Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News certainly created a lot of interest in his debut podcast Friday when he interviewed Jim Harbaugh and got the ex-49ers coach to flat-out say that his departure from the team was not mutual. (Start listening at 8:08 of the audio.)
This is news because if you happened to catch the late-December press conference by 49ers CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke that addressed Harbaugh's exit, you couldn't help but repeatedly hear the word "mutual" in response to the media's mystified and downright hostile questioning about the matter.
In Friday's podcast, after jawing about the current goings-on at Harbaugh's new gig as head football coach at the University of Michigan, Kawakami gets down to brass tacks:
Kawakami: There's been so much comment from Jed York that it was a mutual separation ... that you mutually agreed you wouldn't be the coach. Is that at all true? Is that what happened? Or were you told you wouldn't be the coach anymore?
Harbaugh: Yes, I was told I wouldn't be the coach anymore. You can call it "mutual," I mean, I wasn't going to put the 49ers in a position to have a coach that they didn't want anymore. But that's the truth of it. I didn't leave the 49ers. I felt like the 49er hierarchy left me.
Kawakami: Were you told that the Monday after the game in Seattle?
Kawakami: You could have left at that point. Did you want to coach the final two games just because you wanted to finish this out?
Harbaugh: Yeah, I did. I wanted to finish what I started, what we started. And I have very fond memories of it, I'm never going to take the position, to trash something that I was a part of. The memories that I have, the wins, the championships, the titles, those may be forgotten as time goes on ... but I am never going to forget the players, the loyal coaches, and the memories I have of being part of the San Francisco 49ers team.
Kawakami: When you talk about them letting you know they didn't want you to be there, do you think they had decided that long ago, early in the season almost?
Harbaugh: I don't know. I don't want to speculate. You may know ... better than I know.
Kawakami: (Talking about anonymous comments to the media that Harbaugh's position was tenuous) Well you did ask me after that last game to investigate where those leaks came from. ... I asked Jed York point-blank if he was the leak. He denied it. I have since written I believe he was. How do you think I've reported it so far, Jim?
Harbaugh: I've got a pretty good understanding of some of the things that took place; I don't think we were playing out of the same playbook. Maybe there'll be a book some day ... but those are good questions for him and the 49er hierarchy, and we'll leave it at that.
Kawakami: What was your relationship with Jim Tomsula like toward the end? Did you at all feel like he was campaigning for your job while you still had it?
Harbaugh: That's a good question for him, better than to me.
Here is the full interview transcript.
Kawakami wrote today that he believed Harbaugh's version of how things ended over York's:
Everything Harbaugh said to me on Friday connects logically to the entire series of haphazard events, starting with York taking Cleveland’s call to see if the 49ers might want to trade Harbaugh last February to the leaks sprouting everywhere starting last summer -- almost certainly coming from 49ers management -- that correctly predicted that Harbaugh would not coach into 2015.
Also, there were all the signs from last February on (actually it was before then, even) that York and GM Trent Baalke were very eager to see Tomsula take over from Harbaugh.
Guess what happened: Harbaugh was dispatched and Tomsula was promoted.
Harbaugh’s recounting matches the arc of this exactly -- he was told on Dec. 15 that he wouldn’t be brought back as 49ers coach in 2015 (two weeks after York’s infamous “not acceptable” Tweet), Harbaugh started weighing his other options, left, and after a search by the 49ers, Tomsula got the job.
And Jed York wants to brush it all away by saying it was mutual? That doesn’t fit with any of the real things we know. Harbaugh’s version absolutely does.
This weekend, Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat came to the same conclusion, implying that in any contest between Harbaugh and Jed York as to whose pants are the least fireproof, Harbaugh is going to win. "I don’t believe Jed York is a truth teller," Cohn wrote. "There’s a noun for people who don’t tell the truth."
No response yet -- or maybe ever -- from the 49ers.
But even Alex Smith still can't believe Harbaugh's gone.
In another surprising moment during the interview with Kawakami, Harbaugh said he agreed with the Seahawks' astonishing decision to pass rather than run in the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX, resulting in an interception by Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots and a Seattle loss.
"You know, I really thought they had a good play called," Harbaugh told Kawakami. "That was an insightful play against a goal-line defense, and a really neat combination that they had -- with an inside pick play. It really was open.
"And that young man from the New England Patriots made a play -- I mean, that is a play that the stars of the game don’t make. He made a play that was… at best that ball gets knocked down and incomplete. But to make an interception on that play… what a phenomenal play. That was the play of a lifetime."