The Jim Harbaugh Game: The coach and his world of contradictions

Here is my Monday column on Jim Harbaugh.

SANTA CLARA – Here’s how you play The Jim Harbaugh Game:

Listen to his next interview. Write down the exact time he sets himself up for future contradiction. Then, predict how long it will take for the contradiction to occur – a year, a month, a day, an hour, a minute, etc.

Harbaugh most recently set himself up on June 11. One Bay Area reporter asked Harbaugh if the division rival Seattle Seahawks’ recent PED suspensions concerned him, and Harbaugh said he’s “definitely noticed it,” and wants the 49ers to be “above reproach.”

Thirty-eight days later, the 49ers’ traded for cornerback Eric Wright, whom the NFL suspended last season for four games because he violated the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. He also was arrested for a DUI the weekend before the 49ers traded for him. He failed his physical and the 49ers voided the trade.

So, if you had 38 days in your Jim Harbaugh Game office pool, congratulations, you win a set of steak knives.

Other examples abound of Harbaugh contradicting himself.

The 49ers have yet to discipline Ahmad Brooks for bashing teammate Lamar Divens in the head three times with a glass bottle. Above reproach, indeed.

Harbaugh insisted Alex Smith was the 49ers’ starting quarterback even when Smith sat on the bench watching Kaepernick start. That was Harbaugh contradicting himself and reality, an impressive head-body combo.

Harbaugh always talks about “humble hearts.” Please. Humble is not the word to describe Harbaugh. His sideline etiquette is the opposite of humble. It is arrogant. He rants and raves at officials like a child throwing a tantrum because his parents took away his Schwinn Racer.

And what about his protégé, Colin Kaepernick? Kaepernick kisses his bicep after touchdowns. He showed up to a Fourth of July party shirtless wearing a green-billed Miami Dolphins hat to match his exposed green underwear, then scoffed at 49ers fans who didn’t appreciate the symbolism of his wearing of another NFL team’s logo. Then he posed nude for ESPN the Magazine. Then he went to the ESPY awards looking like a detective from Miami Vice: red blazer, light blue pants, unbuttoned undershirt and sunglasses indoors at night. But his heart was humble.

When Jim Harbaugh first took the job as the 49ers’ head coach in 2011, he didn’t put his foot in his mouth nearly as often. He used Bill Belichick’s style of media relations – never answer anything and say as few words as possible.

It’s not the media’s preference to work with this type of coach, obviously. But fans will put up with that style as long as the coach wins, and so far Harbaugh has won much more than he’s lost.

As long as he’s winning, he might want to go back to the Belichick-style because his current style, if you can call it a style, is getting him into trouble. It’s more like carelessness, a person unconcerned with the meaning of the words he uses. Or if you want to be less generous, you could call it disingenuousness.

We’re not even a week into training camp, and already Harbaugh has set himself up twice.

On Thursday, Harbaugh told reporters it’s his “desire” to re-sign strong safety Donte Whitner, who will be a free agent after this upcoming season. If you’ve kept track at home, Harbaugh publicly has stated a desire to re-sign three players in the past – Dashon Goldson, Randy Moss and Joshua Morgan – and the 49ers re-signed none of them.

In other words, you’re out, Donte.

On Sunday, Harbaugh announced he would “break a long-standing policy not to discuss contracts in the media” for the sake of Tarell Brown. At this point of the news conference, an experienced Jim Harbaugh Gamer should have marked down the time.

Brown lost $2 million of his 2013 base salary for not participating in the 49ers’ voluntary offseason workouts, a contractual technicality neither Brown nor his agent knew about. As a result, Brown, an excellent cornerback, will earn $925,000 this season.

Here’s what Harbaugh said about that: “I just think that there’s a solution there. Don’t know that it’s any one particular thing, but we’ll explore all of those options and find the solution. It’s there, we’ve just got to do some thinking and do some work.

“We’re very motivated to do that because he deserves it, he’s earned it. I don’t want to see him playing for the minimum when he’s a starting, top-end player.”

Oh, boy.

Did you have to say all of that, Jim? Did you gain anything by breaking your own policy?

If you’re going to find a solution for Brown, find it. Don’t tell us. It’s tough for a veteran Harbaugh Gamer to trust you.

We’re currently at Day 2 and counting.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

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