In the strangest story of NFL offseason, 49ers’ Harbaugh was said to be part of a self-trade to Browns for draft picks; Harbaugh denies all.
It’s one thing to resupply at Walmart with the pleated khakis his wife says she keeps throwing out. That’s eccentric. But allowing yourself to be traded from one of the best gigs in the NFL to perhaps the worst job is street-rat crazy.
Yet that’s apparently what 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, Seattle’s favorite villain, was contemplating a few days after San Francisco lost the NFC championship to the Seahawks.
According to a story by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio Friday, citing anonymous sources, Harbaugh expressed interest in the head coaching vacancy in Cleveland. A trade was discussed that would have sent several draft choices to the 49ers, who have Harbaugh under contract for two more years and have said they would like to extend him after three consecutive appearances in the NFC title game.
Apparently the Browns thought the cost in picks, which they have stockpiled for 2014, was too high. They backed away and hired Mike Pettine, defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, Jan. 23 to be the third head coach in three years. That day, then-GM Joe Banner said there was a “mystery candidate” that was not hired.
Jed York, the 49ers’ prinicipal owner, denied Florio’s story via Twitter:
— Jed York (@JedYork) February 21, 2014
The report became the talk of the scouting combine in Indianapolis, particularly after the Browns issued a statement that didn’t explicitly deny the the Harbaugh interest.
“The team conducted an extensive coaching search, and explored several options,” the statement said. “That search produced an outstanding head coach in Mike Pettine and we’re excited about his future with the club.”
Harbaugh, born in Toledo, has family in Ohio, but the Browns are a raging mess. They are 27-69 since 2008. Bungling owner Jimmy Haslam has alienated the fan base, and on Feb. 11 fired Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi, with whom Harbaugh is close. Haslam said of hiring Pettine: “I think we got the best head coach we could get.”
The Browns’ flagship station 92.3 The Fan confirmed Florio’s account, saying Harbaugh expressed interest when the Browns called to ask about interviewing 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
Other than running away from the Seahawks and old friend Pete Carroll, why would Harbaugh want to go to a bad franchise in a town a notch or two below San Francisco? Apparently there’s tension between him and Niners general manager Trent Baalke, despite their mutual success (41-14-1 over the past three seasons, including playoffs).
Owner York has described the relationship as effective creative friction, but Harbaugh apparently doesn’t see it that way. Also, he is merely the third-highest paid coach in the NFC West behind the Rams’ Jeff Fisher ($7 million) and Carroll ($6 million), something York said he plans to fix.
“You really can’t ask for a much better job than what he’s done in his first 2½ seasons,” York told reporters in December. “Now is not the right time to get into a deep contract discussion, but he knows we want him here long-term.”
The last time a coach was traded was in 2002 when Tampa Bay sent two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million to Oakland for Jon Gruden, who won a Super Bowl with the Bucs.
But even though Harbaugh isn’t going anywhere, some damage figures to have been done to his standing in San Francisco. It’s going to be awkward demanding commitment from his players when he was alleged to have one foot out the door. And now that the clash between him and his boss is more in the open, every player transaction is going to be scrutinized through a filter of “Jim’s guy” or “Trent’s guy.”
So damage control has begun. ESPN’s Ed Werder said he received a text message late Friday from Harbaugh that backed York’s claim that the original story was not true.
SF Head coach Jim Harbaugh text to me on reports Niners-Browns discussed trading him: “I echo Jed York’s comment – isn’t true….”
— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) February 22, 2014
The story gets stranger: Reporters close to Harbaugh were shocked to find out he texted someone.
Already owner of a black belt in awkwardness, Harbaugh is now seventh-degree. Do not challenge this man in a contest of clumsy.