49ers franchise at a crossroads

Jed York is talking again. This time he makes sense, although that may not be enough to make immediate progress.

No wild-hare predictions, like that absurd statement back in October when the 49ers were 0-5 they would win the division, a fanciful thought which made Jed seem out of touch.

Now, only an acknowledgment a change is necessary, because a football team, as any organization — a business, the military, a university — requires competent leadership. Or it fails.

Here were the 49ers, once with the best front office in the game, the model, and here are the 49ers at the moment, grasping.

Did the decline begin when Jed’s dad, John York, then the president, walked up to Steve Mariucci, the last winning coach, slapped his wallet and said, “We’re going to start paying attention to this?”

Or was it the refusal of those who replaced the great ones — Bill Walsh, Carmen Policy, John McVay, Allen Webb — to accept advice on how things were done in the glory years?

You can’t reinvent the wheel. You can’t restructure a great sporting franchise.

“The 49ers,” the now retired Ira Miller wrote in March 2005, “once had a front office that was top-heavy with NFL professionals.”

What they have now is a need to find those sort of professionals.

Jed York, who now has fired two coaches in his three seasons as Niners president and chief executive, said, yes, he will search for a competent general manager, who then will search for a competent coach.

John Madden, on his KCBS (740 AM) morning show, wonders exactly how that will be accomplished.

“You’re going to hire a guy,” Madden said about the problem of bringing in a GM, “you don’t even know who he is, never even met him before. You have dinner, talk to him and then give him your whole team? That is tough. Not bringing in someone you really know.”

The possibility of a labor lockout for the 2011 season makes everything more difficult.

“I don’t know any top candidate, with this labor thing out there,” Madden said about a new coach, “who would take the position. There won’t be assistant coaches, no minicamps. Right now, I don’t think there’s anyway a [Jon] Gruden, [Jim] Harbaugh or [Bill] Cowher would take any job until there’s a collective bargaining agreement.”

Jed York said among others, he’ll turn for guidance to his uncle, Eddie DeBartolo, the man whose money, determination and foresight were very much responsible for the Niners winning five Super Bowls.

That won’t hurt, but DeBartolo has not been directly involved in the NFL for a decade. He would have to rely on suggestions from colleagues before presenting ideas to Jed.

Eddie D. was 30 when he and his father, Edward DeBartolo Sr., bought the 49ers, a year older than Jed York is now.

“This isn’t a toy,” or something like that, a defensive DeBartolo told a skeptical Bay Area media in his first news conference. 

Not at all. It was the team created here; the team born the same year as Eddie, 1946; the team which was an heirloom.

DeBartolo became the perfect owner, taking the Niners to heart and to the heights. Now it’s up to his nephew. No promises, Jed. Just action.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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