Browns

Source: Browns “Mystery Candidate” Was 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh

By DARYL RUITER AND JOE LULL, 923. The Fan
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Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers / (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers / (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS (92.3 The Fan) – Owner Jimmy Haslam referred to the Cleveland Browns coaching search as “methodical.”

As details have emerged over the past few weeks, shocking might be more appropriate because it almost rocked the football world.

Before the Browns hired Mike Pettine, they had narrowed their search to him and a “mystery candidate” – the name of which was not revealed until Friday afternoon.

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com published a report Friday saying the Browns came close to trading for San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Florio’s report is true.

A source told 92.3 The Fan prior to Pettine’s hiring on Jan. 23 that Harbaugh expressed interest in the job when the Browns requested permission to interview 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

The station did not report the news because confirmation was unable to be obtained from additional sources.

Browns spokesman Zak Gilbert issued a statement after the ProFootballTalk.com report on Friday – and it did not deny the story.

“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.”

49ers CEO Jed York denied that a deal for Harbaugh was almost completed on Twitter in a tweet to the NFL Network and Pro Football Talk, “Is this on the record? Report isn’t true.”

Harbaugh also denied the reports that he almost landed in Cleveland to ESPN’s Chris Mortenson via text message.

What were York and Harbaugh supposed to say? “Yes, it’s true that we almost dealt our coach to Cleveland,” or, “I tried to get out of San Francisco.”

Of course they would offer denials because it would be a public relations catastrophe by the Bay if they didn’t.

Harbaugh, who has led the 49ers to 3 consecutive NFC championship games and the Super Bowl once, is close to former Browns general manager Michael Lombardi and employs his son, Myck, as his personal assistant.

Because Harbaugh was still under contract with the 49ers for 2 more years, the price to acquire him was too rich for the Browns’ blood and would’ve required multiple high round draft picks, essentially stifling the team’s ability to supplement the roster at the top of the draft in the near future with Harbaugh.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the last team to trade for coach when they struck a deal with the Oakland Raiders for Jon Gruden in 2002. Tampa Bay dealt their 2002 first and second-round picks along with their 2003 first and a 2004 second round picks and went on to win the Super Bowl in the first season under Gruden.

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