Richard Sherman’s career-altering beef with Jim Harbaugh will never end

Richard Sherman’s career-altering beef with Jim Harbaugh will never end

March 9, 2020 82 By Kody Olson


– Richard Sherman’s beef with Jim Harbaugh started at
college, graduated to the NFL, and had a larger impact than
any of us knew at the time. Oh the power of pettiness and spite. (slow orchestral music) It took a while for the Richard Sherman we now know to come into view, but in a lot of ways he
was shaped by Jim Harbaugh. Before he was a Super Bowl
winning, All-Pro shutdown corner, Sherman was a wide receiver. Granted, he was a receiver
on an inept Stanford offense that sometimes made him look
like the defender he’d become, but a receiver nonetheless. It wasn’t a great team nor had it been, so at the end of Sherman’s freshman year his path crossed with
Harbaugh’s for the first time, and initially the pair
felt like a good fit, Sherman being a dedicated
tough kid on a mission to win, and Harbaugh, the proud Michigan
man who never hid the fact that he didn’t really have any plans other than football and death. He wanted to win, he wanted to put in
the work needed to win, and he wanted players who’d do the same. So that’s great, just a couple of guys
passionate about football, looking to win at whatever cost. I’m sure they’ll see eye-to-eye. Through their first eight
games together Stanford tripled their win total from a year earlier. They pulled off a major
upset of number two USC and a face that we’ll
see more of later on. Sherman was once again
the team’s top receiver, and then the hiccups began. Against Washington,
Sherman’s emotions overflowed on the sideline, which
was picked up by cameras as he shouted and he shoved teammates. As a result, Harbaugh suspended
Sherman for their next game. Once he returned, he had just one catch for five yards over their final two games. He still finished as the
team’s leading receiver, but the last month led to him
looking for a major change. He wanted to flip sides, but offensive coordinator David Shaw said he was too valuable. Unfortunately a lingering
patellar tendon injury meant neither offense nor defense got him. After hobbling through the
first four games of 2008, he went under the knife and
declared his season over. The fun bit, he seemed to have forgotten to run that by Harbaugh first. Talking to the media, the head coach was questioned
about Sherman’s health, and Harbaugh said he had
thought they’d have him still, but didn’t read the receiver’s
Facebook for medical updates. Once away from the microphones, Harbaugh tackled the
matter by telling Sherman he had given up on his
teammates by having the surgery. Out with an injury, on the
outs with his head coach, Sherman again went to Shaw
and asked for a change. Given the circumstances, which included Harbaugh
allegedly banishing him from the offense, this
time the request was approved. Once news got out, Harbaugh noted that he wasn’t sure Sherman could beat out even the guys at the
bottom of the depth chart. Maybe coach knew what he was
doing, maybe he got lucky, but those words made sure
Sherman was fired up. He dominated the off-season,
shot up the depth chart, and admittedly was somewhat aided by knowing the offense inside and out. He would call out plays pre-snap, or just walk over to where the
route would take the receiver and make an easy interception. Harbaugh to no surprise did not approve, but by the time the
2009 season came around with Sherman starting at corner, regardless of the path traveled
they got to the right place, and the pair looked pretty
happy with the results, which included an Orange Bowl
demolition of Virginia Tech to cap off 2010. Then, one week later, Harbaugh was gone, off to the 49ers with a trail of peak Harbaugh quotes to mark the path, and that April presented
the biggest weekend in terms of beef implications. With Harbaugh already in the NFL, Sherman came to join him. San Francisco happened to need corners, and obviously Harbaugh
had a pretty good feel for one in particular, which meant they went a different route. Even though San Francisco
had a third-round grade on Sherman, which Niners CEO Jed
York revealed much later on, there was no chance Sherman would have gotten a call from the Niners because Harbaugh had taken him off their draft board entirely. He’d hear his name during the 5th round, but it was a slide that
made Sherman believe his former coach hadn’t
been doing him any favors when talking to other teams. There were rumors of something like this happening at the time, but the fun part of this
beef is it would take years for all the details to come out, or for people like Jed
