The San Francisco 49ers are already putting the wheels to the road in their search for Jim Harbaugh's replacement, with CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke scheduled to work in tandem for, at the minimum, 7-10 days to weed through a list of worthy candidates.
The circumstances which led to Harbaugh's exit from the Bay Area are a matter of great conjecture, with several sources indicating that Baalke was no longer willing to go to bat for the mercurial coach with the rest of the organization.
If true, that marks an interesting turn for Baalke, who got his start with the 49ers as a regional scout in 2005. Prior to that, he spent time in a similar scouting capacity for the New York Jets (1998-2000) and Washington Redskins (2001-04).
After impressing 49ers brass with his work directing scouting on the West Coast, Baalke was promoted in 2008 to Director of Player Personnel. He only continued to make his imprint in that role, and was handed the reins two years later to the 2010 NFL Draft (after GM Scott McCloughan left the team) before being promoted to Vice President of Player Personnel shortly thereafter.
Baalke techinically worked as a GM under that VP label in 2010, but was officially named the team's general manager after Mike Singletary was removed from his position as head coach, as 49ers officials believed that a stationary, permanent GM would play a pivotal role in convincing Jim Harbaugh to leave Stanford to replace Singletary.
It worked, and the Baalke/Harbaugh partnership blossomed on-the-field from the get-go, with the team going 13-3 in Harbaugh's first season (2011).
In January 2012, Baalke was named PFWA Executive of the Year for his work during the 2011 season, thanks to the seven-game improvement from a 6-10 record in 2010. The very next month, Baalke received a contract extension through 2016.
Things appeared to be in order with the Baalke/Harbaugh pairing for the next two years as well, with the team making a Super Bowl appearance following the 2012 season and a NFC Championship appearance in 2013.
However, the low rumblings of unrest between Harbaugh, the team's players, and rest of the front office became too loud to ignore in 2014, with rumors hanging a dark cloud over the team for the majority of the 2014 season.
Following the team's now-infamous 19-3 Thanksgiving Day loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Baalke's daughter Cass stirred up a minor scandal when she suggested in a tweet that offensive coordinator Greg Roman should be dismissed from the team. That was only the tip of a controversy iceberg which ultimately led to Harbaugh leaving for Michigan due to what CEO Jed York terms as "philosophical differences."
Whatever the true reason is for the dissolution of what was an otherwise-fruitful partnership between Baalke and Harbaugh, Baalke is now one of the men tasked with mitigating the damage left behind by finding the man that will bring the 49ers back to championship-contender status.
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