SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Jim Harbaugh set the world on fire with a new revelation about his parting with the 49ers in an audio interview that was published Friday.
OK, not exactly.
Harbaugh confirmed what many believed about his departure from San Francisco in Bay Area News Group columnist Tim Kawakami's podcast (the audio can be found here).
Michigan's new head coach said his split from San Francisco was not mutual, as CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke said repeatedly after Harbaugh coached his last game Dec. 28 in a win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Harbaugh admitted that he was told by the front office he would not remain the head coach after the season following the 49ers' Dec. 14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks that eliminated the team from playoff contention.
"You can call it ‘mutual,'" Harbaugh said. "I wasn’t going to put the 49ers in the position to have a coach that they didn’t want any more."
"But that’s the truth of it. I didn’t leave the 49ers. I felt like the 49er hierarchy left me."
Reports and rumors about the Harbaugh era's demise arose almost a year to the day, when Pro Football Talk first reported the 49ers "nearly" traded Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns for a package of draft picks during last February's scouting combine.
At that point, the news seemed far fetched considering the team was coming off three straight runs to the conference championship game, including a Super Bowl appearance culminating the 2012 season.
And hours before the team's start to the 2014 regular season in Dallas, the NFL Network reported Harbaugh was on the verge of losing the locker room. As time went on, stories of the looming end of Harbaugh's tenure continued to sprout as the 49ers went 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since he became head coach.
"I wanted to finish what I started–what we started. And I have great fond memories of it," Harbaugh told Kawakami. "...I am never going to forget the players, the loyal coaches and the memories that I have of being a part of the San Francisco 49er team."
The 49ers replaced Harbaugh with former defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who was linked to the job about as soon as the initial rumors of Harbaugh's demise surfaced. York and Baalke conducted a lengthy coaching search, reportedly interviewing as many as nine candidates over 17 days, before deciding on Tomsula.
"We accomplished a lot of good things, a lot of good things," Baalke said in the aftermath of Harbaugh's departure. "The ultimate prize in this business is Super Bowls. We all know that. We all understand it. It’s what we sign up for going into it. We didn’t reach that goal of a victory, but we got very close on numerous times. Jim was a huge part of that."
Harbaugh always had a great sense of timing during his run with the 49ers and rarely made statements that went without purpose. It might not be a coincidence, then, that Tomsula will be speaking to the media next week at the scouting combine in his first public appearance since his bumpy and awkward introductory press conference last month.