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  • Ben Margot / The Associated Press

    Jim Harbaugh, left, and Trent Baalke have turned the 49ers into championship contenders. Owner Jed York dismissed reports his coach and general manager had a strained relationship.

  • Jeff Chiu / AP

    Jim Harbaugh’s clout was evident in the 49ers’ acquisition of Jonathan Martin.

  • Jeff Chiu / AP

    Trent Baalke has given Harbaugh license to assess talent, including at quarterback.

49ers welcome tension between Baalke, Harbaugh

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2014 - 9:04 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2014 - 6:56 am

Yes, there’s been some tension at 49ers headquarters when it comes to fiery coach Jim Harbaugh and feisty general manager Trent Baalke.

“I think I’ve said this before: 95 percent of the time, they’re on the same page,” owner Jed York said Tuesday. “Five percent of the time it gets really interesting.”

But, according to York, tension isn’t always a bad ingredient, and it certainly hasn’t hindered the 49ers in recent seasons.

“We’ve been competing for the Super Bowl – realistically competing for the Super Bowl – for the last three years,” York said during a break at the NFL owners’ meetings. “They get along. They’re just grinding. They want a ring. And they’re trying to battle and fight to get a ring. And sometimes it wears on people.

“But I like that tension. I think they like that tension. And I think both of them compete better when there’s something to compete against.”

Stories about a strained relationship between Harbaugh and Baalke began emerging last month after news broke that the Cleveland Browns had inquired about trading for Harbaugh. One national report said the two don’t even talk, communicating instead through emails.

York and Baalke on Tuesday insisted the portrait of two men constantly at each other’s throat is overblown. And Harbaugh and Baalke have been observed consulting with each another at the league’s hotel this week, and they emerged from one of the many meetings side by side and laughing.

There also has been plenty of evidence they have been working together on the roster in recent weeks.

• Baalke handles all trades, but it was obviously Harbaugh who pushed to acquire offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, whom he coached at Stanford, earlier this month. Harbaugh has been one of Martin’s most vocal defenders since Martin left the Miami Dolphins last year, and his addition to the 49ers’ roster had Harbaugh’s fingerprints all over it.

• Baalke also gives Harbaugh license when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks. Harbaugh took a long look at Blaine Gabbert during the 2011 draft, and the 49ers sent a sixth-round draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Gabbert earlier this month.

The 49ers were one of the teams interested in adding free-agent running back Toby Gerhart, who left the Minnesota Vikings for Jacksonville. But they ultimately backed off because they felt Gerhart’s asking price was too high. Still, Gerhart was a favorite of Harbaugh’s when he played at Stanford, and it’s another sign Harbaugh has been giving his input during the free-agency period.

York also pointed out that while the relationship between his uncle, longtime 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., and Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh is fondly remembered as one of the finest partnerships in NFL history, it didn’t always make for a peaceful front office.

“Eddie fired Bill five times,” York said. “Bill quit four times. It just wasn’t in a world of Twitter. You guys aren’t writing an article a day. You’re writing – how many tweets do you have a day? It was a different news cycle. It was a different lens into that world.”

York reiterated the Browns’ overture never was taken seriously. He added a bit to the story Tuesday when he said he tracked down Harbaugh soon after Cleveland made its offer and asked him if he wanted to work for the Browns.

“I said, ‘Listen, I just want to ask you, is there any interest on your part? This is the phone call that I got,’ ” York said. “He said, ‘I don’t even know what you’re talking about.’ And that was the end of it.”

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh received a similar reaction when he called his brother to ask about the report. The Harbaughs would have been rivals in the AFC North if Jim had gone to Cleveland.

“I laughed,” John said. “Well, first I got kind of ticked off because he didn’t tell me about this. I’m his brother! I’m supposed to know. I called him, and he just laughed about it.”

Jim Harbaugh is three years into the five-year deal he signed in 2011. An extension was discussed last offseason, but it was tabled. York said he expected to resume those talks but did not have a specific target.

“I know he wants to be here,” York said. “We want him to be here. I expect to be able to work something out.”


Read Matthew Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

Read more articles by Matthew Barrows



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