At this point in time, the San Francisco 49ers have absolutely no incentive to acknowledge that the rumors of head coach Jim Harbaugh‘s near departure to the Cleveland Browns are true. It does them no good to fuel the talk of internal strife within the Niners’ front office, and they’re smart to come out in unison to try and put a quick end to these rumors.
But as the old saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
The Browns’ non-denial of this rumor spoke just as loudly as an outright admission. On Jan. 23, the day that the Browns announced that Mike Pettine would be their next head coach, former CEO Joe Banner admitted that their was another “mystery candidate” in the mix. When asked directly about the Harbaugh rumors, the team responded with a statement that read, “The team conducted an extensive coaching search, and explored several options. That search produced an outstanding head coach in Mike Pettine, and we’re excited about his future with the club.”
Could the Browns have been intentionally coy regarding the matter to try and gain clout with their fan base? They did grow collectively angrier and angrier as the team’s coaching search labored on, with potential coaches like Adam Gase failing to reciprocate interest. We still have more questions than answers at this point, and if the Niners have their way, then this foggy view of the situation will likely persist.
The most inconvenient fact of this matter for the Niners’ front office is that until Harbaugh is signed to some form of a contract extension, pundits and fans alike will continue to speculate on what the primary issues are. Is this solely based on Harbaugh’s desire for a top-tier contract? Niners CEO Jed York has said that until he wins a Super Bowl, he won’t be compensated like a coach who has. Is this a result of the tension between general manager Trent Baalke and Harbaugh over personnel decisions?
For now, the only option that the 49ers have is to deny, deny, deny and hope that the noise from this week’s NFL Combine drowns out the gossip.