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Thursday, January 6, 2011
Drama engulfs 49ers' coaching search

By Mike Sando

The San Francisco 49ers must be feeling a little nervous now that the Miami Dolphins' billionaire owner is pursuing the coach they want to hire.

Stephen Ross' cross-country trip to court Jim Harbaugh after the Stanford coach spent Wednesday meeting with the 49ers added significant drama to the equation. The 49ers cannot be sure whether Harbaugh is using them to leverage better offers. That's the risk an NFL team takes when pursuing a candidate with options.

For the 49ers, there's no shame in trying.

The Dolphins can probably offer more money. They can offer more resources over the long term. Ross has ranked 68th on Forbes' list of billionaires (lower more recently). The 49ers are struggling to get a new stadium built. ESPN's Chris Mortensen points out that the 49ers can offer geography and draft choices, but money tends to talk in these situations.

Harbaugh gains nothing by rushing into a deal. He might as well watch the price go up.

I don't see how the 49ers can compete with the Dolphins if Ross sets his mind on hiring Harbaugh. They could offer more and more power to Harbaugh, but other teams could, too. It's tough to envision Ross flying across the country, accompanied by assorted Dolphins brass, only to strike out.

Life could be worse for the 49ers. They could be Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, who remains employed by the team, at least for now.

Note: I've heard from 49ers fans irate with team president Jed York's pledge that money would be no barrier. That criticism will be a valid one if/when the Dolphins outbid the 49ers. My comment about there being "no shame in trying" addressed the possibility that Harbaugh might be using the 49ers.