BY Art Thiel 06:29PM 02/25/2014

Thiel: If you miss old Seahawks, see the 49ers

In Seattle, much hilarity attends the news of 49ers dysfunction around coach Jim Harbaugh. But those with a good sense of smell may recall numerous similar Seahawks tire fires.

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh in happier times: A San Francisco Giants World Series victory parade. Repeat: The Giants victory parade. / Wiki Commons

If you can’t get enough of the palace intrigue in the 49ers’ principality, you must be a Seahawks fan. The region-wide giggle-fest is beginning to show on seismometers. A Beat Quake.

Or if you prefer psychology to geology, the term is scha·den·freu·de (shahd-n-froi-duh), noun: Satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.

As you must have heard by now, the ruling junta of strongman Jim Harbaugh and procurement minister Trent Baalke is in tumult. The background simmer between the two aspirants to control the kingdom hit full boil a few days after the 49ers lost the NFC Championship game to the Seahawks.

Harbaugh reportedly took a call from the Cleveland Browns seeking permission to talk to an assistant coach about the Browns head coaching vacancy when Harbaugh said something to the effect of, “Hey . . . whaddabout me?”

The story, first reported at, overtook the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis. Everyone looked up from their stopwatches to stare west at the castle above the bay, flames leaping from parapets.

Why would Harbaugh, who has taken the 49ers to three successive NFC Championships, want to decamp for Cleveland, as far away as a team can get from an NFL title without leaving the planet’s surface?

It’s because, according to longtime Niners observer Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, Harbaugh is hard-wired to scorch the earth, even when he is upon it:

The latest episode is just a nuclear wake-up call for the 49ers principals: As long as Harbaugh is their coach, he will agitate for money and influence and maybe also just for the sake of agitation.

It’s just the way Harbaugh operates and always has; it’s part of what makes him a great and frantic coach.

He’s at his best when there’s dysfunction above and near him; when it’s too calm, he’ll shake up things himself just to get it going again.

As a combo Eddie Haskell/Arthur Fonzarelli/Kramer, Harbaugh is the high-maintenance, high-energy soul-sucker that annoys the hell out of friend and foe at the same time he is irresistible. Kawakami points out that Harbaugh, college and pro, has never held a job longer than four years, and he’s entering his fourth season in San Francisco. His long-anticipated contract extension has yet to happen, and now maybe one or both parties don’t want it to happen.

A sober, prudent Seahawks fan will counsel against saying “YAAAA-HAAAAH!” knowing that karmic payback awaits those who mock the misfortunes of others.

Sure, that caution is a nice lesson for the sake of the kidlets. But it doesn’t apply here.

The Seahawks have already been there and done stuff like this, and worse. Several times. It is simply no longer their turn in the crucible of men behaving badly.

Or have you forgotten that Seahawks coach Jack Patera was busted for DUI and fired the team’s union rep, resulting in fans mailing the team-owning Nordstroms their credit cards, cut up?

Or that one of the trusted aides to owner Ken Behring stood trial for ordering the murder-by-crossbow of a former business associate?

Or that Behring was sued by a former employee for sexual assault, her lawyer claiming Behring “prides himself on being a great hunter and travels the world hunting and killing animals. I think he believes he has a hunting license for women that he fancies.”

How about the time the Seahawks hired a football executive, Bob Ferguson, specifically to keep President Bob Whitsitt and coach Mike Holmgren from breaking furniture over one another?

More recently, the Seahawks nudged coach Mike Holmgren out the door, pleasing the man who didn’t like him, GM Tim Ruskell, only to fire Ruskell, then fire three weeks later the coach Ruskell brought in to succeed Holmgren, Jim Mora, after just a single season.

Wurlitzer has yet to make a weapons-grade calliope sufficient to have kept up with the Seahawks circus.

Now, coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider get along so well that they won a Super Bowl together and are about one von Trapp short of starring in a sequel to “The Sound of Music.”  Tra-damn-la is everywhere.

Few are those who have a nose so sensitive that they can still detect the three-decade tire fire that preceded the aroma of fresh-baked dominance. The smoke has dissipated here, but it rises in San Francisco, and really, and in about every other NFL city where recent success has eluded the local gridiron unit.

News that Harbaugh and Baalke are about to load up on lances, maces, chain mail and armored steeds to have at one another is momentarily surprising. But upon further review, not necessarily shocking. As meritorious as have been their combined accomplishments, they have not won it all.

This is the NFL, where, as 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick might have put it, one more foot on the final pass would have changed everything. But there was not one more foot, and the coach is taking calls from the Browns.


