Harbaugh and the media
by Glenn Dickey
Dec 27, 2014

When Jim Harbaugh was hired as head coach for the 49ers, I knew his relationship with the media would be rocky, because I’d witnessed his media sessions when he was head coach at Stanford.
The media conferences at Stanford had been tame affairs before Harbaugh arrived. The writers and broadcasters never challenged the coach. When Tyrone Willingham was coach, he’d answer a few powder puff questions and walk out after about 10 minutes. That, not incidentally, was why I wrote later in The Chronicle that Willingham would not make it at Notre Dame, where he’d face a media blitz like that for an NFL team.
When I was interviewed about Willingham by ESPN, the woman interviewing me said, “You’re the only one I’ve heard who has that opinion.”
My reply: “So?”
Willingham’s first team at Notre Dame started strongly but it was all downhill for him after that, until he got fired. It wasn’t long before he was out of coaching.
Harbaugh quickly turned Stanford from a doormat into a team that won the Orange Bowl in his last season, so the media coverage became much more intensive. I was at one session when he got into a shouting match with a writer who wanted to know if a wide receiver who was injured would be healthy enough to play on Saturday.
“If I tell you,” Harbaugh said, “everyone will know.”
He was right, of course. College coaches are not required to discuss players’ injuries, so if one does, he gives the coach for his next opponent an advantage.
The NFL has a strict policy about revealing injuries and the likelihood that an injured player will play in the next game. That’s to prevent gamblers from having knowledge that bettors don’t have. When I first came to The Chronicle in 1963, when the NFL didn’t have that policy, we’d often get calls about players. Since it was obvious that the callers were gamblers, we didn’t give out any information but that might not have been true on other papers.
Harbaugh has adhered to the NFL rules in reporting injuries but he will not criticize players. Nor will he dignify reports that he’s been undermined by the front office.
Lately, he’s refused to answer questions about Michigan’s interest in having him return as head coach. When I interviewed him shortly after he’d been hired at Stanford, he sharply criticized Michigan’s “two-track” system of putting athletes who were not interested in academics in courses that would do nothing but keep them eligible. He knew I’d write that, of course, and he was quite pleased that the Michigan administration was very unhappy with him.
Now, Michigan is quite eager to get him to return as coach and the athletic director has told the media that they’d pay him $8 million a year.
So, at his weekly meetings with the media, there have been constant efforts to get him to comment on that. He has stonewalled on every question.
It bothers me that writers and broadcasters are so lazy, that they don’t seek out people who know Harbaugh who might give them a hint about his thinking, or talk to the Michigan people to see if there had been any contact.
Most likely, nothing would come of that but there’s always a chance they’d get something. They know that Harbaugh will not answer anything he doesn’t want to answer. So, why keep butting your head against a wall?
Meanwhile, there’s constant speculation that he’ll take the job, without one bit of corroboration.
I’m sure Harbaugh loves this because Michigan and the media are setting his salary level: Whoever gets him will have to pay $8 million a year.

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