San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh can be petulant, stubborn, overbearing and unlikable. And a majority of NFL franchises would take him in a heartbeat.
It seemed wild and a bit humorous when reports surfaced that the Cleveland Browns tried to finagle a trade for Harbaugh, a move that hasn't happened since the Oakland Raiders “traded” Jon Gruden to the Buccaneers years ago. You could call Cleveland's ownership desperate to try such a move. I'd call it desperate to win.
Whether you like Harbaugh's style, he knows how to build a winning team and do it in a hurry.
He won big at Stanford, with the benefit of smartly recruiting a quarterback named Andrew Luck. He has been great with the 49ers, who have won 41 regular-season and postseason games in his three seasons, tied with New England for the most in that period.
He's led the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games and one Super Bowl appearance. If it weren't for his brother's team, he'd have a ring.
Outside of a handful of teams in the league, a coach-for-coach or draft-picks-for-coach trade for Harbaugh would be an upgrade.
The word out now is that Harbaugh has a combative (but “healthy”) relationship with 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. Harbaugh is also seeking a contract extension as his name has come up as a possibility for high-profile college jobs.
Why would he want to go back to college coaching? The headaches of recruiting and NCAA regulations drain many a coach of time for what he does best, which is X's and O's and strategy. Colleges aren't any more patient with coaches than NFL franchises these days. College “interest” in him is a nice negotiating tool, however.
One question about Harbaugh is whether his style can succeed over a long haul. Coaches staying for long tenures with one franchise are relatively rare in recent times, with the exceptions of Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin. The gung-ho, emotional, animated approach of Harbaugh has the potential to wear thin, especially if the Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks continue to hold the upper hand in the NFC West and the NFL at large.
Last year's postseason appeared to show that the 49ers were the second-best team in their division and the NFL. They have an opportunity to upgrade with a nice number of high-round draft picks, particularly for a successful team.
They need to settle the Harbaugh matter, however.
There's no question he's a skilled coach who can find ways to win immediately. His next task is to figure out how to catch and pass longtime nemesis Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. Both teams are set at the pivotal position of quarterback, although Harbaugh needs to find a way to push Colin Kaepernick to greater heights and consistency.
The NFC West looks to be the most competitive of all divisions, given the energy Bruce Arians has brought to Arizona and Jeff Fisher has provided to St. Louis. Neither of those teams is as loaded as Seattle or San Francisco, but it's close.
If the 49ers don't catch and pass the Seahawks next season, and Harbaugh's relationship with his general manager remains feisty, a change could bubble up.
I guarantee other NFL teams will have openings after the 2014 season, some predictable, some not. This is an impatient league. Harbaugh would be a quick fix for any impatient team with enough talent.
Cleveland's trade proposal might end up proving the Browns were actually ahead of the game for once.