York to offer the bits that fully painted the picture. Whether or not Harbaugh said anything that hurt Sherman’s value, there are two clear facts. First, there were 24 cornerbacks
taken before Sherman, and second when he was
selected at 154 overall, he landed in the best possible spot. Not only had he studied the
corner techniques coached by Pete Carroll as he
learned the position, but he also got a new coach who
had beef with his old coach. Carroll’s history with
Harbaugh was well-documented, same with their personality differences. So while Sherman’s college days were somewhat stifling to his personality, that wouldn’t be the case in Seattle. He was in a place where
he could be himself, and when Sherman got to be himself, the beef got to bloom. His rookie season, most of the focus was understandably put on
Harbaugh and Carroll, but as the secondary embraced their new Legion of Boom moniker
going into the 2012 season, Sherman stole back some of the spotlight. After their week-seven showdown in which the 49ers
eked out a defensive win, Harbaugh still spoke out about the physical play
of Seattle’s secondary, going so far as to say he’d
talk to the league about it. Sherman’s response gave a glimpse to his feelings on Harbaugh,
calling him a bully, which the coach kind of
backed up after the game. Harbaugh celebrated his team’s win by driving around the parking lot and honking at the Seahawks team buses, offering a mock salute
according to Sherman and his fellow Stanford alum Doug Baldwin. Considering that showboating
happened after a 13-6 win, it feels like a possible
lapse in judgment, especially with the power of hindsight. Sherman began to work
into the conversations about the league’s top corners. He nicknamed himself Optimus Prime, then immediately shut Megatron down. He had a two-interception
day against Arizona, plus his first career touchdown, and then Seattle welcomed Harbaugh to town for a pretty
important week-sixteen contest that turned into a one-sided affair. Sherman notched his seventh
interception on the season, but even bigger than that, put a second-quarter nail in the coffin by returning a blocked field goal 90 yards to make it 21-nothing. It got so bad that Sherman
was even trying to get Carroll to chase Seattle’s third
straight 50-point game. His coach declined though, telling Sherman they had
more class than that, but after the game the corner needed to pour a little more salt in the wound. During his postgame interview on the field he wished his old coach a happy birthday, which on one hand was
sweet of him to remember, and on the other, this was Sherman using a
national broadcast to honk back. But he had plenty to celebrate. Not only had they won the game, but Sherman also won his appeal of a four-game suspension the NFL had thrown his way earlier that season. Having him helped Seattle’s
chances come the playoffs, and we were actually so close to getting a third Niners-Seahawks matchup on an even grander stage, but Atlanta’s last-second field
goal meant it wouldn’t be. Instead, on his second
attempt in as many years, Harbaugh took his team to the Super Bowl, and although they lost, those first two years were a
little lopsided football-wise. San Francisco had won three of the four head-to-head matchups. They had made the NFC
Championship game each year, came so close to a Lombardi Trophy, and then that off-season
everything cranked the (beep) up. Harbaugh spoke out about the suspensions in the Seahawks secondary and encouraged them to play by the rules, really putting on his
Michigan hat to do so. Sherman tried to distance himself a bit from Harbaugh with his response, a path drastically different from the one his teammate Brandon Browner took, but speaking to SI, it
was Sherman’s father who really stoked the flames by describing his son’s relationship with
Harbaugh as a passionate hate. As more and more quotes
came out in the open, the duo was under a bit
more of a microscope, especially when they faced off, which brings us to week two of 2013. Sherman snagged a pick, Harbaugh’s offense only
managed a field goal, and Seattle cruised, but the highlight of the
night came after the game when Sherman sprinted after
Harbaugh as he left the field, slapped him on the butt, then ran away as Harbaugh sorta
kinda acknowledged the PDA. This then sent a thousand
ships sailing into the night, all carrying various takes. Here’s where I’ll note that while Sherman does have valid grievances
against Harbaugh, he also has a gift for crafting narratives that might be slightly flawed, not unlike a wrestling promoter, but since he’s not a wrestling promoter, he then has to walk them back. When asked about the
butt slap after the game, the corner said that Harbaugh
