Around the NFC West: Harbaugh hi-jinks?

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee wonders whether Jim Harbaugh might wind up with the Miami Dolphins despite reports suggesting the Dolphins would retain Tony Sparano. Barrows: "It's entirely possible that Harbaugh was dazzled by the massive amount of money that (Dolphins owner Stephen) Ross offered and has quietly agreed to a deal. Pretending that he can't decide buys Ross and the Dolphins extra time to take care of their business -- fire Sparano, interview a minority candidate -- that they should have taken care of before approaching Harbaugh. The only thing that's clear is that Harbaugh's agent has done a masterful job. Will he? Won't he? Is he going here? Is he going there? That ping-ponging sensation you feel in your brain is the work of a master craftsman who's got at least three organizations upping their bids to astronomical heights on a man who has never been an NFL head coach. Bravo."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Andrew Luck's decision to remain at Stanford could foreshadow Jim Harbaugh's return as well. Maiocco: "A league source told Comcast SportsNet on Thursday that the timing of Luck's decision to announce he was returning for another season might not have been a coincidence. The allure for Harbaugh of having an opportunity to win a national championship next season might be too tempting to pass up."

Ray Ratto of CSNBayArea.com says 49ers president Jed York looks bad even if the team winds up getting Jim Harbaugh after all. Ratto: "This is why you hire the general manager who’s been around and knows the league terrain. This is why you let him run the football operation without interference. This is why you move aside and let the experts expertify. But no, Jed wanted this to be his big score. Putting his reputation in the middle of the table next to the insufficient pile of chips, he ends up looking weaker. Even if he does get Harbaugh, it won’t be perceived quite the same way. Jed got played because he wanted too much to be a player, and he got played because he didn’t bring enough jack with which to play."

The 49ers' website offers an interview transcript featuring guard Mike Iupati. Iupati: "I think I’m a much better player now than I was when I first came in here. I feel like I’ve improved every part of my game, and its obvious when you watch the film. I learned a lot this season, especially from the coaches. Our o-line coach Mike Solari was great, and it also helps to watch guys like David Baas, Joe Staley and Adam Snyder who have been in the NFL for a few years. I watch and observe what they do as professional football players and I try to do the same things. I try to get any knowledge I can from them because their experiences can help me out."

Clare Farnsworth of seahwaks.com says the team's plan all along was to start Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback against the Saints if he were healthy. Farnsworth: "Hasselbeck has started nine playoff games and is the franchise postseason leader in passing attempts (325), completions (189), passing yards (2,211), touchdown passes (11) and wins (four). His start against the Saints will tie the franchise record held by former Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones."

Also from Farnsworth: Linebacker Lofa Tatupu offers thoughts on Hasselbeck's pregame speech from Week 17. Tatupu: "We thought that meant he was playing. But it was just good to hear from somebody else. Usually it’s myself or Law (strong safety Lawyer Milloy). Sometimes, you don’t want to think it, but maybe your words can fall on deaf ears. So I’m glad someone stepped up."

More from Farnsworth: best friends Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett are headed to the playoffs together.

Joshua Mayers of the Seattle Times says Raheem Brock still feels the sting of losing to the Saints in the Super Bowl as a member of the Colts. Mayers: "The 32-year-old recorded six sacks in the past five games, including at least a half-sack in four of them. In a division-clinching win against St. Louis in the regular-season finale, Brock had a personal-best 2.5 sacks, including two on the Rams' final drive."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times expresses surprise that the Seahawks did not name Hasselbeck their starter earlier.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Hasselbeck kidded national reporters about making a rare trip to the Northwest. Hasselbeck, referring to Seattle as "South Alaska" and saying, "Look at this -- I didn’t know you guys covered the CFL."

John Morgan of Field Gulls says starting Hasselbeck could compromise the Seahawks' ground game while mistakenly assuming the quarterback can produce the way he did against New Orleans indoors. Morgan: "The Seahawks should not pass deep, because Hasselbeck struggles to pass deep and the conditions should only exacerbate that. Further, Seattle should not pass deep because it lacks the kind of consistent passing game and run game to recover after it has burned a down on an incomplete pass. Seattle could potentially bank on the run game, but that should be harder without Charlie Whitehurst to boot and stretch the field horizontally. Instead, Seattle should stretch the field horizontally through screen passes and swings, outs and flats to the backs. The Seahawks should complement this ball-control passing attack with draw plays."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt plans to go outside the organization to find a replacement for fired defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Somers: "Whisenhunt twice has shown interest in hiring Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler for the job. In 2007, the Steelers denied Whisenhunt permission to interview Butler. Two years ago, the hiring time frame was complicated by Butler's hip surgery. Butler, 54, has been with the Steelers since 2003. He works under Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, whom Whisenhunt greatly admires. Whisenhunt has long sought to install a defensive similar to the 3-4 scheme used by LeBeau. Whisenhunt confirmed that former Cardinals secondary coach Teryl Austin also could be a candidate. Austin left the Cardinals staff after the 2009 season to become defensive coordinator at the University of Florida."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Austin finished a "close second" to Davis when Whisenhunt replaced Clancy Pendergast as defensive coordinator following the 2008 season. Whisenhunt: "As I sit here right now, I have a couple of names (in mind), but I don’t even know the availability of those guys." Knowing which candidates are available is the only way to know whether the team can upgrade the position, unless change for the sake of change is an upgrade in itself. Surely Whisenhunt has a feel for what options exist.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are not bringing back Chuck Faucette, their assistant strength-and-conditioning coach. Faucette was a holdover from Scott Linehan's staff.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams voted Steven Jackson, Sam Bradford, Oshiomogho Atogwe and Bradley Fletcher as their annual award winners. Coats: "Fletcher received the Ed Block Courage Award. Fletcher underwent major knee surgery in October 2009 and was expected to be sidelined at least a year. But he was back in time for the regular-season opener and wound up starting 15 games. He led the team in interceptions, with four."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is getting more respect in Cleveland than in St. Louis. Gordon on the Browns' interest in Shurmur as a head coaching candidate: "Shurmur is a longshot to actually get the job, given the stiff competition, but just interviewing for this gig is a nice career step for him. It validates his standing as one of the game’s emerging young coaching talents, despite how he is viewed locally."