Chip Kelly becomes second coach in a row to last just one season at helm
SANTA CLARA — There was no final stand to save their head coach’s job, no rousing show of pride for the 49ers in their season finale.
It was just more of the same that led to their worst finish in 12 years.
The Niners followed their script of playing well in the first quarter before collapsing in the second half. It led to an uninspiring win for the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks, 25-23.
When asked for his assessment of the season, Chip Kelly deferred to a favorite cliche in NFL circles that it’s a “bottom-line business.”
“We were 2-14,” he said. “That’s how I would analyze the season.”
Turmoil reigned before the “Faithful Appreciation Game” as reports swirled that CEO Jed York had decided to fire both general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly.
For his part, Baalke confirmed he was let go on KNBR before arriving at Levi’s Stadium to watch the game from the team’s personnel booth.
“It didn’t surprise me,” Baalke said during the radio appearance. “We’ve done some awful good things. Some very successful seasons. Unfortunately regret we weren’t able to bring a championship to the Bay Area, which they so deserve.”
Kelly took the news being leaked to national NFL writers differently as he reportedly reacted to his rumored firing by having a heated phone conversation with York. Kelly denied that after the loss on Sunday.
“Does NSA listen in on our phones?” he asked, after saying the tone of his call with York was subdued.
The impending ouster of a coach well liked by his players didn’t translate to improved play. On their second play from scrimmage, Colin Kaepernick and Shaun Draughn mixed up a read-option handoff, leading to a lost fumble on their own 21. Seattle turned it into three points.
The sequence accurately foreshadowed the game, which was defined by the Niners creating opportunities for their opponent, and the Seahawks struggling to fully capitalize.
Kelly, as he has at least two other times this season, blamed the team’s turnovers for being the primary cause of a loss. But there was also the characteristic second-half stagnation that cost them a 14-3 lead.
The Niners offense was non-existent again in the third quarter, when they ran nine plays across three possessions and gained -14 yards and punted three times.
They were able to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter to bring the game within a score after being gifted a safety when punter Jon Ryan had a snap fly over his head and out of the back of the end zone. But backup Hawks quarterback Trevone Boykin — playing for a resting Wilson — gained enough first downs to ensure the Niners didn’t get another possession in the 2017 season.
The loss cost Kelly his job as the team announced about two hours after the conclusion of the game that he and Baalke have officially been let go.
“Despite my feelings for Trent and Chip, I felt the decision to change our football leadership was absolutely necessary,” York said in a news release. “The performance of this team has not lived up to my expectations or those of our fans, and that is truly disappointing. We all expected to see this team progress and develop as the season went on, but unfortunately that did not happen. That is why now is the time to find a new direction for this team.”
The players appreciated what Kelly did for the team as Kaepernick, Joe Staley, DeForest Buckner, Torrey Smith, NaVorro Bowman and others complimented the coach for keeping the team together despite a lack of on-field results.
“There was a time during the last two weeks, I looked around the locker room and didn’t even know the names of some of the guys in here. The turnover was crazy,” Staley said. “… We could have really lost this football team and he did a great job of just keeping everyone focused throughout this crappy season.”