SANTA CLARA — The way his big brother tells it, Jim Harbaugh never minded the regular moves every few years for his father’s football coaching jobs because he needed a change in towns to find fresh surroundings and make new friends given how quickly he ran them off.
Fast forward about four decades and Harbaugh is in the fourth year of his $25 million, five-year contract coaching the 49ers, and the relationship might be wearing thin despite success on the field. Harbaugh carries on amid speculation he is grating on everyone from his players to the front office and could be on his way out.
Not that Harbaugh pays much attention to the constant, weekly scuttlebutt. Or, if he does notice, he walks through the hallways and locker room at new Levi’s Stadium seemingly unfazed.
“Some people hate you, some people love you, and most of those people don’t even know you,” he said this past week. “You take it with a grain of salt, smile, and go about your business.”
He doesn’t have to look far to get a lift. Harbaugh has a long list of well-used quirky phrases, and plenty of other inspirational quotes hanging on the walls at team headquarters. He recites politicians, military men and former coaches like his father and Bo Schembechler.
“I was, and still am, happier than a pig in slop,” he revealed a day after turning 50 last December and following a thrilling Monday night win against Atlanta in the NFL finale at Candlestick Park.
To start a new season, he will offer, “They’re cheerful and undefeated” to describe the rookies.
So far this season, it hasn’t always been so cheerful. Harbaugh has dealt with serious issues, from domestic violence allegations against defensive lineman Ray McDonald and linebacker Aldon Smith’s nine-game suspension. Still, the 49ers were 4-3 going into their bye weekend and very much in the chase for the NFC West crown — again.
What makes Harbaugh tick? That’s simple: winning.
Two Novembers ago, he promoted Colin Kaepernick to starting quarterback when Alex Smith had been on one of the best rolls of his career before suffering a concussion.
As far as the critics, Harbaugh might just shrug and shout, “Attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind!” or “Who’s got it better than us? No-body!”
Not everybody agrees with Harbaugh quite so well.
Whether he and CEO Jed York will find common ground is unclear. York said after last year he hoped to sit down with the coach this past offseason to work out a new deal.
It’s difficult to imagine Harbaugh would be back in 2015 without one, serving as a lame-duck coach in the final year of his contract. If he doesn’t return, Harbaugh would be in high demand. His alma mater, Michigan, might be in the market for a new coach, as well as the team that gave him his coaching start, the Oakland Raiders.
Some believe he has too much pride to go back to the college game without a Super Bowl ring. Especially because brother, John, and biggest rival, Pete Carroll, both have one — each beating the Niners on the way to a championship.
The 49ers have reached three straight NFC title games.