eight seasons those losing seasons. Letting Jim go is a huge mistake.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 9:00 PM
  • JT
    Dear Jed if you fire Coach H, F-U!
    Dec 22, 2014 at 8:38 PM
  • Lucky Phil
    Jed is dumping JH for one reason, he got what he wanted from Harbaugh. Jed wanted a new stadium and JH made that possible. Jed is only interested in the bottom line. He's not paying JH 5 million a year or any other HC that type of money. He will go cheap and continue making money, regardless of whether we win or lose.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 8:29 PM
  • Phil C.
    Listening to Dana Stubblefield's interview podcast on Gary and Larry. He said,"We're not talking about a Jacksonville Jaguars or Carolina Panthers type of organization. This is the San Francisco 49ers . . . We win. That's it." Standards are higher folks. It's like the difference in college basketball between, say, Duke and Clemson. Same conference, but while at Clemson if they win 20 games that's a great season, at Duke every year it's about rings. People act like the 49ers are Motel 6 when we're more like the Bellagio.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 6:51 PM
  • Elan Mumme
    Listen, its hard to be faithful to the 9ers if they arent also willing to return it. You cant jump ship and you dont turn your back on family. Jim is family. Whitner, Crabtree, all the Smiths, Gore, Willis. All of you guys!!! Keep our team! Help our team!! Focus, we are better than one crap season. Dont make a permanant mistake to fix a temporary problem.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 4:55 PM
  • Phil C.
    I get it. Change is scary, even in life. And it could lead to things getting worse. But it could also lead to things getting better. There's still talent on this roster, and while people crucify Baalke for whiffing on the 2012 draft, he did well on the 2011, 2013 and 2014 drafts and with free agency. He's a top 5 GM. I hope more people can take off their "Harbaugh-colored glasses".
    Dec 22, 2014 at 3:51 PM
  • Phil C.
    Finally, Harbaugh's resume. Yes, he's had successful records, but there's a reason why he hasn't spent more than several years in one place. Guys like Harbaugh, former coaches Larry Brown in the NBA aren't like Gregg Popovich or Bill Belichick, who have the ability to sustain excellence over a long period of time. They take talented teams in need of some direction and ride them to 2-3 years of huge success, and then they move on. And let's not act like the Niners were a hot mess when Harbaugh came in. They already had a talented defense in place and just needed a decent offense. But now the offense has grown stale and what's alarming is Harbaugh either lacks the wherewithal or desire to fix it.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 3:48 PM
  • Phil C.
    While I'm at it, let me dismantle the other 5 arguments: 1 and 2 are basically the same. While it's easy to say those 3 coaches were bad, let's also not forget Erickson and Nolan didn't have a whole lot to work with. The roster finally was up to par when Singletary took over. In fact, going into 2010 there were playoff expectations, or at least over .500 expectations, until we realized Singletary had no business being a head coach. Reason 3 and 4 relate to Harbaugh directly. Distractions are a way of life for high profile teams like the 49ers have been in recent years, and it's up to the head coach primarily to keep the team focused. Injuries aren't a legit excuse; all teams deal with them. The defense has been without Bowman for the entire season and Willis and Brock for most of it, and yet it's remained at a high level.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 3:41 PM
  • Phil C.
    (sigh) This is another one-side article from a whiny fan not using their head. I commented on that meme about fans being faithful on Facebook, and I essentially said we the fans can complain all they want about the organization, but in the end we don't really have any influence over the coaches and players the organization chooses to employ. To paraphrase Rod Tidwell in "Jerry Maguire": "Well boo-effing-hoo."
    Dec 22, 2014 at 3:35 PM
  • Sammie renna
    The problem isn't Harbaugh, it's Roman, kap is not a pocket passer that's not why you drafted him or why you got rid of Alex smith! We have gotten to the super bowl and nfc championship games running the ball and making defense worry about what kap will do! Teams aren't worried anymore cause it's plain to see that your trying to make him a pocket passer. Keep Harbaugh and go back to what was working now that you have so many weapons on offense why don't we try and design some plays to get them open like every other teams dose! Get a offensive genius on that staff....problem solved.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 3:28 PM
  • Maria
    I think the current 7-8 season has nothing to do with Harbaigh's pending departure. The front office began undermining him long before the season started. It's personal. They'll put themselves before the team any day. Jed is a bad owner & CEO for allowing rumors to circulate around the team & adding fuel to them. Who could expect any better performance from the team when they are at the bottom of the heap in the owner's list of priorities? And why should Jed expect the Faithful to remain so after this debacle? Take some lessons from the Rooneys, Jed. It's the team, the team, the team... and not you.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 2:23 PM
  • Timfrias
    Mike Holmgren, Bay Area native.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 2:07 PM
  • AlCapone408
    If firing Harbaugh is inevitable, bring in Mike Shanahan. He will keep the team competitive and may bring the sixth trophy to the bay. I don't like the idea of firing Harbaugh, but Shanahan would alleviate the concern of returning to the dark ages.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 1:30 PM
  • Tre
    My mistake. I was young and always had it in my head that Eddie was firing Seifert in that press conference. Thx for the info.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 1:05 PM
  • sean
    keep jim change oc keep dc that's all simple best coach keep jim hes not going to have another season like this put ur house on it
    Dec 22, 2014 at 1:05 PM
  • TorontoT.
    Tre: The words "he's gone" were indeed blurted out by Eddie D., but they were uttered at the press conference actually announcing Seifert's retirement, and were in response to a question about the status of then-OC Marc Trestman, not Seifert.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 12:57 PM
  • Tre
    I recall the press conference when management was asked what Seifert's future in SF was. Everyone looks at Eddie D, and w/o hesitation or remorse Eddie D says," He's gone." Seifert was, for all intents and purposes, fired right there on the spot. The FO simply allowed him to keep his dignity by giving him the option to resign before any firing was made official.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 12:48 PM
  • JohnK
    First of all I'm a Faithful 49ers fan. I'm also a faithful football fan. I know the game is changing, but a lot of decisions owners are making today are stupid. I don't care how stubborn Jim is. The resume speaks. The guy had a bad year, while under scrutiny. Big deal! Look how long other coaches have had bad years. Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Dallas, even New England. All championship organizations. And for a good reason. They stick with there coaches. They Understand Rome wasn't built in a day. Jim Harbaugh will win a Super Bowl, ashamed that it won't be with us.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 12:28 PM
  • Brandon
    Harbaugh had one bad season and they wanna let him go this guy changed the team around 3 championships and a trip to Superbowl what more can u ask for keep harbaugh he's the man
    Dec 22, 2014 at 12:22 PM

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