There was no doubt that the brightest news of late for the San Francisco 49ers was the announcement early last January that Jim Harbaugh would be the new head coach. You could almost feel the sigh of relief ripple through the Bay Area, as if the fans said, “Finally, it looks like the organization is doing something right.”
Heading into the 2011 season, however, it remains to be seen how long that warm welcome lasts.
Harbaugh has ascended into a position that seems rich in potential. Here’s why:
The squad has talent; there is no long-term rebuilding needed.
The NFC West again appears woefully weak; not much improvement over last year’s 6-10 record should propel the Niners into the playoffs.
There is an inherent devoted fanbase that will always make the 49ers a top local news story, and the attention brought to any success reaffirms fan affection.
But from the outside we have no idea what goes on in the corridors of power, and looking back, some of the signs were not all that great, starting with the dismissal of head coach Mike Singletary last December and preceded by the firing of former general manager Scot McCloughan about a month prior to the 2010 draft.
Just a couple of months ago, former 49er standout linebacker Gary Plummer was relieved of his job as color analyst on the radio broadcasts. At the time the team gave no official reason why Plummer was let go, though many thought Plummer’s comments on a late-night radio show about his insights into, among other things, sex were responsible.
Plummer, however, claimed his firing stemmed from his criticizing the team’s poor play over the last couple of seasons. The radio comments just gave the team an open door to let him go.
All of this sounds menial, but it does suggest that the powers in the organization, led by owner John York, are very aware of what is said about the team—and nothing gets something said more than a team that doesn’t perform as expected on the field.
In that light, here are five reasons why Harbaugh might find himself on a short leash in 2011.