At an “informal, relaxing luncheon” in Redwood City, John York will discuss his “love” for the 49ers today. I know this because I’ve been asked to attend, which means organizers also must have invited Jim Harbaugh, Richard Sherman and the incensed license owners who are trying to dump thousands of seats at The Zipper. York is being honored in a “small gathering of former players, the S.F. Chamber of Commerce, business leaders, politicians” and “a couple of members of the press.”
Gee, will we be watching a replay of the Cleveland game?
I have no doubt that York, who inherited control of the once-hallowed Niners with wife Denise when his self-admittedly “stupid” brother-in-law was nailed in a gambling fraud scandal, loves the team on some level — certainly, the financial level. He’s the one who hatched the hideous idea of moving the San Francisco 49ers to a plot of sweetheart land 42 miles south in Santa Clara, where the franchise has been cursed ever since, ha ha, hoo hoo. But if York really and truly loves the Niners, he should stop professing how much he loves the Niners and take a dramatic step in proving how much he loves the Niners.
That being, the removal of his son as CEO.
Jed York might be the most loathed owner in American sports right now. That’s some accomplishment considering three other NFL owners, including Mark Davis in Oakland, are alienating fan bases by lobbying to move their teams to Los Angeles, while the likes of James Dolan, Daniel Snyder, Jeffrey Loria and the Philadelphia 76ers’ goof lurk back East. By now, it should be repugnantly obvious that Jed has allowed his football product to rot away while gleefully doubling his franchise value — now fifth-highest in the league, at $2.7 billion — and bringing Super Bowl 50 to Levi’s Stadium. The cardinal sin of the sports industry is to open a sparkling palace, ask customers to pay exorbitant prices and drive longer distances, then produce awful entertainment on the field.
To say the 49ers were dogs Sunday is to insult all local canines. They quit in Cleveland and didn’t show up against the league’s worst team, with the respected veteran tackle, Joe Staley, among those saying so. “It just felt like we didn’t bother to show up and play,” he said. In the short term, the lame, limp, lifeless performance was a direct reflection on Jim Tomsula, whose first year as head coach should be his only year as head coach, having laid several stinkers this season where he hasn’t had his team ready to at least compete. Did you see some of the post-game comments? How can Tomsula and his assistants keep their jobs beyond 5 p.m. on Jan. 3?
“We can’t take anyone lightly,” Staley said. “We’re not in a position to take anyone lightly.”
“Maybe we took them for granted,” linebacker Ahmad Brooks said of the woeful Browns. “Them having the record they had coming in, maybe we did take them a little light. We got the win last week and maybe we got big-headed and thought things would happen. We won last week [in Chicago] because everybody played hard.”
Said quarterback/sacrificial lamb Blaine Gabbert, who was sacked nine times and noted that he was happy to be “standing and breathing”: “We didn’t have 11 guys on the same page enough in the football game. We have to find a way to make a play, move the football and score touchdowns. We failed to do so.”
That Tomsula responded by saying he disagreed with Staley and Brooks and intended to have a discussion with them … it’s all fruitless now. “Yeah, that’ll come up,” he said. “Not in just general conversation. You know, ‘What do you mean? Where are you at?’” We’ve seen enough to know that Harbaugh’s foolish dismissal has been compounded by the hiring of an unqualified successor, which is all on Jed York, who always viewed Tomsula as head-coaching material simply because he liked his gung-ho personality. This was a misguided idea from the first day, and any thought of giving Tomsula one more season only would set back the franchise another season … or two or three. If nothing else, he was supposed to be a motivator, a players’ coach. If nothing else, he’d be a leader who’d have them fighting in mid-December even if the season was lost. Instead, he allowed a team to play dead on our time.
“I didn’t see that,” Tomsula countered. “I saw a game where we didn’t execute. I didn’t see an effort problem.”
To have any hope of regaining even the slightest credibility with fans, Jed most remove Tomsula and think bigger and smarter — David Shaw and Sean Payton atop the list; Hue Jackson, Brian Kelly and Adam Gase farther down. The problem is that none of those would-be candidates — including Shaw, who sees this debacle from nearby Stanford, winces and reminds himself that he’s having fun when his NFL friends are not — would bother to listen unless they have total control of the football operation. That means Jed also has to dismiss general manager Trent Baalke, whose recent draft flameouts have left the roster in tatters while not helped by the mass exodus of players last offseason.
In Silicon Valley parlance, the 49ers need an operational reboot. And it must involve more than the scapegoating of demoted team president Paraag Marathe — who tried to inject analytics into an operation that has enough difficulty just snapping a football — and thinking life will improve when he’s in Sacramento running some soccer operation.
It’s good to know that one particular fallout of football failure surely capturing Jed’s attention — fans trying to unload seat licenses — is a crisis in progress for the 49ers. Consumers aren’t permitted to break a Levi’s seat contract without legal ramifications, but their recourse could be a class-action suit on grounds of consumer fraud/bad football. The city of Santa Clara is responsible for seeking and destroying license-duckers, but the 49ers will take an eventual major hit both financially and cosmetically, with wide swaths of red seats again greeting the team this Sunday at The Zipper. No number of non-football events — Monster Energy Supercross, Monster Jam and Kenny Chesney’s “Spread The Love” tour coming up — can save Jed if every football season is a public relations and monetary disaster, and the sponsors start asking hard questions.
I’m reluctant to suggest installing Hall of Fame athletes atop sports organizations, having watched Michael Jordan miss almost every shot as an owner and executive. But Steve Young, a successful businessman and philanthropist whose brilliant mind is wasted with Ray Lewis and Trent Dilfer on Monday night TV, would be an expert decision-maker and ambassador who symbolizes the franchise’s once-iconic place. Like the other aforementioned candidates, Young would need Jed out of the way or gone entirely. But he would be an exemplary CEO who could make football decisions, find a real quarterback and create some semblance of faith among The Faithful.
In every conceivable way, the 49ers are fading fast as a relevant local institution. With nothing to do but rehab his non-throwing shoulder and wait for a possible multimillion-dollar injury settlement for the team, Colin Kaepernick took to Instagram to call out Donald Trump for his views on Muslims and their ability to travel in this country. “Racism and discrimination isn’t OK we are all human beings,” Kaepernick wrote. “Things need to change.”
At least someone cares about something. Everyone else is quitting.
The family hand-me-down thing often backfires in sports. Notice the L.A. Lakers since Jerry Buss passed and let his kids run the franchise into the ground? There is precedent for a parent demoting a son in NFL ownership: Virginia McCaskey, matriarch of the Chicago Bears, reduced son Michael from team president to gardener.
We’ve already seen how Jed does with turf. Just fire him, please, so we can rediscover professional football in a $1.3 billion stadium.