SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Trent Baalke was promoted to general manager of the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday night.
Now, let the coaching search begin.
Baalke was formally hired as the team's new GM, though he had largely been considered the front-runner for about a week. He will take on more responsibility from his most recent post as vice president of player personnel, including taking the lead on finding a new coach.
With Baalke in place, the Niners are in position to make a serious run at Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh — perhaps starting as soon as Wednesday morning, though it is believed the sides have already had contact.
Harbaugh, with plenty of suitors coming his way, returned to the Bay Area earlier Tuesday evening from a 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in Miami. The Cardinal finished at 12-1.
Baalke had interviewed extensively on Saturday with team president Jed York, who has said he would let the general manager pick the team's next coach.
"Trent has done an exceptional job in his role as vice president of player personnel and throughout his tenure with the 49ers," York said in a statement. "I have had the benefit of watching Trent closely in the recent months and have been very impressed with his knowledge and leadership. I am confident that Trent will find the 49ers an excellent head coach who will lead us to great success in the coming years."
Mike Singletary was fired after a 25-17 loss at St. Louis on Dec. 26 that eliminated the 49ers from playoff contention for an eighth straight year. That was after San Francisco was picked to win the NFC West following an unbeaten preseason.
York insisted last week he would conduct a national search for the GM position but ultimately decided to promote from within. The 49ers had been without a general manager since Scot McCloughan's abrupt departure last March in what York called a "mutual parting."
Baalke, who spent time before last Sunday's 38-7 season-ending win against Arizona shaking hands with several fans in the stands at Candlestick Park, has been with the organization for six years.
"I would like to thank Jed York and the York family for this tremendous opportunity," Baalke said in a statement. "It is an honor to be named the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, a franchise with a history filled by some of the game's greatest players, coaches and executives. I look at this role as one of great responsibility — to not only the history of the franchise, but also to the 49ers faithful. My entire focus is now dedicated to finding the next head coach of the 49ers."
He was director of player personnel from 2008-09, overseeing the college and pro personnel departments. He first joined the franchise in 2005 as the 49ers' Western Region scout, a position he held through 2007.
Baalke orchestrated the contract extensions of two key 49ers this season: four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis and star tight end Vernon Davis. Those are two significant moves since Baalke took over football operations after McCloughan left, along with leading the team's 2010 draft.
In May, Willis received a $50 million, five-year contract extension that takes him through the 2016 season and includes $29 million in guaranteed money. He earns $10 million per season. Davis was rewarded with a five-year deal paying him $37 million overall, with $34 million guaranteed.
Baalke also drafted rookie starting offensive linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati with the 11th and 17th overall picks, respectively.
His other draft picks last season also played significant roles as rookies.
Baalke also worked four years in the scouting department for the Washington Redskins prior to coming to San Francisco and has coached in the college game.