49ers Hire Baalke and Nab Harbaugh

by Conor Volpe

With the underwhelming 2010 season behind them, the 49ers brass set their sights on improving their front office and coaching staff for the upcoming season. On Jan. 4, President and Chief Executive Officer Jed York promoted Trent Baalke from vice president of player personnel to general manager. And on Friday, Jan. 7 York formally announced that former Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh would be the new Head Coach of the 49ers.

Before their last game of the season, York fired Head Coach Mike Singletary and made Jim Tomsula the interim head coach, a sign of things to come. The 49ers were then rumored to be front runners for Harbaugh, the hottest commodity on the coaching market. They singled him out as their number one coaching target, and set themselves up to be in perfect position to hire him after the Stanford season had finished.

They interviewed both Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders, and Marvin Lewis, Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, was linked to the job. Both these men would satisfy the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for a head coaching vacancy, and it is speculated that the 49ers interviewed these two to eliminate a potential road block to hiring Harbaugh.

But shortly after the 49ers announced the hiring of Baalke, the Miami Dolphins were rumored to have become major players in the Harbaugh sweepstakes, offering to potentially make him the highest paid head coach in the NFL. The Broncos, with new Executive Vice President of Football Operations and Stanford Alum John Elway were also trying to woo Harbaugh away from the Niners. Harbaugh could also have simply returned to Stanford after the news came out that his star quarterback Andrew Luck had opted to stay in school rather than enter the NFL draft and that Stanford had offered a much larger salary.

The 49ers’ chances of landing Harbaugh seemed to be slipping away, until the first glimmer of hope came on Thursday Jan. 6, when Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross left the bay area without having reached a deal with Harbaugh, and indicated that they were going to go another direction. John Harbaugh, Jim’s brother, also dropped hints that Jim was focused on the NFL and thus Stanford and Jim’s alma mater Michigan were not viable options for Jim.

The 49ers brain trust met with Harbaugh one more time on Thursday, Jan. 6 to make a last run at the coach. Finally the next day, after a week long roller coaster ride, the 49ers got their man. They inked Harbaugh to a five-year, $25 million dollar contract.

The 49ers will trust Harbaugh with the difficult task of not only revitalizing a once proud franchise, but also finding a quarterback for years to come. Harbaugh comes in with a reputation as a quarterback guru, and the Niners hope that he solve their current QB conundrum. They will be looking for possible solutions in the draft, through free agency, and in trades.

Baalke and Harbaugh will work hand in hand to turn the team around. The two self proclaimed football junkies and their young, energetic owner Jed York have a tough task ahead of them. But with the way things have gone so far this season, to 49ers seem to be headed in the right direction.