Other than finding a general manager, a head coach, two coordinators, a quarterback, an offensive line, a functioning ballcarrier, some linebackers and defensive backs, more pass-rushers, an agronomist to fix the divots, a traffic guru to ease the logjams, a security force to stop the fan brawls, a referee to break up the locker-room fights, a flashlight for Colin Kaepernick’s island and a p.r. whiz to pacify incensed consumers who pay the NFL’s highest prices for this steaming pile of feces, no, the 49ers don’t have much work ahead.
And when the CEO in charge of What’s Possibly Next is a 35-year-old flub-up named Jed York — and the only reason he has his position is because his parents bequeathed it — well, I suggest fans find another hobby to pursue on autumn Sundays.
For it’s sorely apparent now that this dumpster fire of a franchise won’t be competitive, let alone respectable, for a long time.
York needs a general manager, but word is, he intends to stick with Trent Baalke despite his frequently analyzed flaws and foibles in recent drafts and free agency. York needs a coach, but who of right mind — including Stanford’s David Shaw, who makes only $2 million a year and wouldn’t even have to call a mover — would work for Jed and Trent? York needs a new quarterback, but seeing how the current regime allowed Kaepernick to suffer the quickest and most pronounced quarterbacking regression in recent NFL memory, wouldn’t the 49ers just ruin Cal’s Jared Goff, too?
I’ve been writing sports columns half my life, in cities across America. Only once have I seen something so successful erode into something so abysmal in a matter of months. It happened when the megalomaniacal rockhead who owned the Chicago Bulls took a wrecking ball to basketball’s greatest dynasty, Michael Jordan’s reign, with the intent of building his own dynasty so he could claim the credit that Jordan, Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen were rightfully receiving. The Bulls sunk into oblivion for years and haven’t returned to the NBA Finals; for context, Steve Kerr, Jordan’s teammate, has won three rings since. This, I’m assuming, also will be the fate of York, who made the fatal error of thinking the 49ers’ success — a Super Bowl and three straight NFC title games — was about him and Baalke when it was obvious then and even moreso now that the glory seasons were mostly about Jim Harbaugh.
In Chicago, Jerry Krause didn’t get along with Jackson, so Jerry Reinsdorf sided with the GM. In Santa Clara, Baalke didn’t get along with Harbaugh, so York sided with the GM. In both cases, a savvy owner/businessman/leader-of-men would have grasped the importance of managing the idiosyncrasies and tantrums of a dynamic championship coach — think working beside Bill Belichick or Nick Saban is easy, or Bill Parcells and Vince Lombardi back in the day? — and somehow made it doable. York, enabled by the clout and hubris that Harbaugh’s success brought him, instead pulled the impulsive power play and fired The Wrong Guy — the guy who sold the pricey ticket packages at Levi’s Stadium, the guy who created Kaepernick, the guy who won hardware. Now, that historic blunder is haunting Jed in ways he never imagined.
This is his mess. And he is incapable of fixing it.
I repeat: Might he want to pipe in a call to his uncle, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., and ask one of the sport’s all-time great owners how he won Super Bowls when it’s clear Jed missed certain dispensings of the family gene pool? Short of that, York had better at least have a master plan in place, however shaky, when his fellow NFL owners arrive for the Big Game in early February. Nothing is more embarrassing for a host owner than when his team is the league’s worst. Maybe that bit of cocktail-party humiliation will shame York into getting his act together, but I doubt it.
If a miracle ever could be in play here, he first must purge the self-delusion that he’s a football savant. Even in high school, he never played the game in northeast Ohio, choosing baseball. He went to Notre Dame, majored in finance and history, then set out to New York as a financial analyst, only to leave after a year to join the family franchise. Who knew he’d be running the 49ers at 29? And why would anyone be surprised that he has no clue, six years later, about what he’s doing on the football side? As a businessman, York and his father did the impossible in California: They wrangled a sweetheart deal for Levi’s Stadium. But while the facility increased the franchise valuation to $2.7 billion, the Santa Clara structure may prove to be a perpetual curse when disgusted fans start canceling season tickets in droves. Nothing has gone right for Jed since the move from San Francisco, and if you want to call it a Candlestick Curse, I say it’s cause and effect. Levi’s Stadium gave York a big head, amid floated whispers of a state political career.
And if he could build a $1.3 billion stadium, why couldn’t he flick away Harbaugh after one too many 7 a.m. office blowups by Coach Khaki?
What York failed to understand, sadly, is that Harbaugh is a potential Hall of Fame coach. And the successor York hired in his vision, Jim Tomsula, is some sort of goofy combination of Tommy Lasorda and Fred Flintstone with one exception — Lasorda won championships, Flintstone won bowling matches. Tomsula has lost six games, five unwatchable, and may not win again this season. He is not qualified to be an NFL head coach, something York should have known when he bypassed the more qualified Adam Gase to hire a guy who’d never been even a coordinator in the league, and last was a full-time head coach nine years earlier in Europe. Unless he shows remarkable ability to develop a ravaged roster — a new quarterback in Blaine Gabbert, a new running back in Pierre Thomas — Tomsula can’t possibly return for a second season. Even his strong suit, motivating the troops as a players’ coach, has backfired in his inability to reverse ill locker-room vibes against Kaepernick. When a respected veteran like Vernon Davis chews out Kaepernick for wearing his ubiquitous Beats headphones in the locker room, and another respected veteran like Joe Staley calls out Davis for calling out Kaepernick, it begs the question: Where is Tomsula?
At least Davis has a chance to revive his career in Denver, where he will catch passes from a more reliable source — Peyton Manning — and maybe win a ring on the same field where he suffered the last season and a half. Wonder how many other vets wish they could have exited the same door?
Before a legitimate coach can be located, York first must part ways with Baalke. For all his credible work in assembling rosters with which Harbaugh won, we now must ask if even Baalke’s best finds succeeded only because Harbaugh developed them. Did Baalke also ride Harbaugh’s cape, only to turn on him because he lacked the savvy to get along with him? All we know is, there has been no worse GM in the league the last two years. And with so much to do, Baalke can’t possibly keep playing yes-man to York’s whims.
We’ve seen it often in sports, a clueless owner who finally realizes he needs a serious decision-maker to right the franchise. Who’s out there? The trend is to hire assistant GMs in NFL shops, but I’d shoot bigger. Think Sean Payton wants a bigger challenge and more money with total control? Would you give Urban Meyer, who must be tiring of college headaches, the run of the franchise? Shaw, even?
Then, maybe Goff might develop and be good.
Then, maybe the ticket prices and long drive might be worth it someday.
Except for one problem: Jed York still would be there, in the way.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.