They were the hottest head coach-quarterback tandem at the end of the 2012 season. Now, they're both at risk of being let go by the San Francisco 49ers.
Welcome to the reality facing Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick, who have failed each other in 2014.
It's hard to decide who failed who more. For example, is it the quarterback's fault for regressing, or is it the head coach's fault for not coaching him better?
Either way, Harbaugh essentially drafted Kaepernick, started him and had influence in acquiring the pieces around him. If one blames Kaepernick for the 49ers' demise, he or she must then blame Harbaugh, too.
With the 49ers eliminated from playoff contention and essentially in offseason mode, now would be a good time to give a head coach a vote of confidence—an assurance that he's wanted for the final season of his contract. Instead, CEO Jed York has made no indication that Harbaugh will be San Francisco's head coach in 2015.
Not surprisingly, Harbaugh has also made no clear indication that he wants to be back next season, though there is this ambiguous quote, per Tim Kawakami of Bay Area News Group:
With "the end" of his 49ers tenure potentially two weeks away, why would he make clear commitment?
York's silence about Harbaugh's future has been noticeable all season. It's created the perception that there's an internal struggle between York/Trent Baalke and Harbaugh.
It's as if Harbaugh never coached San Francisco to three straight NFC title games.
Regardless, Harbaugh's immediate future is rich with potential.
On Wednesday, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Michigan offered him a six-year, $48 million contract.
Harbaugh could leave for the college ranks at any time, whereas he'd have to be traded or fired to coach in the NFL next season. If one of the latter options occurs, the Oakland Raiders are one of many teams who are interested, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported.
No matter what happens, Harbaugh will be compensated quite well. His coaching reputation is not under any immediate fire.
There's no question Harbaugh's future is more cloudy than Kaepernick's at the moment. Yet, it's Kaepernick's with more at stake in the coming days and months.
Prior to the 2014 season, Kaepernick signed a six-year extension worth up to $126 million. However, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that only $13 million of it was guaranteed at signing. Every year before April 1, the 49ers can cut him before that year's salary becomes guaranteed (unless he's injured, in which case that year's salary is guaranteed).
Harbaugh has been Kaepernick's biggest supporter publicly during his four-year NFL career. With the possibility of a new regime, will the 49ers back Kaepernick unconditionally in the future?
That's where things get even more cloudy. Baalke and York liked Kaepernick enough to give him a lengthy extension, but they also must be worried about his trajectory.
My guess is they'll give Kaepernick one more season to figure things out. But if he doesn't improve, they'll have to look for a better starting quarterback.
At the least, the 49ers will either draft or acquire a quarterback to compete with Kaepernick in the 2015 offseason. They'd be crazy not to. Kaepernick has just one touchdown pass and four interceptions in his past three games. Of the 29 qualified quarterbacks, he has the lowest Pro Football Focus Quarterback Rating (subscription required) during that stretch.
The 27-year-old is 4-2 in the playoffs and 28-15 overall. He's earned another chance, another season. But he's 0-0 under coaches not named Harbaugh.
A clean slate might be just what the doctor ordered, but it could also mean his past accomplishments will be less valued.
Speaking of past accomplishments, it wasn't too long ago that the football community was singing the praises of both Harbaugh and Kaepernick.
For the coach and quarterback to make it back to the NFL's biggest stage, it's looking more and more likely that they'll have to complete the journey apart.
Though it was a productive partnership, it will be forever stained by their 2014 failures.