By John Boyle
There are plenty of similarities between NFC West rivals Seattle and San Francisco, from their recent success to their tough defenses to their run-first offenses to their hyper-competitive coaches with Pac-10 roots.
Those similarities end, however, when it comes to front-office harmony.
In one of the strangest stories of this NFL offseason—well, aside from this one—ProFootballTalk.com reported Friday that the Browns and 49ers nearly pulled off a trade that would send Jim Harbaugh to Cleveland.
Since then there have been denials, non-denials and a whole bunch of different versions of the story, all of which points to the fact that some sort of conversations indeed happened, though just how serious talks got depends on who you believe.
Regardless of how close Harbaugh was to leaving San Francisco, it brings up the question of how this could have even been a possibility? After all, Harbaugh, for all his quirks, is clearly one of the best coaches in football, so why would the 49ers consider trading him, or for that matter, why would Harbaugh be willing to leave a place where he has had a ton of success to go coach a franchise that has become one of the least stable in the NFL?
Well as it turns out, things may not be so friendly at the top of the 49ers organization when it comes to the relationship between Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke. That’s not actually new news, there have long been rumblings of tension between the two when it comes to the amount of control Harbaugh has—or more accurately, doesn’t have—when it comes to roster decisions, but the report of a near trade and what has come sense shows just how frosty the relationship may be. In the end Harbaugh may get the new contract and more control that he wants and this could end up just being a strange offseason story we forget about, but it could also, as CBSSports.com’s Jason La Canfora suggests, end with owner Jed York having to choose between the two.
Which brings us back to the Seahawks. While the 49ers have shown they can win with Harbaugh and Baalke running things, even if there is conflict there, it hardly seems like an ideal long-term solution. The Seahawks, meanwhile, built a Super Bowl champion in large part because of the structure at the top of their organization.
After seeing the Seahawks deal with some dysfunction and friction within the front office, then-Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke made it a priority to have a coach and GM on the same page when the Seahawks were in the market for both following the 2009 season. Unlike a more traditional structure where the GM would be in place first, then help hire a coach, Leiweke and Seahawks owner Paul Allen hired Carroll first, then let him help in the hiring process that eventually brought John Schneider to Seattle. The relationship those two have formed has been an essential part of Seattle’s success according to both. You can read more about it in this story from January, but here’s a bit of what Carroll said about his relationship with Schneider:
“I think it’s absolutely the most crucial relationship and aspect of our program. All of the decisions that we make, we make together, and the fact that we communicate so well and we trust one another so much, it’s helped us throughout.”
Contrast that with what is going on in San Francisco, and Seahawks fans should feel pretty good about the direction of the franchise going forward.