Commentary

Hey 49ers, give Jim what he wants

As Jerry Jones and the Cowboys learned the hard way, a great coach is gold

Updated: February 25, 2014, 10:19 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

Harbaugh/York/Jones/JohnsonAP PhotosLet the Jerry Jones-Jimmy Johnson saga be a lesson to Jed York and Jim Harbaugh.

Jed York, don't be a fool. You either, Trent Baalke.

York, the San Francisco 49ers' CEO, is an intelligent man, as is Baalke, the team's general manager. Each needs to subjugate his ego.

Today.

They shouldn't persuade themselves -- or each other -- that the 49ers are so talented that any coach can get them to the NFC Championship Game or to the Super Bowl.

Once upon a time, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believed his team could win with any one of 500 coaches.

[+] EnlargeHarbaugh
AP Photo/Mike RoemerCombustible? Yes. But replaceable? Not 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

It was dumb then. It's dumb now.

Sure, Jones won Super Bowl XXX with Barry Switzer as his coach, but the Cowboys might've won four consecutive Super Bowls if Jones or Jimmy Johnson hadn't let their respective egos run amok.

The Cowboys could've been the NFL's greatest dynasty. Instead, we're stuck with a bunch of woulda, coulda, shoulda. Johnson's departure started the downfall that's left the Cowboys stuck in an abyss of mediocrity for nearly two decades.

The Cleveland Browns reportedly offered San Francisco draft picks in trade for Harbaugh during their lengthy coaching search. York initially denied the report -- then said the Browns broached the topic but were quickly rebuffed.

Harbaugh, who has led San Francisco to the NFL's second-best winning percentage (.760) over the past three seasons, has two years left on a deal that reportedly pays him $5 million a year.

Eight NFL coaches make more than $6 million a year. New Orleans' Sean Payton ($8 million) and New England's Bill Belichick ($7.5 million) are at the top of the list.

York should pay Harbaugh. If he needs to overpay the occasionally combative and petulant coach to make him happy, then overpay him.

Winning is more important than ego. Whether Jones admits it or not, letting Johnson leave is easily the dumbest move he's made in 25 years as owner.

Nothing else is even close.

Not passing on Randy Moss. Not firing Tom Landry. Not giving Roy Williams a $54 million contract or trading a pair of No. 1 draft picks for Joey Galloway.

Every coach is not replaceable.

Harbaugh knows how to win. He did it at the University of San Diego, going 29-6 in three seasons. He did it at Stanford, going 29-21, including a 12-1 record in his final season with the Cardinal.

And he's done it with the 49ers, compiling a 36-11-1 record for a team that had not been over .500 in eight seasons prior to his arrival. The 49ers went 13-3 in 2011, advancing to the NFC Championship Game before losing in overtime in Harbaugh's first season.

The next season, San Francisco lost to Baltimore in the Super Bowl; this past season, the 49ers lost in the NFC title game to Seattle. Each game was decided in the final five minutes.

Some will say the 49ers were flush with talent when Harbaugh arrived, and there's a degree of truth to that.

But it's silly to act as if Harbaugh isn't the primary reason the 49ers have evolved into one of the NFL's best teams. How many difference-making coaches are there in the NFL?

Belichick, Payton, Harbaugh and Pete Carroll for sure. Kansas City coach Andy Reid? Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin? Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy?

That's about it.

If you have one of those difference makers, you don't let him go just because he's arrogant. Or petulant. Or a control freak.

They're too hard to find.

Those guys create a winning culture. They provide leadership. They understand how to maximize a roster's talent.

For Harbaugh to remain in San Francisco, York must make him one of the five highest-paid coaches in the league, or Baalke must cede some power.

If not, Harbaugh will leave when his deal expires, if not sooner. Harbaugh's ego will tell him he's such a good coach he can build the same program somewhere else.

Whatever. Jimmy Johnson thought the same thing.

It's not enough to be a great coach in the NFL. You need some luck.

Like quarterback Alex Smith suffering a concussion, which created an opportunity for Colin Kaepernick to prove he was a big-time player.

Payton was lucky Miami passed on Drew Brees in 2006 and that the quarterback wound up in New Orleans. Johnson was lucky in Dallas, getting Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith with his first two first-round draft choices and trading Herschel Walker for a bushel of picks.

Johnson wasn't lucky with the Dolphins, and his career ended with 62-7 playoff loss to Jacksonville.

Jerry and Jimmy were never as good apart as they were together. York should take heed. The coach matters.

Harbaugh is one of the best, and the 49ers can eventually win a title with him. If he leaves, there's no guarantee they'll find a better coach.

All York has to do is ask Jerry.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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