SANTA CLARA: Only minutes after the San Francisco 49ers defeated visiting Arizona 20-17, the National Football League team parted ways with coach Jim Harbaugh after four seasons.
The team said Sunday that the split was by mutual agreement and that the 49ers had already started looking for a replacement while Harbaugh was free to consider other coaching opportunities.
Numerous reports have linked Harbaugh to the coaching vacancy at the University of Michigan, where Harbaugh attended college, and it was not long after a season-ending triumph before that speculation intensified with the team’s announcement.
“Jim and I have come to the conclusion that it is in our mutual best interest to move in different directions,” 49ers chief executive Jed York said in a statement.
“We thank Jim for bringing a tremendous competitive nature and a great passion for the game to the 49ers.”
The 49ers went 44-19 with one drawn under Harbaugh, who had one year remaining on his contract.
This season, the 49ers went 8-8 to miss the playoffs for the first time under Harbaugh, losing four of their final five games.
San Francisco reached the conference final each of the past three seasons and advanced to the Super Bowl in 2013, when they lost to Baltimore, coached by Harbaugh’s brother John.
“For the last four seasons, I have had the great privilege to coach one of the storied franchises in the history of football,” Harbaugh said.
“We accomplished many great things together as a team during this period, which is a tribute to the incredible efforts of some of the most dedicated players and coaches in the NFL.
“I will always appreciate and remember fondly, the passion and support of our faithful fans, and want to express my particular thanks to them.”
Niners general manager Trent Baalke will guide the search for a replacement.
“We are now squarely focused on finding the next head coach of the 49ers and I am very confident in Trent’s ability to lead that process,” York said.
“We are ready to move into the next chapter of our team’s history.”