INDIANAPOLIS — Jim Harbaugh as Browns coach is difficult to imagine.
According to a report on Profootballtalk.com, it almost happened.
The website reported Friday afternoon that the Browns’ meandering 25-day coaching search included one more twist. It was a corkscrew.
The Browns nearly pulled off a trade with the 49ers for the rights to Harbaugh, who’s been their coach for three seasons. Citing multiple league sources, the report said a deal was in place that would’ve sent multiple draft picks to San Francisco, but Harbaugh decided not to leave.
The Browns issued a statement that didn’t deny the near-trade.
“The team conducted an extensive coaching search, and explored several options,” it read. “That search produced an outstanding head coach in Mike Pettine and we’re excited about his future with the club.”
The 49ers didn’t release a statement, but CEO Jed York tweeted “Report isn’t true.” The Niners would have the most to lose if the report is true, because it signals an unhappy coach.
Harbaugh and the Niners lost the NFC championship game to the Seahawks on Jan. 19. Pettine was hired Jan. 23 to replace Rob Chudzinski, who was fired after one season.
NFL teams haven’t made a trade involving a coach since Jon Gruden was traded from the Raiders to the Buccaneers in 2002. The Buccaneers gave up two first-round picks and two second-round picks over three drafts.
“Speculation that I’ve heard is that Harbaugh’s family, specifically his wife, wanted to stay put,” Mike Florio, owner of Profootballtalk.com, said on KGMZ 95.7-FM in San Francisco.
Harbaugh, 50, has taken the 49ers to the NFC title game in each of his first three years. He would’ve joined the AFC North with his brother John, coach of the Ravens. John beat Jim in Super Bowl XLVII.
Michael Lombardi, who was fired as Browns general manager last week, is close with the Harbaugh family, and his son Mick works for the 49ers.