Does 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh deserve $7 mil a year?


Debates continue about what free agent the 49ers should sign first. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin? Safety Donte Whitner? Quarterback Colin Kaepernick? Kicker Phil Dawson? But another contract looms over this organization – head coach Jim Harbaugh’s.

Harbaugh is entering the fourth season of a five-year, $25 million deal and CEO Jed York voiced a desire to extend Harbaugh’s contract in December.

“Now’s not the right time to get into a deep contract discussion,” York told KNBR-AM. “But he knows we want him here long term, and we’ll sit down at the end of the season, we’ll assess like we always do. And I definitely anticipate Jim being here for a long period of time.”

But at what price?

Harbaugh, like most NFL coaches, does not have general manager powers. The roster and the draft are under GM Trent Baalke’s control. Nevertheless, the parameters of a new deal for Harbaugh are likely to approach $7 million a year.

Saints coach Sean Payton is the highest paid at $8 million a year. Pats coach Bill Belichick is second at $7.5 million per, and an interesting trio are next at $7 million – Harbaugh’s older John (Ravens), and NFC West coaches Jeff Fisher (Rams) and Pete Carroll (Seahawks).

Here are reasons why Harbaugh deserves to join the $7 million club and some reasons he doesn’t.


1. Harbaugh has little or no input on the best part of the team – the defense. On offense he helps create game plans, but is not the main signal caller. That job is Greg Roman’s alone with suggestions from quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, receivers coach Johnny Morton and Harbaugh.

2. Harbaugh has been unable to fix the team’s play transmission. In almost every game, there is a period of chaos that results in needless time-outs and delay of game penalties. His game management can at times be perfect, and other times, messy at best.

3. As the face of the franchise, Harbaugh gets mixed results. He’s often dismissive of questions and he allows the minimum amount of access as dictated by NFL rules. However, he can be highly quotable at times and when asked about having an openly gay player on his team he said that he has no “discrimination in his heart,” which is exemplary.

4. By his own admission, Harbaugh is “moody and complex” and that can wear on people. Many predict Harbaugh will alienate those around him so much that management will have little patience if the team starts to lose.


1. He wins. Even though the 49ers have not won a Super Bowl, going to the NFC title game three straight years is almost more impressive. I did say “almost.” Teams that typically go to Super Bowls get picked clean by free agency and are exhausted by their championship runs. For example, the Giants and Ravens mounted feeble title defenses. Meanwhile, the 49ers have stayed competitive and will probably be a front runner again this year.

2. Since they are the ones who talk to the media the most, head coaches get way too much credit for wins and losses. Players spend 15 minutes to a half hour with head coaches in full team meetings every day. Position coaches and coordinators are the ones who do the real developing of players and game plans. That’s why a coaching staff is far more important than the head coach, and that plays into Harbaugh’s strength. His staff might be the best in the league and he has a endless list of coaches who want to join him.

3. Being moody and complicated are standard traits for successful head coaches. Belichick, for example, cheated on his wife with his secretary – not a sterling example of character. He’s also a verified cheater and what does he get for all of that? $7.5 million a year. Bill Walsh was notoriously difficult. Then owner Eddie DeBartolo probably fired him 10 times and Walsh probably quit 10 more times. But long-time executive John McVay was able to soothe hurt feelings on both sides to make the relationship between volatile owner and head coach last for a decade.

Given all this, would you sign Harbaugh to a long-term this off-season?

A UCLA alum, Kevin has been covering the San Francisco 49ers and NFL for over 23 years. A passionate beat writer as Kevin has been working with SF Gate for the past 7 years while also being a regular host on KNBR 680, he will be covering all things 49ers. From training camp to the games, Kevin provides an abundance of knowledge that is invaluable to Bay Area sports fans.