I know you want to hear more about Alex Boone calling Jim Harbaugh “clinically insane.” Everybody knows that stuff already. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
Tuesday night, HBO is airing a snap shot of Jim Harbaugh’s return to the University of Michigan. What do we learn from the show? That’s what we’ll get into first. Then, we’ll get into what’s wrong with it. And there is plenty wrong with it, including Boone.
In the show, we see how Harbaugh played alone as a boy. His obsessive competitiveness alienated him from others. Kids didn’t want to be around him after a while.
Harbaugh shows us how he played baseball by himself back then in a parking lot he called “the baseball diamond.” He threw a ball at a wall, then he caught the ball on a bounce. That was the game. He played every position and the announcer, too. He had to imagine the whole thing.
“He always won when he played against himself,” said his brother John.
It must be very lonely to be Jim Harbaugh.
After the scene in the parking lot, the show tries to prove that Harbaugh’s obsessive’s nature caused him to wear out his welcome with the 49ers. For evidence, HBO interviewed just one guy who played under Harbaugh during the four seasons he coached the 49ers — Alex Boone.
Before I tell you exactly what Boone said, I have one question.
Where’s the second source?
Newspaper journalists can’t get away with that kind of reporting. The basic rule of journalism is you need two sources. One source could be a lone wolf.
What do we know about this one source? We know he might have an axe to grind.
Boone held out of training camp and didn’t play well last season. Harbaugh might have been down on him. Maybe there was bad blood between them. Boone as a witness seems compromised.
Couldn’t HBO have tracked down a second witness? Hundreds of people played for Harbaugh the past four seasons. Everyone who covers the team knows Joe Staley is the voice of the offensive line, not Boone. Staley talks on behalf of the team after games and during the week. Why didn’t HBO interview him? He would have been credible. If they had interviewed the ball boy, he would have been as credible as Boone.
HBO seems to be going for sensationalism instead of journalism by interviewing just one player. They made the weakest case possible.
We also know that Boone contradicted himself. He stuck up for Harbaugh last year after reports came out that he lost the locker room. This is what Boone told 95.7 the game in September: “I know for a fact that everybody loves Jim Harbaugh. He’s a great guy. How can you not want to win for a guy that wears cleats during the game? Come on now. Have you not seen that guy’s energy? He’s excited 24-7. You’ve got to love to play for a guy like that. That’s what football is all about.”
But here’s what Boone told HBO: “He kind of wore out his welcome. I think he just pushed guys too far. He wanted too much, demanded too much, expected too much … this guy might be clinically insane.”
Boone gave two diametrically opposed opinions in a seven-month span. Maybe he’s the one who’s crazy. Maybe he’s the one who leaked the rumor that Harbaugh lost the locker room. You’ve got to wonder.
Andrea Kremer asked Harbaugh if he thinks he rubs people the wrong way because he wants to win so badly.
“I think most people want to win,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not a fun sport. What you come to love is the struggle of it. I love football. Love it, love it. I think it’s the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in men. In males.”
Great answer. Harbaugh’s job isn’t to make football fun or easy. His job is to win, and he won.
Here’s more from Boone: “I think sometimes when you want to do things your way and only your way, that doesn’t bode well. Especially in the NFL. You have to adapt. You have to learn to work with other people. It’s you and GM; the GM and you.”
Kremer asked, “So you’re not just talking Jim and the players, you’re talking Jim and the front office?”
“Yeah,” said Boone, “The players have nothing to do with him getting fired.”
In other words, the Niners fired Harbaugh because he didn’t get along with Trent Baalke.
What does Boone base his opinion on? Boone is in no position to know how Harbaugh and Baalke worked together behind closed doors.
Maybe Boone knows what he’s talking about. Maybe Harbaugh and Baalke didn’t get along and Harbaugh is clinically insane. Or not. You really won’t learn from this show. Harbaugh remains as much of a mystery as he always has been.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.