There's an obvious story line about the coaches' rivalry as the 49ers battle for supremacy in the NFC West with the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday night. As usual, it is Jim Harbaugh who created it.
When Pete Carroll was the defensive coordinator with the 49ers, I talked to him frequently and he was always an even-tempered man. That changed when he was coaching USC and Harbaugh, then coaching Stanford, went for an unnecessary score late in a lopsided win. An angry Carroll said, “What's your deal?” when he passed Harbaugh after the game.
That's Harbaugh. He's done an excellent job of coaching the Niners, recognizing the talent that was there and, with the help of the top coordinators he brought over from Stanford, Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, has built a team that went to the Super Bowl last season.
But he seems to find it necessary to feud with everybody. That includes the NFL itself. The league requires teams to list injured players as questionable, so gamblers don't get inside information, but last week, Harbaugh listed Nnamdi Asomugha as questionable when everybody around the team knew Nnamdi would play.
When the rule about hitting quarterbacks was changed to adjust to the running quarterbacks in the league, Harbaugh immediately wailed about it being unfair. Carroll, who also has a quarterback in Russell Wilson who runs frequently, said the rule change was logical and he had no problem with it.
Harbaugh notoriously feuds with the local media. This is not a personal problem for me. The first time I met with Harbaugh, after he was named coach at Stanford, he gave me a great story, about how his alma mater Michigan was a two-track school, putting athletes into courses that did nothing to educate them. I had not asked about that, but Harbaugh, who went to high school in Palo Alto when his dad was an assistant coach at Stanford, knew I would write that, which many sportswriters would not have.
The next time I saw him he told me, “I'm persona non grata at Michigan now.” That did not bother him. Though there was much media speculation that he would be hired as coach at Michigan, that was never going to happen. After my column in The San Francisco Examiner went national, the school didn't want him and he didn't want the school.
Even at Stanford media meetings, where the questions were usually gentle, he feuded with writers. With the 49ers, he refuses to answer some questions, sidesteps others and questions the integrity of writers.
Most of this seems calculated because he's usually controlled on game day, though he was wound higher than a kite for the Super Bowl last year, which affected his team adversely.
For most games, he's relatively calm on game day. He watches the clock closely, so he can call a timeout quickly if the clock is running down and his team faces a possible delay of game penalty. He listens to coaches in the box on close calls and throws a red flag only when necessary.
This is the Harbaugh I expect to see on the sidelines on Sunday night. After the game? All bets are off.