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Report: Browns tried to trade for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh before hiring Mike Pettine

Feb 21, 2014 -- 5:56pm

By Tony Grossi |




The Browns are not denying a Pro Football Talk bombshell report that they had a tentative deal with the San Francisco 49ers to trade for coach Jim Harbaugh. When the deal fell through, they hired Mike Pettine.

Browns spokesman Zak Gilbert released the following the statement:

“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.”

PFT’s Mike Florio reported the deal involved multiple draft picks.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport Tweeted a 49ers source labeled the story “absolutely false … ridiculous.” Later in the evening, 49ers CEO Jed York Tweeted, "Not true."

While such a deal seems outlandish on a number of fronts, here are some factors to consider:

* In his Jan. 15 letter to fans asking for patience during the Browns’ coaching search, owner Jimmy Haslam wrote that he knew all along some of the team’s candidates would be involved in the playoffs.

* The 49ers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 19.

* Harbaugh is good friends with former Browns GM Mike Lombardi. CBS announcer Jim Nantz claims that Lombardi gave Harbaugh his first NFL coaching job with the Oakland Raiders in 2002. Lombardi’s oldest son, Mick, is a personal assistant to Harbaugh now. Lombardi's youngest son, Matt, remains employed by the Browns as an entry-level assistant in the personnel department.

* During the Browns’ coaching search, the relationship between Lombardi and then-Browns CEO Joe Banner worsened rapidly. Lombardi could have seen an acquisition of Harbaugh as a sure means of ousting Banner and gaining control of football operations with Harbaugh.

* Harbaugh’s relationship with 49ers management reportedly has become increasingly strained. Harbaugh has two years remaining on his contract and there have been differences about an extension. The 49ers have reached the NFC Championship Game twice and the Super Bowl once in three seasons with Harbaugh as coach.

* When the deal with San Francisco fell through, Pettine was hired on Jan. 23.

* After Lombardi failed to deliver on another coaching candidate, and the rift between Banner and Lombardi became evident, Haslam fired them both on Feb. 11 and replaced Lombardi as GM with Ray Farmer. At that time, Haslam said of Pettine, "I think we got the best head coach we could get."

Haslam declined to comment further and said through Gilbert the Browns would stand by their statement.


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




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