essentially blew him off. In his mind the attempted
sportsmanship went unanswered. Harbaugh said that he had
offered his congratulations and just wasn’t totally sure who was patting his butt at that moment. If nothing else he
played nice in the media and didn’t stir the pot. Sherman, when further
clarifying, recounted the events as if he was at a deposition. So, maybe not a big deal, maybe both sides had matured and this had been
overblown from the start. I mean that same season Sherman
said he didn’t hate anyone, he was simply passionate, and when it came to the 49ers, he might not like them, but it’s not like that’s
some wild statement considering they’re division rivals. The actual wild statement
would come not long after. His “it’s passion, not hate” quote was part of the lead up to the 2013
NFC Championship game. In what became a very close contest, the climactic moment came
as Colin Kaepernick looked for Michael Crabtree on what could’ve been the game-winning touchdown, but Sherman made an
incredible play on the ball, popped it up and into the
hands of Malcolm Smith, and as his teammates gathered around, Sherman celebrated in the end zone then sprinted over to Crabtree
and offered a handshake. Sherman continued his tour with a choking motion aimed
at the 49ers sideline, which all paved the way for a legendary postgame
interview with Erin Andrews where Sherman showed
humility and gratitude and– – I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry
receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get! Don’t you ever talk about me! – But no one listened
to him, myself included. We all had to talk about him. Despite making the play that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, Sherman quickly went into apology mode, saying he never meant to
distract from the team and what they accomplished as a unit. His feud with Crabtree
stole the show for a bit as more details came out
like how they had got into it during a charity softball
game during the summer, and while he did name Crabtree
specifically in his rant, it took away from his message. The outburst was aimed at his old coach, his dislike, any ill-will for the Niners, it started and ended with Harbaugh. A lot went down between the
postgame rant and that quote, which came out in 2020 ahead of the 49ers Super Bowl appearance. By then the corner was
capping off his second season in the Bay and everyone continued to say, “Hey, isn’t it wild how Sherman
used to not like the Niners, “but now he’s on the Niners?” So it made some sense that
talk focused on Harbaugh, but he offered a lot more details than one would’ve expected considering they hadn’t faced off in the better part of a decade. The beefiest revelation
was that Sherman had been on a mission to force
Harbaugh out of the league, and before York and Sherman officially teamed up in San Francisco, they had essentially worked together to fulfill Sherman’s dream. After he ended the Niners
season and then after he did what Harbaugh hadn’t by
winning a Super Bowl, the narrative around
the coach shifted a bit. He did what no one had ever done by making a conference championship game in each of his first three
seasons as head coach, and yet rumors arose that
even a Super Bowl victory in 2014 wouldn’t be
enough to save his job. York quickly tried to
shut those rumors down but details were coming to the surface. An internal power
struggle between Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke had made it so the coach’s days were numbered, and after they missed the playoffs, the Niners said they had
mutually agreed to part ways. Harbaugh would later say that
wasn’t completely accurate, but the deed was done, and
to return to Sherman’s quote about ousting his former coach, once he’d done that he was cool. Harbaugh quickly returned
to the college ranks where his unique approach
could truly shine, but to his credit, without Harbaugh the 2015 NFL
season had something lacking. Harbaugh had gotten his
teams to buy into a hatred for the Seahawks, one he
actively helped cultivate. Unfortunately he was going against someone who was driven by something
similar, yet even more personal. Harbaugh had lit a fire under Sherman, one that the corner seemed
to fan as much as he wanted, or possibly as much as he
needed to for motivation. Over the years it came
into and out of focus depending on who was in the news. It was found in two
competitive individuals, both capable of extreme
pettiness, driven by success, and then at a certain
point each side decided they had cooked the shit
out of this piece of beef and it was best left in the trash where no one would attempt
to salvage a damn thing.