SANTA CLARA — Jed York is getting pretty familiar with explaining lost football seasons that end with fired head coaches. Monday marked the third time he’s done so in as many years.
Meeting with the media at Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers CEO was apologetic to fans, defensive about his role with the team and determined to prove that he’s found the formula to delivering those Super Bowl wins he’s spoken of in years past.
The No. 1 message York conveyed was that he wants a true partnership between the general manager and head coach he eventually hires to replace the recently terminated Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly.
“When you’re starting with a clean slate and have two guys that are coming in to work together,” he said, “two guys who will be fighting for each other and building what they see is necessary to get the 49ers back to where we need to be — that’s what we’re trying to put together.”
York made it clear that the past few years have not been up to his standards and that he expects winning football teams. But he also said it isn’t reasonable to apply that same standard for guideline to his own position with the organization.
“I own this football team: You don’t dismiss owners,” he said. “I’m sorry, that that’s the facts and that’s the case but that’s the facts. I’m going to do everything I can to get this right. This isn’t about a business and running an operation to make money. We’re making sure we’re doing everything we can to re-establish this culture.”
Before laying out his vision for reporters, York met with the Niners players to give a similar speech. He asked the group if they had any concerns, to give them a chance to air any grievances.
The players declined that opportunity, according to offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore and defensive tackle Quinton Dial.
“Everybody’s pissed off, don’t get me wrong, everybody’s embarrassed,” Kilgore said. “But again, he’s the boss. You don’t question your boss, do you?”
Things went wrong with the current group at about the midpoint of the season, when York held a meeting with Baalke and Kelly to make it clear that he wasn’t happy with how the team was performing. The former GM and coach’s plan was insufficient, according to York’s estimation, which was the breaking point.“I was very clear last year about where Trent stood,” York said. “I think Trent had done a lot of great things for this organization in the past, but it was time to make a change.
So, the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Fame owner Eddie DeBartolo will move forward in trying to find the team’s next braintrust. But York was hesitant to divulge who he’s consulting with during that process, despite being peppered with questions.
When it was pointed out that DeBartolo had Bill Walsh to lead the football side of things, York insisted the team would find its own solution and it would be different from what worked in the past.
“There’s only one Bill Walsh,” he said. “I wish that there was a Bill Walsh. There’s not. We need to find the right person and re-establish the championship culture. Not Bill’s culture, not Jim Harbaugh’s culture and Trent Baalke’s culture. Not anybody else’s culture, but we need to make sure that we start fresh and start with a new culture between a general manager and a head coach and do everything we can to get us back to that winning way.”
What do the 49ers need to improve upon as a team? The consensus the day after completing a 2-14 season was, basically, everything. That’s the main takeaway from a conversation dominated by ideas like building “culture,” foundations and working toward championships despite being in a free-fall since firing Jim Harbaugh.
“I can’t look backward,” York said when asked if he regrets firing the last coach to make the playoffs under his leadership. “We need to make sure we’re looking forward and doing everything that we can to get this team back. It’s very easy to play revisionist history.”
York will move forward with the hope that this January press conference — as compared to those in the last couple years — finally leads to the history he so badly wants to make.