BY Art Thiel 03:21PM 12/09/2014

Thiel: Jim Harbaugh, please don’t leave 49ers

An open letter to the coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He can’t leave. He just can’t. Please. By all that is righteous and good in football in America, he cannot abandon us.

Jim Harbaugh: Don’t go. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Dear Jim Harbaugh:

Please don’t go.

For the sake of much that is enjoyable about football with you as Santa Clara 49ers coach, please do not leave your post. I mean this so sincerely that, even as a Seattle sports columnist, I would campaign for a Seahawks loss Sunday if it meant keeping you at your station. I would appreciate a small consideration if I helped you get a raise, only to cover expenses getting my car and clothes cleaned after the 12s are done with me.

But truth be told, many 12s would miss you too. The cheap rationale is that your retention would continue to roil the 49ers as the franchise falls further into disarray, which as you might imagine amuses many in my part of the amber waves of grain.

I mean, losing to the Raiders Sunday as the Seahawks shut down Duck Dynasty in Philly has provoked a hardy-har-har so profound around here that it has filled Harborview Hospital’s emergency room with all manner of pulled rib muscles, back spasms and forehead gashes from fans tumbling with laughter into coffee-table corners.

But your current travails are not why you need to stay put. In fact, just the opposite. You are a winner. More than anything else, you are a winner. That is what helps make Seahawks-49ers the best thing going in American pro team sports.

In January, the Seahawks and 49ers played the most magnificent football game I have seen. As you know well, you were a foot away from going to the Super Bowl, which only adds another thick layer of regrets, recriminations and bitterness between the teams.

In all of Seattle’s geographically isolated sports history, it has never had a more intense rival.

People used to get fired up for college ball here, Huskies-Ducks or Huskies-Cougars, but lopsidedness sucks the life out of rivalry. There was a time in the 1960s when Portland and Seattle were fired up about minor league hockey, and for a time in the late 1970s, the Sonics and Blazers went at it with elevated play and passion. Portland’s admission to MLS has re-kindled dormant rage with the Sounders, which holds hope.

But besides everyone in Seattle hating Budweiser hydroplane owner Bernie Little, mad-ons were only occasional and ephemeral. But then the 49ers hired you from Stanford, the Seahawks hired Pete Carroll from USC, and you brought your college-baked contempt for one another to the pros.

The semiannual “What’s Your Deal?” Bowl was born. The Seattle version of the  Squared Jaws Clenched Teeth holiday is Sunday.

What we have come to learn is that you are Pete Carroll’s brother in every dysfunctional way that brothers are.

Even though the two of you produce exactly the same kind of football at the highest level — defense-first, run-first, take-your-spread-offense-and-shove-it, manly man ball —  you hate him as the older brother who does everything just a little better. He, in turn, mocks your spittle-spewing fury.

While others coo and fawn over Carroll’s ability to recover from tumult to get the Seahawks on track to defend the Super Bowl title that you would have won as well, but for the extra foot, you are seen as, ahem, eccentric.

But in your pleated-khakis, jive-turkey-gobbler rhetoric, sideline hysteria and constipated, English-as-a-second-language style, you are awkwardly charming, in an Elmer Fudd sort of way.

This week is a perfect set-up for a demonstration of your ferocious intensity that is equal parts asset and liability. The 7-6 49ers have been given up for dead, mocked nationally and locally.

Columnist Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News asked Raiders owner Mark Davis, whom you met warmly pre-game Sunday, what he said to you.

“I told him, ‘You stole our dysfunction!’ ” Davis said. “‘That’s supposed to be our thing!'”

On Thanksgiving night, in front of a huge national TV audience, dysfunction was in plain sight as the Seahawks crushed the 49ers at home. The owner tweeted an embarrassing apology to fans, the GM’s daughter tweeted that your offensive coordinator should be fired and your quarterback regressed.

On top of all that, NBC post-game set up a turkey dinner celebration and invited Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman to partake and cackle. They did, right on top of the 49ers logo at new-but-also-dysfunctional Levi’s Stadium.

Even Carroll cringed.

“If (NBC) asked,” he said. “I would have asked if they could do it somewhere else.

“But it meant nothing. Our guys didn’t care at all.”

