So, OK, the 49ers don’t like him. Or some of the 49ers don’t like him. As CEO Jed York tweeted early Sunday in response to a Fox Sports report predicting Jim Harbaugh’s doom at season’s end: “Jim is our coach. We are trying to win a SB, not a personality or popularity contest. Any more questions?”
Of course there are. The questions will just keep coming. The rumor mill churns 24/7 these days. Where there’s smoke, there’s always plenty of hot air.
While old friends Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick spent the week preparing for their reunion at Levi’s Stadium – an entertaining game won by the 49ers 22-17, by the way – speculation about Harbaugh’s future persisted in newspapers and on websites, and was a feast for the many NFL insiders, network analysts and talk-show hosts.
The told-ya-so’s may all prove to be true. Deion Sanders and Trent Dilfer and Jay Glazer, the NFL insider who reported Sunday that Harbaugh is a goner even if the 49ers “hoist the Lombardi,” prompting the hasty tweet from York, may be adept at reading tea leaves and feeling the pulse and accurately predicting some house cleaning in Santa Clara. Tension between Harbaugh and his bosses is an open secret, a festering wound. His coaching history suggests that his smirks and his literary references and his intense personality wear thin after three years, and this is Year Four.
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But just a thought before the hanging. Much of this speculation gained traction when the 49ers were losing. The fact the 49ers (3-2) are winning? That’s another story. Players and front-office types somehow manage to co-exist when the team is moving toward a playoff berth and fans are filling the seats. And since when has the NFL – or professional sports, for that matter – been the backdrop for enduring marriages?
“It’s my job to love them,” Harbaugh said when approached about the reports. “Those players, those coaches, everybody in our organization. It’s their job to love each other. They don’t need to respond in any other way than their job.”
Asked to comment on York’s early morning tweet, Harbaugh as usual, seemed well prepared. “My destiny lies between these walls with these men,” he said.
Against a Kansas City Chiefs team coming off a stunning performance against the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, his men again played to their strengths. Frank Gore carried the ball 18 times for 107 yards. Carlos Hyde ran for 43 yards. The defense deflected passes, pressured Smith and corralled running back Jamaal Charles in the second half. Phil Dawson converted field goals of 31, 55, 52, 27 and 30 yards and was lining up for a 54-yarder when 49ers special-teams coordinator Brad Seely called for the fake.
With the 49ers facing fourth and 1 on the opening possession of the fourth period and the Chiefs leading 17-16, special-teams veteran Craig Dahl lined up at fullback. He took the first snap of his NFL career and drove ahead for 3 yards and the first down.
“Had we not gotten it,” noted Dahl, a former option quarterback in high school, “it would have been almost disastrous for our team.”
Three plays later, Kaepernick unleashed a deep throw down the left sideline to 6-foot wideout Brandon Lloyd, who turned as the ball approached, positioned himself just behind 6-foot-3 cornerback Sean Smith, then elevated and virtually outjumped his defender for a spectacular 29-yard reception.
“That was just some of an in-the-game, instinctual kind of play as opposed to something that we’ve practiced,” Lloyd said after his catch led to the go-ahead field goal by Dawson. “I always like to think of those lobs, whether they’re in the red zone or in the field, as football’s version of the alley-oop. It’s the quarterback understanding the ability of the pass catcher and putting the ball in position where the guy can make the play.”
Could Alex Smith have made that throw? Perhaps, but that was Kaepernick at his best, creative, big-armed, elusive, forever a threat. While the discussion will continue about Harbaugh, about who likes him and who doesn’t, whether he returns next season or he doesn’t, there is little chance of Smith inviting his old coach over for dinner. As the players and coaches mingled on the field afterward, Smith and Harbaugh shook hands, but only briefly. The former 49ers quarterback, clearly not in the mood to play nice, quickly moved on.