SANTA CLARA -- The tape recorder wasn't on, there were no cameras, and I wasn't taking notes, but Jim Harbaugh's oft-stated policy is that he's always on-the-record, so what we discussed this afternoon after a 49ers OTA clearly was part of the public discourse.
And yes, Harbaugh and I have had some discourse about the Aldon Smith issue. Just a bit of it.
Harbaugh had already done his general media session (which I didn't know was happening, my bad), but I saw him outside the locker room when I was walking out and I wanted to clarify some things about our exchange a few weeks ago and talk a little more, and a little more calmly (both of us).
One point I made to him: The questions I asked last month were absolutely not meant for the cameras. Frankly, I would prefer to have all of our exchanges off-camera, which is better for newspaper/website exclusivity, but that's not usually how he wants it.
Two, that I wasn't mad about the exchange because it was just the normal by-play with a strong-willed coach and I never mind that...and Harbaugh immediately said he didn't even consider it much of a blow-up at all.
He did say that he didn't appreciate my "is 10 felony counts the standard" question from back in May, however. Today, I told him I agreed that the wording could be considered a little pejorative, but I said it and I'll live with it.
Then we started talking about the issues surrounding Smith's standing with the 49ers and what goes into their thinking — with some debate, yes, but mostly Harbaugh laying out some things more clearly than anybody in the 49ers hierarchy ever has. (Which I appreciated — even if a little late.)
I won't quote Harbaugh directly because, again, this was not a tape-recorder/notepad conversation and I don't have the exact wording. But here's what we discussed:
* Harbaugh said Aldon Smith is expected to report with all other 49ers players for training camp, scheduled to start July 23.
That was a key point I was trying to ask about because Smith's sentencing hearing after pleading no contest to three felony weapons charges and one misdemeanor DUI charge is July 25 — two days after the start of camp.
Today Harbaugh said Smith is "a member of the team" and therefore of course should be reporting to camp with his teammates.
* Generally, Harbaugh and I had a good discussion about due process and what pleading no contest to three felony and one misdemeanor charges really means.
He said they won't know what will happen until the judge decides; I argued that Smith is already considered legally guilty — that's what "no contest" means, acceptance without the actual guilty plea.
I said the 49ers' standard of behavior for their players should be separate from criminal decisions or sentencing judgments, but Harbaugh said it's out of their hands — it's the NFL and the judge that will decide.
We argued this one out and we did not agree on this philosophical point. Maybe when we go to law school together some professor will settle this for us.
* Harbaugh also explained that the 49ers played Smith all 70 defensive snaps vs. Indianapolis two days after Smith's DUI last September because of two main reasons.
—Harbaugh said professionals are paid to do a job and Smith's job was to play; to expect anything less of Smith would've been the indulgent way, Harbaugh suggested;
—The 49ers were thin at outside linebacker at the time and needed Smith out there.
Harbaugh said he knew many people — including me — disagreed with Smith playing and might disagree with the 49ers' logic for doing it, but said the 49ers have to do what's best for the team and their players.
I'll say this: It was good for Harbaugh to state all this so clearly.
It was good that somebody did. There have been some bumpier times, and who knows what happens with Aldon Smith in the future and what Harbaugh, GM Trent Baalke and owner Jed York do about it...
But it's always better to hear the real reasons for big decisions than have to guess amid total mystery.