49ers' Boone changes his tune on Harbaugh

By Cam Inman, San Jose Mercury News
Jim Harbaugh congratulates Alex Boone during a game against the Raiders in December.

Jim Harbaugh's most outspoken supporter last year has turned into the first San Francisco 49ers player to publicly roast the team's ex-coach.

Guard Alex Boone critiqued Harbaugh's style and questioned his sanity during an HBO "Real Sports" feature that airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. Harbaugh is now coaching Michigan, his alma mater.

"He does a great job of giving you that spark, that initial boom," Boone said in the HBO interview with Andrea Kremer. "But after a while, you just want to kick his (butt).

" ... He just keeps pushing you, and you're like, 'Dude, we got over the mountain. Stop. Let go.' He kind of wore out his welcome."

Even Harbaugh said in the HBO show: "I wear out my welcome. ... They just don't want to be around you after a while."

Boone, who played at Ohio State, had been a visible ally with Harbaugh since the coach's Niners tenure began in 2011. Once reports surfaced at the start of last season that Harbaugh was on the outs, Boone insisted otherwise, saying Sept. 29 on his weekly radio show: "I know for a fact everybody loves Harbaugh."

Harbaugh and the 49ers parted ways immediately after last season ended, when the 49ers finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

Asked why he's no longer the 49ers' coach, Harbaugh told HBO's Kremer: "You work at the pleasure of an ownership group. And they felt it wasn't in their best interest."

The HBO piece revolves more around Harbaugh's upbringing and connection with Michigan. Eventually, his 49ers tenure is broached and Boone's interview is played.

Alex Boone

Boone started all but the first and final games of the season at right guard. He missed the opener after skipping offseason workouts and training camp while holding out for a new, two-year contract. A knee injury sidelined him for Harbaugh's finale, a 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

By that closing act, Boone apparently had seen enough to change his opinion of Harbaugh.

"I think he just pushed guys too far. He wanted too much, demanded too much, expected too much," Boone said in the HBO interview. "You know, 'We gotta go out and do this. We gotta go out and do this. We gotta go out and do this.' And you'd be like, 'This guy might be clinically insane. He's crazy.'

"... I think that if you're stuck in your ways enough, eventually people are just going to say, 'Listen, we just can't work with this.'"

The 49ers replaced Harbaugh with Jim Tomsula, their defensive line coach the previous eight seasons. Harbaugh posted a 49-22-1 record, including a 5-3 postseason mark with three NFC championship game appearances and a Super Bowl defeat.

Boone wasn't Harbaugh's only vocal supporter, as Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and many others also stuck up for the embattled coach in his final days with the 49ers.

But Boone's pro-Harbaugh stance was the most emphatic, as evident by these quotes:

"Last I checked I was in the locker room and it was all smiles, and everybody was happy," Boone said Sept. 29 in a radio interview. "Nobody was saying we want him out. I know for a fact everybody loves Harbaugh.

"He's a great guy, a great coach. How could you not want to win for a guy that wears cleats during a game? Have you not seen that guy's energy. He's exciting 24/7. You've got to love playing for a guy like that. That's what's football is all about."

After an Oct. 5 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Boone again stuck up for Harbaugh and chastised the "losers" who questioned his coach's future.

"I'm really kind of sick of everyone talking about my coach, because he's like a brother to me," Boone said at his locker after the game. "So if I were everybody I'd keep my mouth shut, I'd keep their mouth shut, because they don't want me coming back at them. ... I'm kind of sick of it. Leave my coach alone."