  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Its like a drama bubble encircles 49er ville…. Mike Sando of ESPN was telling Clayton he thinks that whole one foot thing is a big big catalyst in everybody being on each others nerves for allowing the team (that they made fun of all season) to win a superbowl that they themselves couldnt bring home last year when they had their chances against brother H…

    Good Grief.Yes we have endured plenty of Hawk Dysfunction around here but like the pic of Jim accompanying this article?There is a rear view mirror (showing)and our troubles are in it thank god. Actually its a blondes hair…presumably his wife…but you get the picture. Better them than us. It is worth a giggle or two , Art.

  • jafabian

    I wonder if Harbaugh is like George Karl. He can’t stay in one place long enough before he burns his bridges. Not that Baalke (Didn’t he star on Perfect Strangers?) is blameless. He knew what he was getting when he hired Harbaugh. I give Jim 2 more years in SF.

    • Edgar Martinez

      That’s a pretty good comparison. Karl also had success everywhere he went. I mean, Karl even got fired this last time right after winning coach of the year and he can’t find a job. This is a guy who’s teams have only missed the playoffs I think twice in 25 years.

      • art thiel

        Harbaugh and Karl are excellent coaches. But like Billy Martin and to a lesser extent Lou Piniella, they wear down the people closest to them.

    • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

      He is contractually obligated in 49er ville for 2 more years…. look for them to give him a new contract to shut up the rumors and then trade him to the Dolphins or somewhere….or Cleveland when they fire their new coach after only one year for going 3~13

      • art thiel

        I don’t think they extend him if he doesn’t want to be in SF. But if they don’t, his cred is undermined.

    • art thiel

      One year is the over-under in SF. And yes, Harbaugh is the same bundle of neuroses as George.

  • Tim

    His departure would take the fun out of beating our hated rival. I don’t know if there’s a coach that’s more enjoyable to watch losing a game.

    • zigzags

      Agreed. As much as I’d love to see Ninerville burn to the ground, there would be some disappointment in losing the best rivalry in the NFL.

      • jafabian

        Agreed. It’s right up there with the best college football rivalries because there isn’t any in the NFL that comes close to it.

    • art thiel

      No way do I want Harbaugh to leave. Hawks-Niners is something special in the our sports history, and he plays the wackiest villain since Boris Badenov (look him up, kids).

  • Jamo57

    Wow! I had long forgotten about the murder by crossbow case! An impressive nugget from the Wayback Machine!

    • art thiel

      Hard to forget something like that. I still can’t believe it happened.

  • Greg

    Art, you devil… Aside from rolling in the joyless mud of our main challenge, mud never felt so good. Thanks for my mornings bowl of metaphore, similie and analogy! Great visuals throughout, grin stuck over my ears!

    Go Hawks!

    • art thiel

      Glad you noticed. No way do I want this rivalry diminished. Writer’s paradise.

  • dinglenuts

    Down here in Niner Land, the 49er Faithful are filling their collective pants over the possibility that Harbaugh might actually leave. Radio call-in shows are particularly amusing, featuring grown-ass men in hysterics about The Difficult One’s potential departure.

    It is kind of amusing. And it probably won’t get resolved any time soon, much to the delight of Seahawk fans. Harbaugh will continue to be Harbaugh, and Jed York is not going to be in any hurry to extend his contract and appear that he is being bullied by his coach. Owners, in general, don’t like that.

    Dumpster fire in Santa Clara!

    • art thiel

      Harbaugh is high-maintenance, which makes him so much fun.


  • Pixdawg13

    I have this dream:
    Harbaugh coaching the Cowboys.

    But first, everyone within 750 miles of Dallas needs a fallout shelter.

    • Brian

      Please no. I live in the DFW area and Jerry Jones+Harbaugh would make this place explode.

  • RadioGuy

    I know the University of Michigan has a good academic reputation, but how smart can Harbaugh really be to even feign interest in the Cleveland job? The only organization in the NFL that might be more dysfunctional than the Browns is Miami, where at least the weather’s nicer. I actually like Harbaugh from his days at Stanford, but even acknowledging the Cleveland gig is open is nothing short of self-destructive behavior. Harbaugh doesn’t need a new job, he needs counseling (or a one-week retreat at a Buddhist temple in Tibet).

    • art thiel

      It has nothing to do with education, it has to do with being son of Jack and brother of Jon.

  • I’d miss Harbaugh. He’s way too fun to hate. And if he were to leave and Kaepernick didn’t get all the money he thinks he needs, well, I’d have to move my animus to St. Louis.