What’s a Harbaugh worth?

Here is my Wednesday column on Jim Harbaugh.

Under no circumstances should the 49ers give Jim Harbaugh a contract extension this offseason. Let him play out the final two years of his deal. Or let him win a Super Bowl before giving him a raise.

Apparently, Harbaugh wants to be the highest-paid head coach in the NFL. Hey, so do I, but I don’t deserve to be. Harbaugh doesn’t deserve to be, either, although he is a good coach and I’m just a writer.

Harbaugh fashions himself a quarterback guru, but none of his quarterbacks has been Pro Bowlers during his three seasons coaching the 49ers. That’s a mark against him.

And he hasn’t won a Super Bowl despite coaching the best roster in the league. That’s a bigger mark against him. Everyone concedes the 49ers’ roster has no holes. The only franchise that might have a better roster than the 49ers is the Seahawks, but the Niners have better wide receivers, better tight ends, better offensive linemen, better defensive linemen and better linebackers than Seattle.

The biggest difference between the 49ers and the Seahawks is coaching.

The 49ers are about as good as they can be given the current salary cap. They will not get much better, economics simply won’t allow it. They might even get worse as Justin Smith and Frank Gore get older.

If Harbaugh couldn’t win a Super Bowl coaching this team when Smith and Gore were in their primes, maybe Harbaugh can’t win a Super Bowl coaching any team.

Could Bill Belichick have won the Super Bowl coaching the 49ers the past three seasons?


Could Sean Peyton?


Pete Carroll?


John Harbaugh?


Tom Coughlin?


Mike Tomlin?


Six head coaches right off the bat who deserve to make more money than Harbaugh.

Then, I count four more coaches who have not won a Super Bowl, but may have been able to win one had they coached Harbaugh’s Niners. I’m talking Andy Reid, Bruce Arians, Jeff Fisher and Chip Kelly.

That’s 10 coaches. I didn’t even list retired coaches, like Bill Cowher and Dick Vermeil. You could dig up Vince Lombardi’s bones tomorrow, and the bones could coach the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory.

There are only 10 coaches in the NFL who currently earn more money than Harbaugh. The 49ers compensate him appropriately.

Even if the 49ers choose to extend Harbaugh’s contract just to make him happy, doing so would not improve his relationship with 49ers’ general manager Trent Baalke. Extending Harbaugh’s contract would make their relationship even worse. Those two almost certainly talk little these days.

After the 49ers beat the Packers at Lambeau Field during the playoffs, I witnessed an interaction between Harbaugh and Baalke I’ve been re-watching in my mind ever since.

The game had just ended. Harbaugh was bursting with pride, happier than I had ever seen him. At his postgame press conference, as soon as he made eye contact with me he blurted out, “You didn’t think we were going to pull that out, did you?!” He even kissed a couple of writers on the head. He walked through the locker room and hugged every player and coach he saw. Then he stood in a doorway between the locker room and the buses so he could hug more people as they left.

Frank Gore walked into the doorway, hugged Harbaugh, and then hugged Greg Roman – one of those rocking-back-and-forth hugs that last 30 seconds.

Then Baalke walked into the doorway. He didn’t even break stride for Harbaugh. Baalke tapped him on the thigh as if to say, “Atta boy,” and kept walking. Harbaugh nodded and didn’t say a word. You can interpret that any way you want. To me, they didn’t seem like buddies.

The 49ers should trade Harbaugh right now. That would be their best move. Find a team he’s willing to coach and trade him there. The draft picks the 49ers would receive would be worth more to them than Harbaugh. I am not saying he’s a bad coach. He’s good. I’m saying the draft picks are worth more to the Niners than he is. Every first and second-round draft pick is a potential franchise player.

Harbaugh’s best quality is he gets his players to play hard. If the 49ers trade Harbaugh, they easily could promote defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to head coach. Tomsula could get the 49ers top-notch roster to play just as hard as Harbaugh gets them to play, and Tomsula would cost the 49ers about half of what Harbaugh earns.

But the 49ers probably will not trade Harbaugh. They’d have to find a real sucker to pull off that blockbuster. Mike Lombardi, the Browns’ G.M., almost was that sucker, but the Browns owner, Jimmy Haslam, fired Lombardi before Lombardi could pull off that trade and do more damage to the Browns.

Why should any team trade draft picks or players or cash for Harbaugh? He has a history of becoming disenchanted and difficult after just three years with any organization, and he will demand to be the highest-paid coach in the NFL, and he will demand total control over the personnel even though he has no experience evaluating players – that’s Baalke’s job.

If a team actually were to trade for Harbaugh, it would have to give up multiple draft picks for him. It would be years before that team could compete for even a division title. The Browns would have had no chance to compete if they had traded for Harbaugh. They would have been a talentless team with no way to improve.

But a trade probably won’t happen. Neither should an extension. The 49ers and Harbaugh have to find a way to work together for two more years.

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

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