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I guess this is a criticism of sports journalism. This probably means I'm criticizing myself.

In the past few weeks, journalists reported on two local developments — the firing of Raiders public-relations operative Zak Gilbert, and the 49ers' hiring of Eric Mangini as an offensive consultant. Local journalists tried to explain the meaning of both circumstances.

I find their explanations all wet. And I find one other thing. Once an all-wet theory gets started, lots of journalists take it as gospel and run with it. I've done it myself, although not in these cases.

The Zak Gilbert Theory: According to this Apocryphal Gospel, Raiders owner Mark Davis did not fire Gilbert for anything bad he did on the job — that would have been the normal reason to fire a guy. On the contrary, Davis fired Gilbert to send general manager Reggie McKenzie a message of some sort.

Look, Davis was wrong to fire Gilbert, but he fired Gilbert for cause, for what Davis perceived as failures on the job. Davis did not fire Gilbert because of some beef he has with McKenzie — and Gilbert was McKenzie's guy.

If Davis wanted to send a message to McKenzie he could have walked into his office and told him. I mean, they work in the same building.

Davis knows where McKenzie's office is. And, get this, Davis knows how to talk.

The Oakland Trib's Monte Poole interviewed Davis for his Sunday column and asked if he was sending a message to McKenzie by firing the PR guy. "Not at all," Davis said. "I understand what Reggie is trying to do. Reggie's fine. He's the one guy that I've hired. I've got to give him room to do his job."

In other words, the delivering-a-message theory is all wet. Yet, after it got going, it spread like heat rash among local sports writers.

As did the story line about the 49ers' recent hire.

The Eric Mangini Theory: Several sports writers, people I respect, came up with the far-fetched theory — maybe with help from the tricky Niners — that Jim Harbaugh hired Mangini as an "offensive consultant" to help Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman game plan against opponents.

I want to die laughing.

This theory didn't spread like heat rash. It spread like wild fire on a dry September afternoon in California. Why is this theory another Apocryphal Gospel, not to mention a bunch of hot air?

Let me count the ways:

Mangini is a defensive coach. He is not an offensive coach and he has nothing to teach Roman. Nothing.

Twice, he got fired as a head coach and he alienated his mentor Bill Belichick, and he hasn't coached in two years and, basically, he can't get locked up in the league. Which means he was desperate for a job, any kind of job, even consultant, whatever that means.

Some writers have floated the theory he will create defensive game plans against the Niners' offense. Call them shadow game plans. Call this baloney.

It's possible Mangini will give his opinion about what might work against the Niners' offense. Sure. It's always good to get an opinion from an outside source, someone not indoctrinated in 49ers-think. But that's not the main reason Mangini is on the San Francisco 49ers — to the extent he's on the staff.

From significant and relevant conversations I've had, it's clear to me the Niners are interested in Mangini because of his work at ESPN, where he was an analyst the past two seasons. The Niners are an insular bunch — have conducted no interviews for assistant coaches because their staff is solid — and have excluded themselves from something important. They do not know how the league views them. Mangini learned all this at ESPN where he had fantastic access to all teams. The 49ers noticed. They budgeted for an information dump. Hello, Eric.

There's one other thing. Part of the flawed Mangini Theory — that he really will help San Francisco's offense — is that Harbaugh is open-minded and incredibly flexible because he is humble and seeks guidance from others, sometimes from the most unlikely sources.

For starters, any coach worth anything seeks guidance. Bill Walsh, light years beyond Harbaugh as a football thinker, sought guidance wherever he could get it.

The Warriors hired Jerry West as a consultant, and I don't recall articles praising Mark Jackson for being open-minded.

Over at the world-champion Giants, general manager Brian Sabean hired as consultants Felipe Alou, Jack Hiatt, Joey Amalfitano, Jim Davenport, Will Clark, J.T. Snow. If I missed someone, please forgive me. The Giants have an army of consultants and no one gave them huzzahs for seeking special guidance. They did what first-rate clubs do.

So what's the big deal about Harbaugh hiring one consultant?

I'll tell you what and, get this, the praise of Harbaugh for being open and seeking guidance really is a subtle knock at Harbaugh, although the sports writers may not understand that.

Harbaugh projects himself as secretive and closed to the media. He reveals zilch. Any sports writer would be justified in thinking Harbaugh is closed-minded when it comes to seeking help, although any sports writer can't possibly know this is true because we are not in Harbaugh's coaching meetings and never see how he interacts with his staff. For all we know he's a regular Mr. Joy Boy.

The "guidance-seeker" theory really says this: For a closed-minded, rigid, difficult man Harbaugh surprised everyone and sought a second opinion.

Kind of condescending.

Harbaugh is a good coach and good coaches routinely learn from others. There is nothing unusual in this and there is no particular reason to praise Harbaugh for this, and certainly no reason to condescend.

The great Ira Miller used to tell me, "At most, sports writers know 15 percent of what takes place on a team."

In the cases of Mark Davis and Mangini, downgrade that to 1 percent.


For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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