Where does Harbaugh sit on the likable meter — and does it really matter? 

Last year, as I waded back into the shark-infested waters of putting opinions out to the public, I conducted a bit of a sociosport experiment designed to discover if winning really is, in fact, everything.

At the time, the 49ers were fresh off a rousing Super Bowl run. They had fallen just short of what was then the ultimate NFL prize (since replaced, one would think, by prosecutorial immunity), but they were clearly a team on the come in a huge way, and Jim Harbaugh was getting all the credit. Deservedly so, it should be noted. His immediate success with the Niners called to mind his similar rags-to-riches runs at University of San Diego and Stanford, so it was crystal clear: the man can flat-out coach. That will likely never, ever be disputed. Everywhere he goes, he will win.

But is winning everything? Sure, everywhere he goes, he wins. But everywhere he leaves, he seems to leave behind more than a few folks all too willing to take a few shots at Harbaugh. Not Harbaugh the coach, but Harbaugh the person. And to be fair, it's probably more accurate to say the persona rather than the person, because there's enough gauze-and-goop-on-the-lens evidence that Harbaugh has a big, generous heart and does some good things in, like, Peru.

Harbaugh the persona, many have said, is a pain in the ass. Uncooperative. Unforgiving. Self-absorbed. Smug. Kind of a Richard, only short for Richard (and no, not Rich). You see it in his news conferences all the time, and you see it by extension in the general air about Colin Kaepernick, his prized pupil. Kap, an incredibly open and engaging young man when I first met him prior to the 2011 NFL Draft, has tuned into a bit of a short-for-Richard himself under Harbaugh's heavy hand.

I've never covered Harbaugh, mind you, so I can't be accused of being a scorned member of the media lashing out in retribution. I'm coming from the perspective of the Bay Area native and Niners fan that I am and always will be: I find him hard to like, and I really wish I liked the winning head coach of my hometown team. How bad is this: I wish Pete Carroll were the Niners' coach. Not because he's a better coach than Harbaugh, though he might very well be. No, I'd like to have Carroll instead because he, too, wins a lot of games, but he does it with humor and class. He's got his flaws, but being hard to like is not one of them. Not for me, anyway.

My experiment was to point out Harbaugh's prickly personality, suggest that it needs some work and see what kind of reaction it drew among the hardcore fans. Is winning all that matters? The answer, at the time, was a resounding, "YES!" Fans hammered me, essentially saying the scoreboard is all that matters.

Who cares if he's hard to like? I was scorned, albeit in far more vulgar and threatening terms. So is losing. Deal with it. Maybe you're the real short-for-Richard, pal!

Message received. But now we're a year deeper into the Harbaugh era. Several controversies, arrests, holdouts, mixed messages and bitter contract negotiations deeper, too. And the Niners have lost two of their past three games that counted, with play-calling, clock management, discipline and Kaepernick himself significant issues in each.

It begs the question, so I'll ask it here: When it comes to taking on Harbaugh and having the temerity to suggest there's a lot of room for growth there, is it safe to go back in the water?

Mychael Urban, a longtime Bay Area-based sportswriter and broadcaster, is the host of "Inside the Bigs," which airs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon on KGMZ "The Game" (95.7 FM).

About The Author

Mychael Urban

Mychael Urban

Bio:
Mychael Urban has been covering Bay Area sports for 25 years and has worked for MLB.com, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and KNBR (680 AM).
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