If you’ve read imaginative ramblings that Larry Ellison will swoop in from his yacht and rescue the 49ers, heed some advice: Start perusing more accurate news sources. The team is not for sale, hasn’t been for sale and will not be for sale. “My family has owned this team since before I was born,” said Jed York, “and they’ll own this team after I’m gone.”
Why? Current franchise valuation: $2.7 billion. Potential 2020 franchise valuation: $5 billion, no matter how shoddy the football product.
So any designation of “savior” — for a franchise that has screwed up every coaching hire over the last 13 years except Jim Harbaugh, which was nullified by his dismissal — would be found within the selection that (gulp) York and Trent Baalke are making this month. And while there’s optimism among fans because two well-known coaching names, Sean Payton and Chip Kelly, have informed the Niners of their interest, please be reminded that each would come with baggage. This is not a franchise, given the relentless cycles of bad news on and off the field, that can afford to be dogged by more storms.
Payton, who won a dreamy Super Bowl in New Orleans six years ago but since has fallen off the fast track, isn’t as likely to wind up in Santa Clara as Kelly. He has been pardoned in NFL circles — though I’m not sure why, given the sport’s litigation-heavy emphasis on safety — for his role in a 2009-11 bounty scandal that landed him a one-year league suspension. If mentor Bill Parcells helps grease the skids for his hiring in New York, and the Giants don’t balk at the Saints’ demand of a second-round draft pick, Payton won’t be joining hands with Jed and Trent.
As for Mike Shanahan, who already has spoken to the 49ers for the second straight offseason, the fit simply doesn’t feel right. He fizzled out in Washington and was dumped after the 2013 season, and since then, successor Jay Gruden — with the help of former 49ers personnel wizard Scot McCloughan, who doesn’t receive enough credit for building rosters with which Harbaugh won — has revived the Redskins and developed a emerging star in quarterback Kirk Cousins. Going on 64, Shanahan may want to ask himself if he has the energy to take on a massive rebuild with an inept general manager in Baalke.
But Kelly, 52, says he wants to be here. That could be problematic. He not only lost the Eagles’ locker room in his first NFL gig, he’s fortunate to have come out of the experience with all limbs intact. After a promising 10-6 debut year and a 9-3 start in 2014, Kelly dropped 12 of his final 19 games before he was fired by owner Jeffrey Lurie with one game left this season. The early ouster spoke volumes: The organization was sick of him, top to bottom. Sound familiar? If Jed and Trent tired of Harbaugh, who went to three straight NFC title games and almost won a Super Bowl, how in devil’s name would they deal with Kelly if he continued to anger his players and micromanage his ship while failing to reboot a once-revolutionary offensive scheme that defensive coordinators figured out?
“You’ve got to open your heart to players and everybody you want to achieve peak performance,” Lurie said in a critical assessment of his ex-coach and what he prefers next in Philadelphia. “I would call it a style of leadership that values information and all of the resources that are provided and at the same time values emotional intelligence. I think in today’s world, a combination of all those factors creates the best chance to succeed. [We want] someone who interacts and communicates very closely with everyone he works with.”
Emotional intelligence. It’s a polite way of calling Kelly an intractable clod. He entered dangerous cultural territory when he refused to waive receiver Riley Cooper after his racial slur at a music concert was caught on a phone, going viral. Then Kelly gave him a $22.5 million extension, and from that point on, a stigma grew among African-American players — in Philly and throughout the league. Whether it’s somewhat unfair doesn’t matter. In today’s subset of pro sports, if players tune out a coach who loses games, the coach departs. And when Kelly was ripped by stars who didn’t fit his personal philosophy and were let go, such as LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, well, that’s why Kelly is available today. That and handing $40 million to McCoy’s replacement at running back, DeMarco Murray, who was a bust.
Kelly was deemed “unapproachable” by some players, according to Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson. “I want to see a guy who really cares about his players and isn’t so set in his ways so we can all go in the same direction,” Johnson said. “I think Chip had good intentions. I just think that he didn’t have a good way to go about it, and sometimes it came off a little bit standoffish. That’s just his way.”
The upbeat premise is that Kelly, who did groom Marcus Mariota at Oregon, could salvage the puzzle that is Colin Kaepernick. But unlike Mariota, who has a pocket presence and understands how to move first-down chains with his arm, Kaepernick remains a passing-game novice. Let’s hope the 49ers don’t keep him simply because his various injuries, now including a torn thumb ligament on his throwing hand, might require an $11.9 million injury-guarantee payment on April 1. Both parties need a clean break, but by winning Sunday’s sendoff to Jim Tomsula and sliding from No. 5 to No. 7 in the draft, the 49ers probably blew any shot at Cal quarterback Jared Goff.
Herein lies the biggest hangup of anyone coaching the Niners: Who’s the quarterback? Why would Kelly want Blaine Gabbert and a broken Kaepernick when, in the end, he could reunite with Mariota with the Tennessee Titans, who have a coaching opening?
Jed and Trent are talking to Shanahan because he knows offense. So does Hue Jackson, the former Raiders coach, but he also had issues in Oakland with the locker room at the end of his one-year, 8-8 tenure. So does Adam Gase, whom the 49ers could have hired last year had Jed and Trent not insisted that Gase keep Tomsula as defensive coordinator. But Gase will get a top job this time in a better place.
Sure, Payton would be the best possible hire, despite his knowledge of a bounty system that paid Saints defenders for deliberately injuring opponents. It was a heinous football crime, but he did serve his penalty without pay and has been above-board since. The encouraging news is, Indianapolis and San Diego retained their coaches, shockingly enough, leaving just the 49ers, Giants, Dolphins, Titans, Browns and Eagles with vacancies when eight to 10 were anticipated.
The discouraging news? All have better quarterbacking situations, assuming the Browns draft one with the second pick.
Which means, baggage and all, that Payton and Kelly likely will land elsewhere. What did York say about having money to throw at his next coach? “I need to make sure,” he declared Monday, “that I find the best football people and give them all the resources that they need to win championships.”
David Shaw is still 14.2 miles away. Offer him those resources, at $8 million annually for five years, and up the ante until he can’t say no.
Jed? Still with me, Jed?
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.