Of course, the Seahawks didn’t care. But I am sure you cared. As I’m sure you will deny it.

Yet if we were to glimpse your to-do list this week, the box next to “Sophomoric motivational tactic that always works” will be checked.

Jive turkey gobblers indeed.

This sort of whimsy wrapped around fury is what makes this rivalry work. Don’t you dare screw it up by leaving. If the Seahawks have to take a figurative knee Sunday to sustain it, so be it.

But if you must leave because you can’t stand your bosses and they can’t stand you, please take the always-open job in Oakland. Because then I will campaign, once Los Angeles poaches a team and forces NFL realignment, for the Seahawks to return to the AFC West.

Your players may be tired of the act, but we can’t quit on you, big guy.

Yours in khakis forever,

Art Thiel






  • Adam Andrews

    Watching the veins pop out of Harbaugh’s neck is one of life’s true pleasures — an Art Thiel meditation on the phenomenon is one of the others! Love. It.

    • art thiel

      Thanks. For a foe, it don’t get no better than Harbaugh. I fear the Niners will hire Seahawks DC Dan Quinn. Good man, but what fun is a Seahawks’ protege?

      • chorizo

        he came from the 49ers to Seattle, so may be dipping back into the well for them

  • dinglenuts

    The tire fire continues to rage down here in Santa Clara, and even the four inches of rain forecast this week won’t help.

    Unfortunately, it looks like Harbaugh has reached the end of his shelf life with both players and management. And it’s no fun to have him in Santa Clara if guys won’t play for him.

    His sideline rantings are great TV, though, and “…English-as-a-second-language style” made me laugh out loud. Thanks for that.

    Unfortunately for the rivalry, I think the 49ers are well on their way to a downward slide that will feature a number of 7-9 or 6-10 seasons while they reload and figure out that head coaching thing. Too bad.

    • art thiel

      Say it ain’t so, Dingle. It’s so important to experience the frontier of human behavior.

      • Tman

        Like Columbus. What must the native americans thought of him?

        • RadioGuy

          Probably about the same as the Spaniards thought of Torquemada.

      • Schaefdawg

        That sir, is a slur of epic proportion! As only Harbaugh can fulfill. Watching his dysfunction with his brother after their game together was as painful/hilarious as what we’ve been witness to lately. Does the man know no bounds?? Hopefully not!!

      • dinglenuts

        Unfortunately, I can’t reach any other conclusion at this point. Unless Jed York finds some way (threat of violence?) to make Baalke and Harbaugh play nice, I can’t see the 49ers tolerating another year of the Difficult One. And even though Harbaugh carries a track record of success that few coaches can claim, I think York himself would be happy to have him off the premises. I don’t think his maturity level (see his Turkey Day tweet) would allow him to find a solution to keep him onboard. And besides, Jed will still be making money.

  • Tman

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who remembers Elmer Fudd.

    • art thiel

      It’s why they have Cartoon Network.

  • Warchild_70

    Great read Art offering yourself to be pounded by the faithful 12’s to keep those 9’rs on track is quite noble, painful but noble! Alas the Team in the Bay area is in destruct mode and after this Saturday the Cardinals will be put on notice that we’re ready to rumble.I expect a death match at the Clink and it better be a barn burner. To watch Mr. Coach Harbaugh go into Appleplexy is so delightful to watch on my 73″ LED in HD to see his purple color and those Barney Google eyes a poppin’ mmmmmmmm boy THAT’s entertainment!!

    • art thiel

      It’s a rare actor who can be good even on a small screen in black and white. Can’t lose him.

  • jafabian

    For whatever reason, the 49ers brain trust wants Harbaugh gone despite his strong track record the past four seasons and having a year left on his contract. Wally Walker and George Karl famously did not get along but even they stuck it out for five years due to their success as well as Karl being under contract. You’d think they’d at least try one more year together but with 49er management letting Jim hang to dry while rumors of his departure persist only serves to fuel the fire of Harbaugh leaving the franchise.

