By Jim Moore
We're led to think that Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll don't like each other. We probably even hope they hate each other. When you're in a rivalry like the one with the 49ers and the Seahawks, you don't want the head coaches to get along.
But when asked if there were animosity between the two men whose teams will square off in the NFC title game Sunday, Harbaugh said that's an "erroneous" perception. Asked a similar question, Carroll said he has "great respect" for Harbaugh yet knows that reporters are "having a field day with it," distorting the truth about their relationship.
In Seattle, we like to think that Harbaugh's a jackass. We hear his awkward interviews, see his sideline antics and assume he's more than a little off as a human being. He makes a remark about the Seahawks' run of performance-enhancing drug offenses, and we automatically assume he's public enemy No. 1.
But what do you think 49ers fans are saying in San Francisco about Carroll? They see this gray-haired guy bouncing around on the sideline, always upbeat, always smiling, always making them sick. They no doubt feel that Carroll beat feet out of USC before NCAA violations caught up to him. They probably mock his catch-phrases like "Always Compete" and "All In" and wonder what he would have told NCAA investigators on "Tell the Truth Monday".
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Admit that no matter what happens on Sunday, you can't wait to see Harbaugh and Carroll shake hands after the game. And that's the thing – will they shake hands? With these two, you can't be sure. And if they do, what will be said? "Good game" or something else? If the 49ers win, will Harbaugh slap Carroll on the back like he did with Jim Schwartz during that infamous confrontation with the Lions' head coach? If the Seahawks win, will Carroll's exuberance cause a heated exchange?
Admit it, either way, you don't want it to go smoothly. You want sour grapes. You want a poor loser. You want postgame fireworks to further fuel an already hot rivalry.
If you could do it, would you trade Carroll for Harbaugh? No? You sure about that?
Harbaugh is 41-13-1 in his three years with the Niners. He has led them to three consecutive NFC title games. He is 4-2 against the Seahawks.
Carroll is 40-27 in four years with the Seahawks, though the roster he inherited in 2010 needed more of an overhaul than San Francisco's did when Harbaugh took over.
On the outside, it's hard to understand how Harbaugh makes it work. When he talks to the media, he doesn't seem like a strong leader of men, but clearly he is, much like the Patriots' Bill Belichick, who also comes across poorly in press conferences.
Carroll, meanwhile, is hip and glib. He owns press conferences. He smiles all the time. He's engaging. It's easy to see why players want to go through walls for him.
I used to think that Harbaugh was completely unlikable based solely on his rudeness in conference calls. But I'm warming up to him. He's become a part-time jackass.
There's another side to him I wasn't aware of. I got a kick out of how outwardly happy he was on his 50th birthday when the 49ers beat the Falcons. And it was amusing when he hugged one Bay Area reporter and kissed another on the top of his head after the 49ers beat the Packers in the first round of the playoffs.
Then this week we find out that he wears khakis that he bought for $8 at Walmart. I don't know about you, but I find it impossible to hate a multi-millionaire who wears an $8 pair of pants.
When you get right down to it, Harbaugh and Carroll probably have more in common than we're led to believe, but what fun is that?
The Go 2 Guy also writes for his website, jimmoorethego2guy.com, and kitsapsun.com. You can reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.