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Is It The End Of The Seahawks-49ers Rivalry As We Know It?

SeahawksHarbaugh.jpg
Ted S. Warren
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AP Photo
Coaches' Rivalry: Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll talks to San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh after the NFC Championship game, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 23-17 to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Seahawks host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon. The Hawks are hoping for a second win against their rivals this season to move them closer to the playoffs.

A lot of people are wondering whether it will be Jim Harbaugh’s last visit to Seattle as coach of the 49ers.

Will He Stay Or Will He Go?

Speculation abounds as to whether Harbaugh is on his way out in San Francisco. KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel certainly hopes not.

“I would wear a black armband for six months," Art said. "Jim Harbaugh is a columnist’s dream. I say that with a great deal of affection because he’s a tremendous coach.

“He’s been to three consecutive NFC title games. He's been to a Super Bowl. Hasn’t won it. And the fact that Pete Carroll has is a source of great annoyance to Harbaugh."

Harbaugh Too Intense?

But Harbaugh is intense — too intense, according to Art.

"It's his best asset and his worst liability," Art says. "He burns people out. And signs are pointing to the fact that he will not return in San Francisco."

No New Contract Yet

Harbaugh still has one year to go on his contract, but Art says the fact that he hasn't yet signed an extension is telling.

“Typically successful coaches are re-signed to extensions in order to provide continuity and not to undercut the coach’s authority. That didn’t happen this year, and so that began a cascading effect of speculation that he wasn’t going to be back," Art said.

“It’s clear that there’s a lack of affection between the owner of the 49ers, Jed York, and Harbaugh as well as between Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke. There’s been a lot of tension in the organization. There’s a lot of disharmony," he added. "I think there’s a real sense that the 49ers window of championship contention is closing."

Where Would Harbaugh Go?

If Harbaugh leaves the 49ers, some sports experts think he might return to his alma mater the University of Michigan. Art is doubtful.

"He would be hailed there as a savior. The Michigan program has been down," Art concedes. "But I just don’t think he’s going to go back there because he wants to be among the best, and that’s the NFL."

What About Oakland?

Art says the Oakland Raiders would be a good opportunity. They're having a losing season but managed to beat the 49ers last week.

“They just fired their head coach earlier in the year, and they’ve got an interim coach now. So it’d be perfect timing for Harbaugh to move across the bay, and he wouldn't have to move his family," Art said.

Rivalry Wouldn't Be The Same

Art says the Seahawks-49ers rivalry is a special one in professional football. And it would be forever changed if Harbaugh wasn't on the opposite sideline.

“The Seahawks and the 49ers are the best thing the NFL has going right now. And for Harbaugh to leave, that would just be such a shame."

“[The teams have] been the best of the best for the last couple of seasons. The Seahawks have been just a little bit better. And that’s probably what irritates Harbaugh about it," Art said.

He says the off-the-field rivalry between Harbaugh and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll makes this matchup all the more enjoyable for fans.

Harbaugh Is Art's 'Favorite Cartoon Villain'

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Credit Greg Trott / AP Photo
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AP Photo
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh can't believe an official's call during the NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, in Seattle.

And then there's Harbaugh himself — the jokes about his $8 Walmart khakis, his funny faces, his sideline rants.

“All of his gyrations, his gestures, his facial expressions, his goofy remarks post-game — it’s all just wonderful stuff," Art said. "He’s my favorite cartoon villain among any NFL players.”

49ers Will Have 'A Lot Of Fury' On Sunday

Art expects Harbaugh's trademark intensity to be in overdrive on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

“The Seahawks are 10-point favorites. That might be a little optimistic," he said. "I think there’s going to be a lot of fury in the 49ers. They’re 7 and 6. This is their last, best shot to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

“I think you’re going to see a very intense game from them, and I think it’s going to be closer than 10 points. But I think, in the end, the Seahawks’ talent and youth and health are going to prevail.”

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You can find Art Thiel’s work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between historylink.org and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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