We've decided to take a closer look at the three most likely candidates for the open head coaching position at Kansas. This week, I was able to have a chat with David Fucillo over at Niners Nation, the SBNation site for the San Francisco 49ers. He was kind enough to give us some details on how likely it might be for us to land him and what we can expect if we did.
RCT: There had been a much publicized rift between Harbaugh and the front office on San Francisco since the offseason started. How much truth do you think there is to this, and if there is one, what do you think the REAL reason behind it is (FO philosophy, player complaints, etc.)?
NN: The primary issue seems to be that Jim Harbaugh does not have a warm and cuddly personality, and it can be difficult to work with that over an extended period of time. Add in how close the 49ers have come to winning a Super Bowl each of the last three years, and tensions are raised to a certain degree.
There have been player complaints in the news, but I don't think that contributes to any rift between Harbaugh and the 49ers front office. And there probably are some philosophical differences (the drafting of LaMichael James being the most notable example), but if Harbaugh leaves after this season, it will seemingly be because of personality conflicts more than a specific football-related issue.
RCT: After having read more and more reports indicating that Harbaugh is done after this season, it's starting to sound like small issues are being blown up way out of proportion. Is it fair to say that Harbaugh's attitude has made him a convenient scapegoat to hide a deeper issue with adding and ineffective personnel?
NN: There have been some question marks with some draft picks in recent years, but I don't really think that is a problem. The 49ers 2011 and 2014 draft classes have been fantastic. The 2012 draft class was a dud, with first round pick A.J. Jenkins traded after only one season, and LaMichael James released due to unhappiness with his role. But I don't think personality conflicts are being used as a scape-goat. Jim Harbaugh is a unique personality, and I just don't think a lot of issues that normally would apply actually do apply to him. Reporters talk about him potentially wanting more money or more power. I don't think that's it. He wants to win in the absolute worst way, and that seemingly cut-throat mentality will rub some people the wrong way over time. I'd recommend reading this article, to get a better handle on Jim Harbaugh's personality.
RCT: Do the 49ers have to win the Super Bowl this year to save his job? Or is that even enough?
NN: I don't know if I would view it as "saving his job" because that implies he absolutely wants to stay. I don't think Jim Harbaugh really concerns himself with the future too much, because that takes away from winning football games today. If they win the Super Bowl, I think he probably stays, but I can't even say that with certainty. It's a really weird situation because again, it comes down to Jim Harbaugh not having the same motivations as a lot of people.
RCT: One of the complaints I've heard about Harbaugh is that he tries to run the locker room like he is still on a college campus. Do you agree with the sentiment that his coaching style is better suited for the college game?
NN: I could see it being better suited for the college game, but in the short term it clearly can work with the right NFL team. People have said issues with Harbaugh date back to 2012, when the team pursued quarterback Peyton Manning. Considering they went to the Super Bowl the following season, and the NFC title game the year after that, clearly a professional group of players can handle it. When it comes to personalities, a coach is never going to have every single player loving him. And if every player does love the coach, I actually think oftentimes that team is probably not playing as well as it can. There is something to be said for keeping players on edge. I think some 49ers players love Jim Harbaugh, some don't like him at all, and others are in the middle. There are always going to be a mix of reactions to a personality like his.
RCT: Assuming he is gone next year, do you think Harbaugh would end up heading back to college, or is he more likely to take another try in the NFL (I've heard rumors connecting him to the Jets)?
NN: He has been connected to the Browns and Dolphins at times. If he wins a Super Bowl this year, and decides to part ways with the 49ers, I very well could see him ending up back in college. If the 49ers come up short of the Super Bowl, I don't think he leaves the NFL. He denies a rivalry with Pete Carroll, but I don't think he leaves the NFL without a Super Bowl, or at least another crack at it. Additionally, given that he is signed through the 2015 season, if the 49ers decide to part ways with him, a trade within the NFL results in draft picks, while letting him leave for a college results in just cash.
RCT: It appears that the two college programs that Harbaugh spurned for the 49ers job will both be available to him again this time around. What chance do you give to each of Michigan and Kansas in landing him as their next head coach?
NN: I'd say Michigan has the better shot given his history with them. Kansas is in it I think because his wife has family there. There have been reports recently that Harbaugh's wife wants to stay in the Bay Area, so take that however you want. Maybe he ends up with the Raiders, I don't really know.
RCT: You've been through a rebuilding process with Harbaugh when he took over for Mike Singletary. What can we expect in the first few months after he is hired (assuming he comes here of course)?
NN: It wasn't a typical rebuilding process. First, the 49ers actually had a good deal of talent in place, it's just Mike Singletary was an awful head coach. They brought in some defensive talent, and a notable center, but I think it was less about the talent and more about the coaching staff. The big thing with Harbaugh is that he has done a great job creating great coaching staffs. That will be the critical part if he ends up coming to Kansas (or wherever).
The other reason this was not a typical rebuild is because he was hired right before the 2011 lockout. Alex Smith was set to depart in free agency, but he agreed to come back after meeting with Harbaugh, and that is one reason they were able to hit the ground running when the lockout ended. Smith led lockout workouts and knew the playbook, which is something they would not have had with a brand new quarterback after the lockout. But I think that goes to Harbaugh understanding circumstances and being able to work with them.
RCT: Is Harbaugh really the rebuilding guru he has the reputation for, or was he just fortunate to catch lightning in a bottle twice with quarterbacks who has magical seasons? Basically, do you think he could be successful at a place like Kansas?
NN: Jim Harbaugh can be successful almost anywhere. You have to remember, he started his college coaching career at the University of San Diego, and helped turn Josh Johnson into an NFL-caliber quarterback. He has benefited from good situations, so we won't ignore that. When he chose San Francisco over Miami, it likely had something to do with the 49ers having more talent on hand. However, the rebuilding guru reputation is still fitting. You don't do great work in three consecutive head coach jobs without knowing what you're doing.
Thanks to David for joining us. Hopefully we get the chance to collaborate again in the future.