Winning May Not Be Enough To Save Jim Harbaugh, And That's Sad

By Andrew Fisher
Jim Harbaugh
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Coaching in the NFL is tricky business. It’s a job fit for very few. Just being a good football mind isn’t enough. To be a head coach in the NFL, not only do you have to know your Xs and Os in-and-out, you have to be a leader of men. Without players buying in to what the head coach is selling, you can basically throw all of the Xs and Os out the window.

One of the oldest cliches in sports still mostly holds true — winning cures all. But in the unique case of Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers, winning it all may not even be enough.

The 49ers are off to a modest 2-2 start in 2014. Things could be worse, but they could certainly be better. Rumors are flying all over the place that Harbaugh has lost his team, specifically the veterans, for treating players like children.

Deion Sanders is one popular football personality who’s publicly speculated about Harbaugh’s status in the 49ers’ locker room. Primetime believes, from what he can see and from what he’s heard, that the 49ers are not bought in to what their outspoken head coach is selling.

Harbaugh has come out and called Sanders’ comments “a bunch of crap.”

No matter which side you’re on, it’s pretty clear that there are issues in San Fran. It’s just a question of how big the issues are.

If you were going to place a bet on whether or not Harbaugh returns to the 49ers in 2015, it somehow seems like the safe bet is ‘no’ at this point. At minimum he’ll need to make the playoffs to have a leg to stand on. Anything short of the postseason will undeniably be a failure for a team that’s been to the NFC title game three straight years.

But when you look at the scheme of things, we’re talking about a 49ers team that went from treading water, to competing for a championship in just three-plus seasons under Harbaugh (and really it only took him one season to turn things around).

Let this sink in: once the Steve Young era ended after the 1998 season, the 49ers managed to win just 78 games prior to Harbaugh’s arrival. In the time since his arrival, San Francisco has already won 38 games. That means by the end of his fourth year at the helm, he’ll have won well over half as many games as the Niners did from 1999-2010.

As we’re seeing, however, winning may not be enough. You never know how much gossip to believe, but given that the ‘lost locker room’ rumors haven’t quieted down, you have to believe there’s some truth to them. After all, Harbaugh’s fiery personality is certainly not for everyone.

But what do these players who are allegedly unhappy want? Do they want to be coddled? Do they need more pats on the back? Just what in the heck did they sign up for when they decided to play professional football?

I know why Harbaugh signed up to be the 49ers head coach — TO WIN FOOTBALL GAMES.

That’s what he does. He’s good at it.

His antics along the way can be eye-rolling at times, but there’s little evidence to support that the guy doesn’t know what he’s doing. And as for those rumors about him treating players like children — isn’t it possible that those players are acting childish and that Harbaugh just isn’t going to put up with it?

If the 49ers aren’t content with being a top-tier NFC team again, then maybe it’s time they go in another direction. Harbaugh definitely won’t have trouble finding another team that appreciates his coaching ability.

Still, even with all the turmoil, don’t write the 49ers or their head coach off quite yet this season. There’s a ton of football still to be played. Things could take a turn either way. But as of now, as strange as it sounds, Harbaugh seems like a long shot to return in 2015.

Maybe winning isn’t everything anymore?

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