Big One hits Bay Area football

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO - It was a 7.1. Not on the Richter scale, on the Goodell scale. The San Andreas and Hayward faults were silent. The football fault lines opened.

At Instability Central, it isn't only the land that moves, it's the people.

Feel that jolt? Catch that vibration? Hang on.

The Raiders have dumped their coach. The 49ers have signed a general manager. Stanford is about to be twisted inside out.

They told us to get ready for the Big One, and symbolically, from a sporting standpoint, it has hit.

Tom Cable is out with the Raiders, even though this season they had their first non-losing record in eight years.

Hue Jackson apparently is in, even though a few hours before Oakland refused to pick up Cable's option, Jackson, the Raiders' offensive coordinator, was given permission to talk to the 49ers about becoming their head coach.

That position almost certainly will be filled by Jim Harbaugh, who took Stanford from the dumps to the heights. The decision is up to new Niners GM Trent Baalke, hired Tuesday night and, according to reports, someone with whom Harbaugh could coexist beautifully.

San Francisco - the team, not the town - dispatched former head coach Mike Singletary a week and a half ago, creating the vacancy that now appears almost certain to be filled by Harbaugh, who then would create a vacancy at Stanford.

The reason you go to college is to get a better job, right? Harbaugh, in effect, would be doing just that, at the expense of a university known for academics (16 Nobel laureates), golfers (Tiger Woods and Tom Watson) and quarterbacks (John Brodie, Jim Plunkett and John Elway).

Also destined to hit the road, and the jackpot, is current Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, whose bravura performance in the Orange Bowl on Monday night virtually ensured that if he enters the 2011 draft instead of playing his senior season, Luck will be the first man selected.

Earthquakes? For years there has been a constant retrofitting of the bridges, schools and older public buildings, using reinforcement bars and concrete, to keep things in place when a temblor hits. But what do you use to keep football personnel from shaking loose?

Down the coast, Pete Carroll fled USC after a lot of championships and more than a few questions of players' eligibility, going to the Seattle Seahawks. Before that, John McKay left Southern Cal to take over the then-expansion Tampa Bay Bucs. Bill Walsh in 1979 departed Stanford, his first head coaching job anywhere, and went to the 49ers, in three seasons improving them from 2-14 to a Super Bowl championship.

Connect the dots. If one former successful Stanford coach can turn the Niners into winners, observers advise, why couldn't another?

If you caught the pregame Orange Bowl snub of ESPN's Michelle Tafoya by Harbaugh when asked about his future and then the postgame sneer to similar questions, you know Harbaugh is doing all he can to avoid offering any clue into what might happen.

"I don't want to be rude,'' grumbled Harbaugh, being rude a short while after Stanford had crushed Virginia Tech 40-12. "But in all due respect, I'd rather enjoy the moment."

After a 6-10 record in 2010 and no winning seasons or playoffs since 2002, 49ers fans are anticipating Harbaugh giving them moments to enjoy.

What had to happen first, according to Jed York, the 29-year-old president of the 49ers, was acquiring a general manager. As predicted, that was Baalke, who has been with the team. The second interviewee was Mike Lombardi, once with the Raiders and now with NFL Network.

Also working for the Network is Steve Mariucci, who coached the 49ers before being ousted by Jed York's father John. I told you there's no stability around here.

Harbaugh supposedly said he would be comfortable working either with Baalke or Lombardi. The implication from Luck is he would be less than comfortable working without Harbaugh, who has been his only coach at Stanford.

"It will definitely be an impact,'' Luck said about losing Harbaugh. "I don't know how much."

What everyone does know is how much control Al Davis has over the Oakland Raiders: Total.

The Raiders swept the other three teams in the AFC West. For many organizations, this alone would guarantee the return of the coach. Not in Oakland.

Singletary went 5-10 and was fired with one game left. That made sense.

Cable went 8-8 and was fired with no games left. That made no sense.

Harbaugh went 12-1 and, very sensibly but very disappointingly to Stanford, is, according to everyone but himself, set to take charge of the 49ers.

The shaking has started.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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