Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports



"All of this is part of why I'm so proud to be a part of this and what's built. Joan in payroll. She's not only in payroll, Joan's my financial advisor. Joan's making sure I've got enough money in my 401K. You go on and on and on. Vilma at the front desk. You've got all of these wonderful people in the building. The boys downstairs making that great Mexican feast at Christmas. There's a whole lot that goes on inside this building that nobody knows about. So, with that, you really get an understanding and we all get an understanding of what we're a part of. So, I'm going to tell you, with me, with the football, I take all that."

I've told this story before, of course. But if you'd indulge me, I'd like to tell it one more time. I don't think I'll ever tell it again.

It goes like this: the Niners and I were born together, at the same instant.

I was only nine, and I hadn't gotten into sports. I didn't live near a big city, and my dad didn't root for any pro teams. An older cousin of mine was into the Steelers, like every other kid his age; he was sort of like a big brother to me, so I said I liked the Steelers too. I didn't know they were any good, and I never sat and watched them play. But their colors were cool, so I asked my dad for a Steelers school-bag. He got me one, and that was my involvement in sports.

Then, of course, Joe came along.

I was totally awestruck. He was more than merely a "sports hero"; he was a god, and I worshiped him. And when, just once, my faith wavered—oh, did he ever make me pay, in the cruelest, most spectacular way. When I ran upstairs crying, convinced that he couldn't drive 89 yards, he just went ahead and did it, capping it with the most famous play in the history of the world. And I missed it. Too late, my dad called me back downstairs. I saw the extra point go through, my mouth just hanging open in shock. And then the camera turned to Joe, who looked at me as if to say, "Stick with me, kid."

That's where it all began. For both the Niners and for me. I've loved them every moment since.

And until this week, they've loved me back.

"A lot of people say the speed of the game is the biggest difference between college and pro football. I happen to disagree. I think it's the speed of life. Young people with so much, so fast and being able to handle it and being able to channel it and having people around them to guide, to advise, to care. So, those factors there, which I will say was a big part of my interview and proactive approaches to things and things that our organization is doing and the ways things are going that way and that's exciting and it's all to benefit the players."

That's why I've had so much trouble, letting go of Walsh's Niners. Those are my Niners, the great Niners, what the Niners should always be. Walsh himself couldn't live forever, but his genius should, in the Niners today. Why should only other teams dip into his limitless coaching tree? Why should only other teams exploit his offensive innovations? Losing games is one thing; it's much worse to lose yourself, and that's what the Niners seemed to have done.

At the press conference "explaining" Jim Harbaugh's departure, Jed York finally seemed to get it. "I want a teacher," he said. "I think what made Bill Walsh so successful is that he was a great teacher. Whether that was players, or whether that was other coaches. When you look at his successful coaching tree, when you look at the 49ers Hall of Fame down the road, you want to say that as of 2012 or 2013, 29 of the 32 coaches of the NFL have either a direct or indirect relationship with Bill. That's what made this organization successful."

What was this, if not a recognition that the Niners indeed had lost their way? That the Niners themselves should return to that "successful coaching tree," to which Harbaugh had proven he didn't belong?

As Trent Baalke began the hiring process—which turned out to be as much a sham as the one by which he himself was hired—one prospect outshone the others. Indeed, Mike Shanahan was perfect: a true disciple of Walsh; the architect of the most prolific offense the Niners have ever had; and the "teacher" who singlehandedly converted Steve Young from a running quarterback, skittish in the pocket, to perhaps the greatest passer in the history of the league. Shanahan would've done the same with the Niners' new skittish quarterback, he would've given their offense a desperately needed overhaul, and he would've finally restored their glorious identity—all while keeping intact the league's best defensive staff. The prospect seemed too good to be true.

And, of course, it was.

