Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports



The last time "The Cowboy" played football was during Jim Harbaugh's final season with the San Francisco 49ers. Plagued by injuries in his final years, defensive end Justin Smith has been enjoying retirement since. He will forever be remembered by fans as one of the toughest players to take the field for the team. Smith played half of his NFL career – seven years – with the 49ers. Prior to that, he was with the Cincinnati Bengals, but a day with then-49ers head coach Mike Nolan (and a helicopter ride) brought him to San Francisco.

The 49ers are embarking on their third coaching regime since Smith retired from the NFL. The 49ers legend joined KNBR on Friday to discuss the new regime, which includes a new general manager in John Lynch.

Smith was asked what he thought of the hiring of Lynch when he first heard about it. "I thought there was another John Lynch they were talking about, honestly," he said. "Not the broadcaster. You know? Why not? Players are the guys that turn the wheels. I don't think it's as hard as people make it out – to pick the guys. I mean, hell, Mike Mayock and all of those guys pretty much nailed the draft the whole way through."

Smith feels that Lynch will be looking at draft prospects with a different perspective. It isn't always about the tangibles, but about good chemistry in the locker room and Lynch will be able to identify that.

Smith was asked how he would rate 49ers CEO Jed York on the job he did going into the team's new era and regime. "The one thing I know about Jed is he wants to win and he wants to win consistently," Smith said. "If that's possible without those top four or five tier quarterbacks, I don't know, but he's obviously putting his money where his mouth is. I mean, how many millions of dollars worth of contracts on coaching staffs has he torn up in the last few years? I think he's there. I think he's putting the money where it's supposed to be. He's getting coaches in and out and I kind of like what he did with these new guys. He signed them to two, what was it? Five-year deals?"

Smith was informed they were six-year deals. "So now the team knows, we got a new slate in," Smith continued. "They're going to be here for at least five years, six years. Let's see what we can build. Him doing what he's doing with the other two coaching staffs, they've got a lot of money on the books that they're eating. So it shows it's not about just the money for him. It's about winning."

Smith went on to share his thoughts on the 49ers defense, feeling that Shanahan needs an experienced mind to run the unit. On Friday, the 49ers will interview both Jerome Henderson and Robert Saleh, possibly to run the defense as co-defensive coordinators.

Smith was disappointed that the 49ers keep using top draft picks on the defensive line, feeling that they need to address other areas now. "You can't just keep going back to that same well," Smith said. "You've got to spread that talent out throughout the defense and offensive side of the ball. If you just have three, four, top-ten picks year after year on the front, your secondary is going to be a torch. I mean, a quarterback can negate that by getting the ball out in two seconds. I wouldn't go d-line in this draft. I mean, even with those other guys, I'd go with someone else just kind of spread that talent around a little bit."

You can listen to the entire interview on KNBR.