The 49ers will hold a three-day minicamp starting today, and while even a publication such as San Francisco Business Insider is trashing the team — “49ers have Fallen Apart” — the probability is coach Jim Tomsula will show up fully dressed. As opposed to how his predecessor, Jim Harbaugh, appeared for practice with his new team, Michigan.
Harbaugh, in a photo from the website “Lost Lettermen,” is shirtless, untanned — all those years in California wasted? — and looking as so many of us like he’s been sitting behind a desk and not exercising in a gym. Niners owner Jed York is hereby allowed a chuckle.
Which York needs, along with fans at Levi’s Stadium returning to their seats after halftime.
The Bay Area has gone Warriors mad, of course, so you may have missed all the chaos at Ninersville. Yes, a loaded word, but when Chris Borland, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and then just last Friday, Anthony Davis retire, and familiar and effective punter Andy Lee is traded after 11 years, there’s more than a hint of instability.
Bruce Miller charged with spousal abuse. Ray McDonald arrested for assault. At least he’s somebody’s else’s problem now, but all that happening, and still happening, makes you believe maybe, indeed, everything is coming unglued if it’s not already.
“Look, it’s not all that bad,” said a man close to the team. “Some of those guys who left were at the end of their careers. It’s the perception that everybody’s leaving. Then again, perception is often reality.”
Some knowledgeable individual from the Four-letter Network calls it “post-Harbaugh syndrome.” (Whether that’s the Harbaugh unclothed or clothed is incidental).
“The physical and mental toll of going to three straight title games, including one Super Bowl,” he wrote, “eventually catches up with any team”
The Niners, some contend, still have what is required for at least a modicum of success. That is, a good defense and in Colin Kaepernick, a talented quarterback.
But, some speculate, the Niners might trade Kaepernick and his $19-million salary to a quarterback-starved franchise for high draft choices in the right deal.
York, who in two years has gone from brilliant young executive to irritating young executive — perception, again — means well. It’s just with all the tectonic shifts in an organization which is micro-managed, nobody outside knows exactly what is happening.
General manager Trent Baalke, apparently, was one of the last to give up on Harbaugh — football people stick together, understandably. He has brought in some new talent and speaks glowingly of the players, as if anyone would belittle his own guys.
Will wide receiver Torey Smith be an improvement over Michael Crabtree? Perhaps. Is running back Reggie Bush still able to avoid tacklers? Possibly. And down there at the end of the list, will Levi’s, a beauty of a stadium, ever make both the spectators and the athletes feel as if they truly belong?
“Levi’s is not quite a home,” agreed York. Why not? Because the only year the Niners played there, they were 8-8? Or because it’s too easy to slip downstairs to one of the restaurant-bars when a crowd demanding of success hides from mediocrity?
The championship runs are finished for a while. The Niners missed the post-season in 2014, and most likely, they’ll miss it again this year. No Frank Gore — heavens, he was special, as a man and a player. No Willis. No Borland. No Smith. Now no Davis. Change is inevitable in sports. Confusion is not.
Tomsula, the anti-Harbaugh, may be a surprise. He also could be a bust. An established head coach lends an air of authority. We know what the Seahawks will get from Pete Carroll, the Patriots from Bill Belichick. We knew what the Niners got from Harbaugh, positive and negative.
What do they get from Tomsula? What do they get from Baalke? From York? What do they get from Kaepernick, who worked out over the winter with Kurt Warner, the Most Valuable Player of old? Harbaugh was an offensive guy, but the Niners were a defensive team.
Now we don’t know what to make of the Niners, except they’ve lost a great many people who helped them become champions. That’s not just perception, that’s fact.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.