"My X's and O's philosophy are quite simply you build a team to a scheme. You go into the draft, you go into free agency and you acquire…you're in the talent acquiring business, to a scheme, OK? And then I feel like the most thing is when that's over, now you have to do a 180. And now, see I look at it from a personnel to fit a scheme. So, I'm looking at that scheme and I'm trying to fit the pieces. We don't live in a perfect world, it's not a perfect science. Things happen. People aren't available. So, once we have that talent and we have those players, now we have to flip that and now we look at it, we want to take that scheme and fit it to the players. So to me, when you talk philosophical, that's the way in building your schematics and building your approach to teaching and your building blocks, that's where the…you have to have that latitude going in there to be able to… It's a structure. We stay within our structure, but you have to have that latitude to be able to adapt and adjust your schematics to fit the players. So, I hope that answers your question."

Obviously, Jim Tomsula was the choice all along, and all I can do is apologize. Once again, Baalke proved me wrong. I actually thought that Baalke's issue with Harbaugh was the same as mine: his offensive stubbornness. I actually thought that Baalke recognized the Niners' need for an offensive innovator (if not Shanahan, then perhaps Adam Gase, with whom Baalke dishonestly flirted). I actually wrote—don't worry, Boss!—that Baalke wouldn't be "dumb enough" to hire a coach as bad as Erickson, Nolan, or Singletary. And on all three counts, I was wrong.

You, my dear readers, were right. Baalke's issue was merely this: Harbaugh's refusal to kowtow to Baalke. Baalke had no interest in hiring a better coach, since a better coach would only be more self-assured. Instead he simply wanted a puppet. A man with "humility." A man who'd equate confidence not with skill but with "arrogance." A man without any vision of his own. A man who would do only what he was told.

A man who, when asked the most basic of coaching questions—what's your offensive philosophy?—would respond with such nonsensical gibberish that Baalke would have no choice but to save him: "I think somewhere in there, he said we're going to run the football."

Like any good ventriloquist, Baalke literally spoke for his puppet. (And what he said suggested no offensive innovation at all.)

The league pointed and laughed. At Tomsula, at Baalke, and at all of us.

"So, that's the first thing I learned. Second thing I learned is why not? Why not? Ok, why? Why not? Let's go. Let's do it. Take the step. Let's go. All in, OK? But don't be afraid to step in. Get up and look, step in. Jump in. Let's go. All in. The magic tricks and all the fluff and stuff in life and all those things, football and anything you're doing, outwork 'em. That's not just physical. That's not just physical. I mean outwork them mentally, physically. Outwork people. Earn it. Earn it. We all love people that earn it."

It's true, of course. We do love people who earn it. We love them because we can trust them with it. After all, if they don't earn it, they won't appreciate it. They won't feel any need to protect it. And eventually, they'll crush the dreams of the people who love it.

York didn't earn his job; he didn't do a thing to get it. Baalke didn't earn his job either; he was just in the office next door. And now, fittingly, they've given us Tomsula, not because he's qualified, but specifically because he isn't. If what we love are people who earn it, we certainly can't love anyone here.

That is to say, we can't love these Niners. As much as it hurts, we simply can't.

"I'm going to apologize to Jed. That was a remedial example that I made. I'm sorry for that. But, you know just trying to make the point of doing the little things correctly."

Jed's the one who should apologize. I'm a Niner fan; I don't know how to be anything else. But I've never been this embarrassed to be one. Tomsula's obviously a nice guy; all the players seem to love him. And yeah, his job isn't to "win the press conference." But he had to know that the fans would have doubts. He had to know to be ready to meet them. And his failure was totally absolute. As the face of our franchise, he's so grossly ill-equipped that he simply can't be taken seriously.

Those years before Harbaugh were tough, of course. But this is indescribably worse. We'd survived those years. Just two years ago, we were five yards away from a Super Bowl title. All we needed was an innovative offense. Instead we're right back where we began. We'll have the same archaic O—Baalke's already guaranteed it—and now our defensive staff is gone. And the head coach, once again, is nothing but an empty shell.

I'd never lost hope that Walsh's Niners—the Niners I loved, the Niners I was born with—would find their way back and retake their place. Now I can't pretend anymore. Now my hope is gone for good. My Niners are gone, permanently. What was once the most feared, the most respected, the most admired franchise in all of sports is now a certified laughingstock, as it will be for years to come.

This is what York and Baalke have wrought. And I don't think I'll ever forgive them.