Can Whisenhunt, Webster be rift-proof?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Reports of trade talks between the 49ers and Browns for San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh brought to light the extent of the strain between Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke.

Every traditional coach-GM division of labor can be a delicate relationship. Great pairs work together with mutual respect, but others have succeeded despite tensions. In fact, those tensions, if reasonably managed, can be part of what actually makes a franchise work.

But the goal at the start is a strong working relationship that won't fracture.

And based on the personalities of Titans general manager Ruston Webster and the coach he hired, Ken Whisenhunt, it seems something crazy would have to happen for them to have some sort of strife.

Rich McKay was general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Webster worked in the front office there, and later held the same post in Atlanta, where he is now the Falcons president. McKay knows Whisenhunt from interviewing him in 2007 when Atlanta wound up replacing Jim Mora with Bobby Petrino and from time together on the NFL's competition committee in 2012.

"Ken is a very competitive guy, and that always showed up when you did the research on him, whether he was at Pittsburgh or Arizona or just being around him when we were on the competition committee," McKay said. "He is a very competitive guy. He does a great job of controlling his emotions, but by the same token, he's got an edge to him.

"Ruston is one of those guys that has that look and that appearance of being easy going, but he is likewise competitive. So I think they'll mesh very well. When you deal with them [as a reporter], you'll think they are somewhat easygoing, but that won't necessarily be what the feeling will be inside the organization, where I think they will drive it pretty good because of the way both guys are wired."

The sort of things that can unfold to create strain between a coach and GM need to be addressed and acknowledged quickly and not allowed to fester. Whisenhunt and Webster have both spoken of their desire to communicate well, and that can prevent a lot of potentially bad situations from percolating.

I wondered if they might be considered close to rift-proof at the start of their time working together.

"It all starts with two basic precepts," McKay said. "One is communication and the other is trust. Communication, you can't have enough. And the trust you must have. Those are the two things I've seen in successful situations and I've seen one or the other broken in unsuccessful ones."