    It almost seems like their offense is more conservative than before which is odd to me considering they brought in Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd to counter the Legion. With their WR’s, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick they should at least have an offense on par with Denver’s and it’s like they took a step back. If anything, GM Trent Baalke should have paid attention to the Super Bowl and focused on improving the defense, especially since Navarro Bowman would be out for the year and Aldon Smith decided to test the TSA system and miss half the season. Their sub-par performance this season, where many predicted the 49ers to win it all, shouldn’t be put on the coaches and players.

    If David Stern (I have to mention that name) can veto the Lakers acquiring Chris Paul for the good of the league I’d love to see Roger Goodell tell 49er brass to get their act together and sign Jim to a long term deal “for the good of the league.” There’s never been a West Coast rivalry in the NFL as good as what we have now. And this one is good on a national level. That can’t be duplicated.

    • art thiel

      Harbaugh is a high-maintenance guy, a lot like Karl and Billy Martin, a little like Piniella. They burn out people around them.

      • jafabian

        I agree but at least with Karl they kept him until his contract was up because there wasn’t anyone better than him as a coach that wasn’t named Phil Jackson. And his problem was Wally not Ackerly. With Lou and Billy it was friction between them and their equally high-maintenance owner which I’m assuming is at least in part with the 34 year old team owner Jed Harbaugh’s case. I’ve been wondering how Harbaugh would have done under York’s uncle, Eddie DeBarolo Jr., if he was in charge.

        Is there a coach out there better than Jim for the 49ers that will be available? Unless they can bring in Tony Dungy or Brian Billick I’m not seeing it. And the rivalry will be all but dead. It’s amazing to me how in two weeks the 49ers go from being a 1 point favorite on Thanksgiving to a 10 point underdog for this Sunday’s game. The old Jim would be screaming “Fine! Bring it on!” I miss him.

  • Lohengrin

    Point of Information, Arturo: The Santa Clara Levis are nowhere near the 49th parallel. That distinction belongs more to us than them, as we sit at 47.6097 degrees North latitude. With the relocation, the Levis now reside at 37.3544° N, a drop from 37.7833° N.

    So, rather than call them the geographically inappropriate 49ers, or even the 37ers, I’m going with the 34×34’s. It’s a nice fit, even if it is rather snug in the crotch.

    • art thiel

      Funny guy, Lohengrin. You realize, of course, my reference was to proximity to other NFL teams/major markets. But I’m calling on you when I need cartographic nuance.

      And do Levi’s have a skosh more room?

  • Talkjoc

    Thought Harbaugh was the greatest whiner of all time. But, after watch Chip Kelly at Philly last weekend, I realized he’s coming up fast on the outside. It might be a photo finish.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    For some reason bye bye miss American pie is running thru my head… hate to think that the Levy will be dry next year.
    would be a shame to downgrade this rivalry…. but you know I still
    think regardless of the coach Seahawks will always see this as a
    rivalry….its a division opponent .
    Lets hope Harbaugh doesnt go Bye Bye….this coach match up is too much fun.

    • art thiel

      I went down to the sacred store

      Where I’d heard the music years before

      But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

  • John M

    Art, if Big Jim didn’t hate you before, I think this article took care
    of it. Thing is, the way they’re rising, we may hate Fisher and Arians
    next year. Of course they’ll have to greatly upgrade their sideline
    athletics and breathing sequences to measure up to what we’re used to . .

    • art thiel

      As I wrote, Harbaugh/Carroll was already baked. We just had to eat. Fisher and Arians are sharp guys but they will be with Carroll as respectful as they are boring. Damn.

  • Tony Lombardo

    i am so very impressed that Pete Carroll has managed to put together successive runs at USC & now SEA which produce extended, almost uninterrupted, glory, to the point of now making fun of any and all comers. i was invited to a 2006 Rose Bowl party, and watched as the horror struck the USC faithful (i live in Orange County) as Vince Young beat perhaps the finest college football team ever. it was so unexpected, and went 100% counter to conventional wisdom. somehow this precipitated the fall from grace at USC for Carroll, and brought him to SEA. SEA continues to have the league, and particularly the SF 49eers by the short hairs, to the point that many impugn very successful adversaries openly. I cannot predict what will interrupt the current glory for SEA, but growing up rooting for some of the greatest NFL teams in the 80s (49ers), I can reveal that even for great teams, stuff happens. The last Joe Montana led SB v the Bengals saw SF lose to OAK by a point, rendering them 6-5 on the season (with Steve Young playing very poorly in relief). They went on to win out that year, against all odds, and in fact probably should have lost that SB.

