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SportsMonday: Hire Harbaugh Or Go Home

If Jim Harbaugh doesn't coach the San Francisco 49ers next season, he better be coaching the Bears.

If Niner chairman Jed York, the marital jackpot winner whose father-in-law owned the team when Joe Montana and Bill Walsh made it great, is too foolish to figure out a way to keep Harbaugh on as coach after a contentious 2014 season by the Bay, Bears chairman George McCaskey better not choke on bringing Harbaugh back to Chicago.

Just a quick review: Jim Harbaugh has led the 49ers to the last three conference championship games - three straight conference championship games! Coaches with this sort of record of success become available maybe once a decade. Maybe.

It couldn't be clearer that Marc Trestman has to go. General manager Phil Emery and even Ted Phillips (what is he, team president? I don't think that's his official title but it describes his role) should be given the boot as well. In fact, if there is a Jim Finks type out there, fire everyone, hire the Jim Finks type first as team president and then worry about the general manager and coach.

Finks, of course, was the guy brought in by George Halas in 1974 when old Papa Bear finally figured out he couldn't run things effectively anymore. Finks had spent the previous half dozen years building a Vikings organization that made regular appearances in the Super Bowl for a decade. He went on to build up the Saints before he retired and he was richly deserving when he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Finks used mostly draft picks to bring in the likes of Jim Covert, Dan Hampton and Keith Van Horne (especially in his early years on the job, he almost always took linemen in the first round) and many other future stars. A total of 19 of the team's 22 starters in Super Bowl XX were drafted by the guy who was obviously the most responsible for the Bears' glorious run of success in the 80s.

I don't think there is a Jim Finks type out there (certainly not one with the record of football managerial success Finks brought with him). One suggestion I heard over the weekend was former Bills and Colts executive Bill Polian. Unfortunately, Bill Polian was over the hill more than a decade ago. Oh, and he reportedly doesn't want the job.

So there's a good chance the best thing to do will be to hire as accomplished a head coach as you'll ever find and then work with him to set up the player evaluation hierarchy.

It seems more apparent all the time that Harbaugh is done in San Francisco after this season. There have been many reports that he and General Manager Trent Baalke can't seem to get along. Noted NFL gadfly Jay Glazer reported over the weekend that his sources are telling him the Niners will move on from Harbaugh after this season and try to get compensation from whatever other team then hires him.

There is always the chance that all of this is bullshit. There is the chance that the Niners are posturing in the midst of a tough negotiation with Harbaugh, whom they hope to pay slightly less than he might receive elsewhere. But other, lesser coaches have been worked around like this and other, lesser coaches have bowed out.

As a marital jackpot winner myself, I can't totally slam York. But he is like so many other "owners" of NFL franchises, like the Rooneys in Pittsburgh, the Maras in New York and what is the name of that family that owns the Bears again? York doesn't run the Niners because he worked his ass off, had spectacular success and amassed the riches that enabled him to buy a team. York runs the Niners because he found a way to woo the right woman; they got married and she gave him the keys to the kingdom.

York was inept during the first stretch of his chairmanship. But he struck gold with the hiring of Harbaugh (and he and the franchise benefited from a run of brutally bad seasons that gave the team high draft picks year after year). At the end of the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons, Harbaugh led his team into NFC championship games.

Yes, they didn't win any Super Bowls during that stretch, but come on! Harbaugh kicks ass as a coach and if some people have sore backsides, well, I'm thinking that will be OK with a vast majority of Bears fans.

Apparently because Baalke has hit on a few draft picks, there are numerous people in the 49er hierarchy who think that if Baalke and Harbaugh are struggling to get along, Harbaugh must go. Morons, I know, but hey, stupider things seem to happen in the NFL every year. The initial Ray Rice suspension of two games springs to mind.

There is a chance the league will rule that a team hiring Harbaugh will have to send the Niners compensation. If that happens, the Bears will need to negotiate hard and then pay whatever compensation is required. When the Patriots hired Bill Belichick, the league ruled they had to compensate the Jets with a first-round pick. Last I checked, that decision was working out OK for the Patriots.

Hey George, this is your big chance. If you screw this up, it will be time for you to go as well. And I'm guessing there isn't another McCaskey in the pipeline who can even begin to pretend to have any sort of credentials to run an NFL team. In other words, it would be time for the family to sell.

And maybe even you would acknowledge that that's the way it should be. If ownership of a given team can't produce a winner decade after decade, it is time for new owners no matter how long a family has owned a team.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Oct 22, 2021