A power struggle within the York family could mean a welcome change in who directs the 49ers.
John York brought his son, Jed, into the executive structure of the 49ers.
Now, according to sources close to the 49ers, Jed is trying to get his father to step back from active management of the franchise. York loves being a member of the NFL owners’ club and is resisting any change in his role.
All of the 49ers’ problems can be traced to York’s micromanagement. He has his hand in everything. Mike Nolan is acting as de facto general manager because no competent football man is willing to work under York. Last spring, when Nolan was trying to persuade Seattle’s Mike Reinfeldt to come to the team, Reinfeldt reportedly sent a list of 10 questions about the operation of the franchise separately to Nolan and York. The answers from the two were quite different, so Reinfeldt said thanks, but no thanks.
Nolan portrays himself as the man in charge, but many observers think that the decision to let Julian Peterson and Andre Carter leave as free agents this past offseason was more York’s than Nolan’s. York didn’t want to pay the type of money they got — $16 million for Peterson and $9 million for Carter. Nolan talked about not wanting to get back into salary-cap trouble, which was a factor but probably not the main one. The 49ers’ bottom line is much healthier without those two players, but the defense has suffered, the great effort against Minnesota notwithstanding.
The York family struggle is similar to what has happened with the Arizona Cardinals, as Michael Bidwill has taken over for his incompetent father, Bill Bidwill. Though the Cardinals have imploded this year — probably because coach Denny Green has completely lost it — their drafts and free-agent moves have been noticeably better the last two seasons and Michael Bidwill engineered the building of a new stadium.
Meanwhile, the 49ers’ attempt for a new stadium remains stalled, though there are periodic optimistic statements about new plans. Though they’ve talked only about building on Candlestick Point, I’ve heard that they’re also looking for a possible site in Santa Clara County, which would be closer to the bulk of their fan base.
Wherever they locate, the problem is still money. Denise DeBartolo York controls the purse strings and there is no indication she’ll ever spring for the money to build a new stadium. She never wanted the team anyway. When she and her brother, Eddie, were splitting up the family holdings, John York urged her to keep the team. She agreed, so long as it didn’t cost money. So far, York has been able to keep costs down, but the revenue is shrinking because the club is not selling many tickets. They’ve had to buy back tickets to get sellouts so they can televise home games in the Bay Area, but actual attendance at the last game was about what you’d expect for an exhibition game.
Denise DeBartolo York has been a successful businesswoman, running the DeBartolo Corp. She loves her husband, but she can see what’s going on. That’s why she’s lending her support to her son in this family battle, which is good news for 49ers fans. It’s the only hope for a way out of this mess.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.