Jim Harbaugh had about as successful a first year coaching the San Francisco 49ers as anyone could've predicted, but he also cemented his reputation as a hothead who has little respect for opposing teams and perhaps even less for the media. Ever since he flew out to North Carolina to see Peyton Manning work out and was summarily rejected by the eventual Denver Bronco, Harbaugh has been hitting the p.r. trail and trying to force the narrative that the 49ers weren't "pursuing" Manning and never really had any intention of letting Alex Smith walk away. OK, sure.
Murphy: What did not happen was Peyton Manning becoming a 49er – can you explain to us your pursuit of Peyton, how intense it was, and how it has or has not affected your relationship with Alex Smith?
Harbaugh: First of all, perception is not always reality. Reality is Alex Smith is the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. Our quarterback will always be a San Francisco 49er, and that is Alex Smith. Secondly, we don't ever talk about anybody that's not a 49er. You say pursuit, we say evaluation – so there's a lot in the question you just asked me, but reality is that our guy is Alex Smith.
McCaffrey: What about your relationship with Alex?
Harbaugh: It's great – getting better all the time.
Murphy: I guess people might have thought that he would be …
Harbaugh: Perception, Murph. It's perception, not reality. Perception is NOT reality. People have always said that – perception is reality. I reject that hypothesis.
Oh, one other thing. The perception out there, and it's an erroneous perception, that we were flirting with Peyton Manning. I keep hearing that over and over and over again. It's silly and it's untrue. It's phony. Even the perception that we were pursuing him – we were evaluating him. I've said it all along: Alex Smith has been our quarterback. There's no scenario other than Alex choosing to sign with another team that we would have considered him not as our quarterback. You don't like to compare, or talk about somebody else that's another team, but in this case it's time to set the record straight. Alex Smith is our quarterback, was our quarterback and (we) had every intention of always bringing him back. There would have been no circumstance were we would have let Alex Smith go. Now, were we out there, seeing, evaluating if we could have them both? Heck, yeah. You evaluate that and you eliminate the possibility. And further evidence - we would not have given any player that was out there in free agency a sixth of our salary cap and let six or seven of our own guys go here. So hopefully that sets the record straight. And we don't have to keep reporting the silliness and the phoniness.
Harbaugh then goes on to describe some dream-world scenario where Alex Smith and Peyton Manning would both have been members of the 49ers, yet he rejects that they would've committed a sixth of their salary cup to any one guy (such as Manning). So in Harbaugh's
perception reality, he flew to North Carolina in the hopes of, what, convincing Peyton Manning to take some sort of pay cut to play in front of Alex Smith, who had just led his team to the NFC Championship and came within an overtime score of the Super Bowl? Harbaugh must think we think he's stupid. The fact is, if Peyton Manning had chosen to sign with the 49ers, there is no earthly scenario that Alex Smith would still be with the team. Any other way Harbaugh tries to spin that is disingenuous, at best. (And let not's forget that it only took one Alex Smith visit to the Dolphins and two days later the 49ers laid $24 million at his feet. Way to use your leverage there.)
I don't doubt Harbaugh is a smart guy and I bet his players like playing for him. They certainly seemed to respond last season. But Harbaugh seems to get ensconced in these psychological, media-driven mind games where he feels he needs to constantly belittle our intelligence and push the notion that everyone's against his team, no one respects them, and dammit they'll show everyone who's boss when it comes down to kickoff. Every professional coach does this dance, to some extent. Harbaugh's just not very good at it yet.