The Browns aren’t denying an eye-opening report from ProFootballTalk.com that says the organization nearly pulled off a trade with the San Francisco 49ers for the rights to coach Jim Harbaugh before it hired coach Mike Pettine on Jan. 23 following a 25-day search.
In response to the report that was published this evening, Browns spokesman Zak Gilbert issued the following statement: “The team conducted an extensive coaching search, and explored several options. That search produced an outstanding head coach in Mike Pettine and we're excited about his future with the club.”
On the other hand, 49ers owner Jed York issued a denial via Twitter. "Report isn't true," he wrote on his official account in response to a tweet from ProFootballTalk.com.
A 49ers spokesman did not immediately respond to an e-mail from the Beacon Journal. An unnamed 49ers source told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that the report is “completely false. Ridiculous.”
According to ProFootballTalk.com's report, a deal that would have sent multiple draft picks to the 49ers was in place between the teams, but Harbaugh ultimately decided not to leave San Francisco.
"Speculation that I've heard is that Harbaugh's family, specifically his wife [Sarah], wanted to stay put," ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio said today during an interview with Bay Area radio station 95.7 The Game.
Harbaugh is a friend of former Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi, whom owner Jimmy Haslam fired last week along with CEO Joe Banner. Lombardi's son, Mick, joined the 49ers last year as an assistant to Harbaugh.
Friction between Harbaugh and 49ers GM Trent Baalke has been a hot topic in the Bay Area for the past few 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.
If such a trade actually came to fruition, it would have been shocking because Harbaugh has led the 49ers to the NFC title game in each of his first three seasons with the team. Harbaugh, 50, also would have had to face his brother, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, twice a year if he joined the AFC North.
Haslam and Banner embarked on their drawn-out search last month after firing coach Rob Chudzinski, who went 4-12 during his lone season on the job. Like Chudzinski, Harbaugh was born in Toledo.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl the season following their trade with the Oakland Raiders for coach Jon Gruden in 2002. The Buccaneers traded the following draft picks for Gruden: a first-round choice in 2002, a second-round selection in 2002, a first-round pick in 2003 and a second-round choice in 2004.