San Francisco 49ers

49ers seek a latter-day Walsh, offer little specifics on Harbaugh parting

Team CEO Jed York, left, said “philosophical differences” led the 49ers and coach Jim Harbaugh to part ways.
Team CEO Jed York, left, said “philosophical differences” led the 49ers and coach Jim Harbaugh to part ways. The Associated Press

Jed York and Trent Baalke on Monday stressed they are seeking a successful, Bill Walsh-type teacher to take over as the 49ers’ coach but offered no specifics for why they parted ways a day earlier with a coach who was supposed to fit that description.

During a nearly hour-long news conference, York, the team’s CEO, said there were “philosophical differences” with Jim Harbaugh and he and the former coach sat down after the team’s Dec. 14 loss in Seattle and decided to move on when the season was over.

“We just couldn’t come to a place where we thought moving together was the best for either party,” York said. “This wasn’t us saying, ‘Jim, you’re fired, you’re not here anymore.’ This wasn’t Jim saying, ‘I don’t want to be there, I’m leaving.’ It was a discussion that took place over a decent amount of time to figure out what’s best for everybody involved. It was the conclusion that we came to. It wasn’t an easy conclusion for anybody, but that’s where we ended up.”

Baalke, the general manager, disputed reports that began surfacing early last year that he and Harbaugh were not getting along.

“The relationship between Jim and I, I think oftentimes was very misrepresented in the media. Very misrepresented,” Baalke said. “I don’t read all the accounts but certainly am briefed on things that were going on, and you couldn’t help but notice all the controversy in the articles that were written.”

York and Baalke said they would look for Harbaugh’s replacement together and expected the process would take approximately seven to 10 days. They said they would not reveal who they were eyeing or even if there were any internal candidates, although defensive-line coach Jim Tomsula and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio are widely believed to be in the running.

Instead, both men said they were looking for someone like Walsh, the professorial Pro Football Hall of Fame coach renowned for his ability to teach his players and assistants.

Said York: “What I want to be sure we have is we have somebody that understands that level of teaching, understands how to get more out of less, and continue to build an organization that wins both on and off the field.”

When the 49ers hired Harbaugh in January 2011, his connections to Walsh were a prominent theme.

Like Walsh, Harbaugh had coached at Stanford before joining the 49ers, and he spent several months visiting with Walsh before his death in 2007. And Harbaugh stressed at his introductory news conference he would institute a West Coast offense just like Walsh used.

“I have a picture of him that I look at every day (taped) on my computer screen,” Harbaugh said at the time. “Legendary coach. Great man. ... I have a long way to go and a lot of work ahead of me before any comparison can be made.”

Asked Monday what kind of teacher Harbaugh was, York said, “I thought Jim was great with our quarterbacks. I thought he did a lot of great things from a teaching standpoint.”

Walsh went 2-14 in his first season in San Francisco and 6-10 in his second before winning the first of three Super Bowl titles. Harbaugh went to the NFC Championship Game in his first three seasons and won 49 games in four years with the 49ers.

York strongly intimated he fielded trade requests from other teams for Harbaugh before allowing him to seek his next job independently.

How can York and Baalke expect to bring in someone better than Harbaugh?

“This organization has had to replace some awfully good head coaches in the past, and Jim is no different, a very successful coach,” Baalke said. “Are we confident that we can replace him? You always go into that with that strategy. There’s a lot of good football coaches out there. What we need to do is go out and find a coach that can come in here now and lead this football team.

“We’re not in a rebuild,” he continued. “This isn’t a rebuild situation. This is a reload situation.”

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