49ers players bid farewell as Harbaugh exits


LEVI’S STADIUM — The 49ers have announced they have agreed to mutually part ways with head coach Jim Harbaugh, ending his four-year tenure with the team.

Moments after Sunday’s 20-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers released a statement regarding Harbaugh, stating that he was now free to consider his next coaching opportunity without any constraints.

GAME STORY: 49ers hand Harbaugh era-ending win

After the decision was made official, several key 49ers players voiced support for Harbaugh. Most prominent among those was QB Colin Kaepernick:

“Coach Harbaugh is the coach that drafted me, he’s the coach that chose to start me, he’s the coach that stood behind me on everything.”

Kaepernick added:

It’s huge when you have support from a coach like that. It gives me confidence to go out and put everything on the line. It might not be my best game, or it might be my best game, but he’s gonna support me regardless. To have that confidence when you step on the field that your coach is behind you, and your team is behind you, is huge.”

Likewise, WR Anquan Boldin, who turned in his second-straight 1,000-yard receiving season for the 49ers on Sunday, said that Harbaugh was a big reason why the veteran receiver signed with San Francisco after coming over in a trade from Baltimore:

“Definitely weird. He had a lot to do with me signing back to the team, so it’s definitely weird for me. It’s something that you didn’t foresee coming. Especially with what he had done the previous years. Unprecedented, first three years you go to at least the NFC championship, so definitely didn’t see that coming.”

While Boldin has stated that Harbaugh leaving will not affect his situation with the 49ers, as he is still under contract with the team for the 2015 season, the move may affect one of the most prominent free agents in veteran running back Frank Gore.

While Gore had openly stated his desire to return the 49ers after spending all of his 10 years in the NFL with the franchise that drafted him, he said that the 49ers coaching search will play into his willingness to re-sign:

“I want to know the coaching staff coming in. Also, the guys who have been here who I know. I want to know when the game’s on the line, they’re going to fight like me. That’s what I want to know.”

CEO Jed York, who has reportedly had a rocky and strained relationship with Harbaugh over the years, spoke about the decision in an official statement released Sunday night:

“Jim and I have come to the conclusion that it is in our mutual best interest to move in different directions. We thank Jim for bringing a tremendous competitive nature and a great passion for the game to the 49ers. He and his staff restored a winning culture that has been the standard for our franchise throughout its history. … We wish Jim and his family all the best.”

Harbaugh concludes his time with the 49ers with a 49-22-1 overall record over his four year career as head coach, leading San Francisco to three NFC title games and one Super Bowl appearance in that span. Harbaugh is also the only coach in NFL history to lead his team to the conference championship in each of his first three seasons as a coach.

Harbaugh declined to comment on where he will land next, but CSN Bay Area’s Dave Feldman reported last night that the coach has agreed to take a coaching job at his alma mater, the University of Michigan, in a contract reportedly worth up to $49 million dollars.

Although rumors of tension and strained relationship surrounding Harbaugh and the front office have plagued the 49ers season, the ex-coach in a statement reflected fondly on his time with the organization following his final game in the NFL:

“I will miss competing alongside this group of players and coaches. … It has been my honor to share the sideline with these mighty men. I will always appreciate and remember fondly, the passion and support of our faithful fans, and want to express my particular thanks to them.”

When asked after Sunday’s game if it was his choice to leave, Harbaugh offered an encrypted response to the question.

“Like I said, you work at the pleasure of the organization, that’s what we all do.”

Harbaugh was a key figure in helping to turn around a struggling 49ers franchise that had an eight year playoff drought when he signed in 2011, making the leap to the NFL from Stanford.

Although the final season of his career, in which the 49ers posted a disappointing 8-8 record amidst scandal both on and off the field, may have marred his prominent career, the coach took pride in being part of rebuilding an organization with a talented core of young players:

“Whether the relationship was four years, or just a couple weeks, I was incredibly close to this team and I’ll forever appreciate that. And I’m forever proud to have been a part of this and a part of this football team.”

The top internal options to replace Harbaugh as head coach of the 49ers are reported to be defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Reports earlier Sunday stated that 49ers greats Joe Montana and Steve Young intended to push for Mike Shanahan to replace Harbaugh.

Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the San Francisco 49ers.

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