SANTA CLARA — San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York is retaining Trent Baalke with the idea that the general manager will hire a new coach and turn around this once-proud franchise in a hurry.
York made the announcement that Baalke would stay Monday, one day after firing first-year coach Jim Tomsula after a 19-16 overtime victory against the St. Louis Rams to finish the season.
“Trent understands that I’m not satisfied with the current state of this team. Trent’s role is to find the next head coach and continue to build this roster and get us back to championship form,” York said in his first public remarks to the media this season. “Trent has the skills to do this and get this done. He’s built championship rosters in the past. He’s got respect from folks around the league and his peers.”
San Francisco went 5-11 and missed the playoffs for the second straight season after going 8-8 a year ago in now-Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s fourth and final season before what the team called a “mutual” parting.
“I think it’s well understood what effort we made to keep him here,” York said.
Harbaugh went to Twitter on Sunday night after Tomsula’s firing with a post reading: “Do not be deceived. You will reap what you sow.”
Tomsula is owed $10.5 million for the remaining three years on the deal he signed last January, and York said the team would “eat” that money to pay him whatever he is owed and the difference if he receives an assistant job elsewhere for a lower salary.
“When you’re 5-11, it’s not all coaching,” Baalke said. “We finished 5-11, which we all know is not good enough, not here.”
York, who spoke Monday as the NFL moved into Levi’s Stadium to assume operational control for next month’s Super Bowl, wouldn’t say whether letting Harbaugh go was a mistake.
San Francisco reached three straight NFC championship games in Harbaugh’s initial three years, with a three-point Super Bowl loss to Baltimore after the 2012 season.
“Jim Harbaugh is a good football coach. His success at Michigan doesn’t surprise me at all,” York said. “We need to make sure that we look forward to the next head coach.”
York promoted Tomsula from defensive line coach in a surprising move, choosing the former NFL Europe coach over current Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase and former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio — also now with Chicago.
“I’m not looking back at anything, you can’t undo those decisions,” York said. “I’m moving forward.”
“Sometimes you’re going to make the right decision and sometimes you’re going to make the wrong decision, and I’ve done both. We hired Jim Harbaugh and we hired Jim Tomsula,” Baalke said. “Some would say one was a strong hit and the other one was a miss. … You get humbled by decisions you make that you think are going to work.”
He added, “We’ve got to get this one right.”
San Francisco has a short list of coaching candidates. Baalke said no interviews had been schedule and there are no in-house candidates.
“We’re in need of somebody who can win Super Bowls, period. We haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1994,” York said. “We have a clear understanding of what we want. We want a leader, we want someone who has a clear vision.”
York realizes the scrutiny he faces trying to win back frustrated fans, yet he said he is “emotional” and vowed to stay off Twitter and not become a “distraction,” as happened during the 2014 season.
Before a home game against the Bengals last month, a plane flew over Levi’s Stadium with a banner that read “Hold Jed Accountable,” a reference to his remarks at the end of last season inviting everyone to do so. On Sunday, the message flying overhead read: “Jed Here’s Our Banner — Where’s Yours?”
“This season was frustrating on a number of levels. We took a step back from our ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl,” York said. “For that, I want to apologize to our fans and everybody that cares deeply about this team the way I do. I hear the criticism, loudly. Whether that’s talking to fans directly, whether that’s social media, or from planes flying over my head. The results this season rest on my shoulders, squarely. It wasn’t good enough.”
Only Tomsula has been fired so far, York said, and the new coach will evaluate the remaining members of the staff.
Regarding speculation York might be considering selling, he said, “My family’s owned this team since before I was born and they’ll own this team after I’m gone.”