The 49ers are falling apart as a team and as an organization, but there may be a saving grace for fans: Their troubles may finally force the Yorks to sell the team.
When the DeBartolo corporation was split up, Denise DeBartolo York got the 49ers and brother Eddie got Simon DeBartolo stock. Denise was never excited about owning the team, and it probably doesn’t make her happier to see her profligate brother becoming super-rich as the price of his stock has risen dramatically.
John York wanted to keep the team, first so he could play owner and later so he could leave the team in the control of his oldest son, Jed. Denise agreed, so long as owning the team didn’t cost the family money.
But now, the possibility of financial loss is very real, mostly because of bad decisions for which John York is responsible.
The first was firing Steve Mariucci, the last competent coach the 49ers have had, and retaining Terry Donahue as general manager. Donahue hired Dennis Erickson, a successful college coach who has been an NFL bust, first at Seattle and then in his two years in San Francisco.
So, York had to get rid of Donahue and Erickson after the 2004 season and has been paying off their contracts. He’s soon going to have another coach to pay off, because Mike Nolan can’t save his job after the last go-round with quarterback Alex Smith. Though both men tried to paper over their dispute with bogus public statements, the rift is irreparable — and symbolic of the teamwide problem Nolan has.
Meanwhile, the proposed stadium deal in Santa Clara is reportedly about to fall apart. No surprise there. That proposal was a non-starter from the moment the 49ers announced it, before they had even talked to the Great America owners about building on their property or to anyone in the Santa Clara city government.
In Arizona, team owner Bill Bidwell had turned over the stadium project to his son Michael, who was able to mobilize an effort to get the new stadium built. York had hoped to do the same thing with his son, who is in charge of the Santa Clara project. But there are two significant differences: Michael Bidwell is older and had been a successful attorney for six years prior to working on the stadium project. Jed York’s qualifications consist of, well, being John York’s son.
Ticket sales will no doubt drop significantly next year. It’s almost impossible for an NFL team to lose money, but it seems likely the 49ers will next year. If, however,the Yorks sell the team, they would make a sizable profit, which would appeal to Denise, a good businesswoman.
There are certainly candidates to buy it. Carmen Policy has a group he could put together with a couple of phone calls. Larry Ellison has expressed interest. Brent Jones and Steve Young have fronted for another group.
The last time the 49ers were in such desperate straits was in the Joe Thomas era. That was so bad that Eddie D had to turn to Bill Walsh to rescue the franchise. Former 49er Gene Washington philosophized that the Thomas era was a good thing because it forced a radical change.
We may be looking at a similar instance here, where disaster leads to eventual triumph — if the Yorks will sell.