San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh insists he wasn’t tempted to join the Browns when they made a stunning attempt to trade for him in January.
“[There was] zero opportunity to go there in my mind,” Harbaugh said this morning at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. “If that opportunity existed, then it existed in somebody else’s mind, not my own. That was my response to it. Another mini-controversy. I’ve been there before, and I give [controversies] the attention that they deserve, which is very little.”
When the 49ers’ season ended Jan. 19 with a loss in the NFC title game against the eventual Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks, the Browns were still in the midst of their search to replace coach Rob Chudzinski, who was fired after he went 4-12 during his lone season on the job. Before the franchise’s 25-day quest ended with the hiring of coach Mike Pettine on Jan. 23, the Browns made a pitch for Harbaugh.
ProFootballTalk.com reported a deal in which the Browns would have sent multiple draft picks to the 49ers was in place, but Harbaugh ultimately decided not to leave San Francisco. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported a first-round pick was not included in the offer.
Harbaugh said a deal never came close to being struck.
“[49ers owner] Jed [York] called me up and said, ‘The Browns say there’s a rumor that you would be available,’” Harbaugh said. “I said, ‘Well, dismiss that. It’s not true.’”
Last month, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam confirmed the organization pursued Harbaugh before it hired Pettine.
“There was an opportunity there, and it didn't materialize,” Haslam told USA Today.
Haslam didn’t want to elaborate much this week during an interview with Browns beat writers at the owners meetings.
“We went through an extensive search. OK? And talked to a lot of different people, and that search process is an inexact science and we talked to a lot of quality people, and I think we got a great coach,” Haslam said. “I think that’s the appropriate thing to say. I said this [Sunday] night when we took everybody to dinner, all our Browns group, and I mean this: I think Mike Pettine will be a great pro football coach. I do. I think he’s smart. He’s tough. He’s organized.”
Haslam was pressed about the extent of the Browns’ talks with the 49ers.
“I’ve learned that when things don’t materialize, that water’s over the dam, let it go,” Haslam said. “I’m worried about going forward. Jim Harbaugh’s a great coach. He’ll do a great job with the 49ers. We’re totally focused on doing a great job with the Browns. You all know we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
After the Browns hired Pettine, Haslam continued to shake up the franchise by firing CEO Joe Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi on Jan. 11.
Harbaugh is a friend of Lombardi, whose son, Mick, joined the 49ers last year as an assistant to Harbaugh. The Browns’ interest in Harbaugh undoubtedly had something to do with Lombardi.
“Could’ve been, if I was speculating,” Harbaugh said.
Speaking of speculation, the relationship between Harbaugh and 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke has been characterized as rocky for months. Harbaugh engaged in contract talks with the 49ers before the discussions broke off last year. He has two years remaining on a five-year deal worth $5 million per year.
“I love coaching this team,” Harbaugh said. “I love the players. I love the coaches, and the organization they serve. I want to be here for a very long time.”