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March 25, 2014
Tension at 49ers headquarters? Yes, but they like it that way


ORLANDO, Fla. - Yes, there's been some tension at 49ers headquarters when it comes to fiery Jim Harbaugh and feisty Trent Baalke. "I think I've said this before: 95 percent of the time they're on the same page," team owner Jed York said on Tuesday. "Five percent of the time is gets really interesting."

But according to York, tension isn't always a bad ingredient, and it certainly hasn't hindered the 49ers in recent seasons.

"We've been competing for the Super Bowl - realistically competing for the Super Bowl - for the last three years," York said during a break at the owners' meetings here. "They get along. They're just grinding. They want a ring. And they're trying to battle and fight to get a ring. And sometimes it wears on people. But I like that tension," he continued. "I think they like that tension. And I think both of them compete better when there's something to compete against."

Stories about a cold war between Harbaugh and Baalke, the team's general manager, began emerging last month after news broke that the Browns had inquired about trading for the 49ers' head coach. One national report said that the two don't even talk, communicating instead through emails.

Both York and Baalke on Tuesday insisted the portrait being drawn of two men constantly at each other's throat is overblown. The coach and general manager, in fact, have been observed consulting with one another at the league's hotel in Orlando, and they emerged from one of the many meetings here side by side and laughing.

Said Baalke: "He's our football coach, he's a damn good football coach, and we expect him to be our football coach for a long time."

There also has been plenty of evidence that they have been working together on the roster in recent weeks:

* Baalke handles all trades, but it was obviously Harbaugh who pushed to add former Stanford pupil Jonathan Martin earlier this month. Harbaugh has been one of Martin's most vocal defenders since Martin left the Dolphins last year, and his addition to the 49ers' roster had Harbaugh's fingerprints all over it.

* Baalke also gives Harbaugh license when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks. Harbaugh took a long look at Blaine Gabbert during the 2011 draft, and the 49ers sent a sixth-round draft pick for Gabbert earlier this month.

* The 49ers were one of the teams interested in adding free-agent running back Toby Gerhart but ultimately backed off because they felt Gerhart's asking price was too high. Still, Gerhart was a favorite of Harbaugh's when he played at Stanford, and it's another sign that Harbaugh has been giving his input during free agency.

York also noted that while the relationship between his uncle, long-time owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., and Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh is fondly remembered as one of the finest partnerships in NFL history, it didn't always make for a happy front office.

"Eddie fired Bill five times," York said. "Bill quit four times. It just wasn't in a world of Twitter. You guys aren't writing an article a day. You're writing - how many Tweets do you have a day? It was a different news cycle. It was a different lens into that world."

York reiterated his position that the Browns' overture never was taken seriously. He added a bit to the story today in saying that he tracked down Harbaugh soon after Cleveland made their offer and asked him if he wanted to work for the Browns.

"I said, 'Listen, I just want to ask you, is there any interest on your part? This is the phone call that I got,'" York said. "He said, 'I don't even know what you're talking about.' And that was the end of it."

Harbaugh's brother, John, received a similar reaction when he called Jim asking about the report of a near-trade to Cleveland. That would have put the brothers in the same division.

"I laughed," John Harbaugh said when asked how he reacted to the report. "Well, first I got kind of ticked off because he didn't tell me about this. I'm his brother! I'm supposed to know. I called him, and he just laughed about it."

Jim Harbaugh is three years into the five-year deal he signed in 2011. The two sides broached an extension last offseason but tabled it. York said he expected to resume those talks at some point but did not have a specific target.

"I know he wants to be here," he said. "We want him to be here. I expect to be able to work something out."

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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