The end of Jim Harbaugh didn’t take long. The San Francisco 49ers announced they parted ways only minutes after a 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
It was a foregone conclusion as soon as the 49ers were struggling, but the decision could have been made as early as before the season. The negative reports of a near-trade with the Cleveland Browns surfaced in the offseason and there was denial about this. San Francisco did not extend Harbaugh as head coach despite leading them to three straight NFC Championship games in his first three seasons.
Harbaugh had one year remaining on his five-year, $25 million contract which he signed in 2011. Now, he is projected to go to Michigan as the new head coach at the college level, leaving the NFL after four seasons with the 49ers.
Craig Dahl said the winning for Harbaugh only became a tougher road down the stretch. The expectations were too high, according to the 49ers safety.
“When you make it to postseason [with] victories, NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearances in your first year as head coach, basically you’re driven by your success here,” Dahl said after the game. “That’s what the NFL is about.”
The tension and relationship between Harbaugh and the front office including team CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke was a rocky road. York tried covering it up in a tweet, but it didn’t take away the idea that he would be gone after this season.
One factor might have been the loyalty Harbaugh had with his coaching staff. He kept his offensive coordinator Greg Roman through the tough times, despite the team having a below average offense. There was an underlying feeling that the 49ers were riding the coattails of Vic Fangio’s defense throughout these four seasons with subpar play at quarterback.
Harbaugh’s personality was colorful, but he brought a winning culture to the team. The 49ers had 46 wins from 2003-2010 over the course of eight seasons prior to Harbaugh taking over in 2011. Through his last four seasons, Harbaugh had 44 wins in the regular season as well as five in the playoffs where he made the Super Bowl once.
For the future, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is the favorite to land the new head coaching gig. However, the search most likely started before today and they could interview other candidates. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio should be in the conversation as well as a few coordinators at the NFL level.
The 49ers’ window is not over, but they need a coach who can develop Colin Kaepernick offensively. It has been a dismal year on offense with only three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, only two of them coming on offense.
Players and fans alike will miss Harbaugh’s presence, but this chapter in 49ers history has come to a close with a win. Frank Gore had these exact sentiments as he left the game.
“I respect coach Harbaugh,” Gore said. “I respect Jed York. That’s the decision they made. It’s a business. I wish coach Harbaugh the best. He’s a great coach. I liked how he approached the game of football. My best years, they were with him as a team.”