SANTA CLARA – Neither CEO Jed York nor general manager Trent Baalke have come close to publicly expressing any second-thoughts about moving on from coach Jim Harbaugh after the 2014 season.
Sources close to the 49ers’ top executives have told CSNBayArea.com over the past 18 months that they have never heard any regrets in private moments, either.
Although Baalke made a point to say an attribute he highlighted about new coach Chip Kelly was not a reflection on anybody else, it was impossible not to draw some conclusions about prior relationships at the top of the organization.
Kelly was generally not known for his openness and communication skills during his three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. But when asked about how Kelly interacts with players, coaches and staffers, Baalke spoke about his consistency.
“He’s the same guy every day,” Baalke said. “He’s on point. He’s a very good communicator. He’s very concise in his communication with the players. They know exactly what he’s looking for, as does his staff. He’s demanding without being demanding, if that makes sense.
“I can’t talk about what happened in Philly. I can just tell you from my standpoint, communication has been natural and easy ... There’ve been no issues with lines of communications or thoughts or organizational structure.”
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Harbaugh once half-jokingly described himself during his first season with the 49ers as “moody and complicated.” The 49ers thrived under his command in his first three seasons, advancing to the NFC Championship Game three times, including a trip to the Super Bowl.
But just minutes after the 49ers finished with an 8-8 record, an at-least partially disgruntled locker room and fractured relationships throughout the building, the organization and Harbaugh announced a “mutual parting.” Later, Harbaugh said on Tim Kawakami’s podcast there was nothing mutual about it.
"I didn't leave the 49ers," Harbaugh said. "I felt like the 49er hierarchy left me."
Prior to coaching his final game with the 49ers, Harbaugh agreed to return to his alma mater to begin the process of resurrecting the Michigan program. Harbaugh’s team exceeded expectations in his first season, and now he appears to have his program in the national championship hunt.
This week on the Rich Eisen Show podcast, the host asked York about whether he is surprised how open, fun-loving and quirky Harbaugh has been since taking over at Michigan.
“That’s Jim,” York said. “I think he does a good job of being loose and being free like that. I think the college kids respond to it. And, certainly in an age of social media, I think you see high-school kids look at how open he is and sort of how he communicates with them directly or indirectly through social media. And I think it certainly gives Jim an advantage in terms of being able to recruit.”
The 49ers virtually overnight went from being a team with a nucleus of veteran, proven players (and head coach) to fielding a squad last season with a mostly inexperienced group of players (and head coach) that struggled to be competitive.
After one season, an overmatched Jim Tomsula was out. And Kelly was in – just two weeks removed from a chaotic final season with the Eagles.
“I’m sure he’s made a few tweaks and doesn’t want to have the same comments at the end of this year,” 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “I think he’s done that and learned from his mistakes, if there were some, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Said 49ers safety Eric Reid, “From the things that I heard last year, just watching TV, if it is what they said it was, I think he’s learned from his experience. I think he got better from it.”
The position of general manager requires frequent and open communication with the head coach. Baalke said the first offseason of working with Kelly has gone smoothly.
“Until you work with someone, you never know how they’re going to react to different things,” Baalke said. “And regardless of how much you try to block out what you read or what you hear … I think the one thing that has been real noticeable is just how easy the lines of communication are, and what the expectations are.”
Kelly does not refer to himself as moody and complicated. He said he believes that people have only a small sampling of how he is perceived by others with whom he comes in contact.
“It just depends on who you talk to,” Kelly said. “I mean, you put 20 people in a room and you’re going to have 19 different opinions going one way or another about one person. Some people are going to agree and some are not going to agree.
“There are players, Connor Barwin, guys like that that, (who) said I was a great communicator there (in Philadelphia). So it’s a narrative that other people can write and do whatever they want, but I try to be consistent and be the same every single day.”
Baalke did not connect any names for comparison when speaking about how he does not ride a rollercoaster of emotions on a day-to-day basis when dealing with Kelly.
“I do believe there are people that aren’t the same every day,” Baalke said. “The roller-coaster rides you go with. That’s not to imply anybody -- that’s just to say when you’re talking about Chip, he’s very steady. He doesn’t get riled up about things. He assesses them and they are what they are.
“A lot of times in what we do, you can’t change it anyway. So it doesn’t do any good to get upset about it. You take the information, you process it and you go to the next (issue). If a guy has a tweak and he can’t line up today, it doesn’t matter how upset you get. Bottom line is you can’t play and move on.”
Just like Kelly admitted he did not have any communication with the Eagles’ top football executive, Howie Roseman, he seems to have found a comfortable situation with the 49ers and Baalke.
“He’s pretty straight-forward in how he handles things,” Kelly said. “He’s very direct in his approach. I’m pretty direct in my approach. So I think we think alike. That was part of this process for both myself and him and Jed when we met was, ‘Would this work?’ Some people work better with other people. That’s life.”