    In any event, I very much agree with this writer that the rivalry has been really great, and even featured some myth building qualities. Harbs moving on stands to reduce the myth making future for what looks like an extended run of glory for SEA. The irony of SEA building precisely what Harbs/Baalke envision, right under their noses is siginificant. It is painful to watch, not just for SF fans, but fans of the other 31 teams. I really cannot see anyone standing in the way of another SB.

    • RadioGuy

      “I cannot predict what will interrupt the current glory for SEA…”

      I’ll take a shot at it: Free agency. Some players may take less money to play for the Seahawks, but not many. If Seattle is going to keep Russell Wilson, the salary cap means a lot of guys will be gone to make room for the $20 million a year (at least) he’ll be getting. It’s a business.

      • jafabian

        History has shown Schneider prepares for losing players to free agency. What hurts that planning is when players (Browner, Thurmond) end up getting strikes against them for banned substances. Losing Browner AND his backup hurt the LOB in the beginning of the season. But players like Tharold Simon have been coming around recently after becoming familiar with the system.

        • art thiel

          Give the Seahawks credit for knowing those screwups are also inevitable, just like injuries. That’s why youth and depth are so important in roster-building.

      • art thiel

        No one knows it better than Carroll and Schneider. They’ve been plotting for two years. Dunno what they’ll do, or if they will succeed. But it will be fascinating to watch.

    • art thiel

      A curse in fandom is the desire to look ahead and try to figure out how it will end. A bit of advice: Stop it. What Carroll may accomplish in the era of free agency is nothing short of astounding. Not just you, Tony, but all fans need to savor every step of the attempt. As Wilson says endlessly: Live in the moment.

      Thanks for the observation on the USC game. It was a rare big-game loss for Carroll.

  • Big

    But, he cares so much and more. Jim is misunderstood. Why, he lives for the game. Those hipster Santa Clara-San Francisco fans don’t appreciate his greatness, his committment to excellence. It will be a sorry a$$ day for Jim when he is forced out of the 49er organization. However, the East Bay Grease crowd would welcome him with open arms.

    • art thiel

      Jim is destined to burn out those around him. The key is to win championships with him before that happens. Which is why the Seahawks’ final pick in the NFC title game was such a stone-cold killer for the franchise.

  • Jeff Shope

    Amen Brother

  • Soggyblogger

    I admire Harbaugh’s ability to coach. To mold a team and elevate their play for a while. BUT, I do not like Harbaugh’s coaching STYLE, nor do I think it has long term success. If he were to remain coach of the Niners, his system would be exposed, and they would fail to compete with the Hawks for the next few years.
    Regardless who is coaching, the Niners are on their way down. The perfect place for Harbaugh’s career is in Oakland. Oakland has some talent, and a good Cap situation. The Niners are old and are in Cap trouble even if Kaep remains a weapon. If Harbaugh lands in Oakland he will likely get three or four years of winning seasons out of it. So would any good coach since Carr is looking like the real deal, whereas Kaep has been exposed.
    The Niner’s running game is in turmoil, and they need a real slinging QB with the talent they have at WR.
    People talk about Harbaugh being traded for draft picks. Please explain this sometime, Art. I cannot understand where Harbaugh or his career would benefit from the team he is moving to, losing their future draft picks. Sure, SF benefits, but how does Harbaugh benefit? And why would he agree to it? Doesn’t his contract end this year? Wouldn’t he be better off just asking Oakland for top pay and them keeping their draft picks? Then the team he would be coaching would have a better shot at success. That would benefit Harbaugh’s career.
    In spite of agreeing with you about the rivalry, I think Harbuagh would have to be an idiot to stay with the Niners.

  • outdoorlifer

    What a great article Art! I met you long long time ago at some event in Seattle home show I believe. I approached you and told you were a great writer. You are still a fantastic writer!

  • Torchman

    Just remember…Our Hawks and coach can fall from grace just as fast as Harbaugh…just saying