It looks like Jed York has pushed all of his chips to the center of the table with the hiring of former All-Pro safety John Lynch as general manager - who has no previous front office experience - and the decision to pair him with incoming rookie head coach Kyle Shanahan by offering them matching 6 year deals.
The question is: Did he do the right thing and is it even that big of a gamble?
Of course, the answer to that question may not be known for years. For now, we can all agree that the current arrangement is far better than it was with former GM Trent Baalke. As my colleague Michael Fitch pointed out, Lynch is the anti-Baalke. York had no choice but to make drastic changes and bring in fresh blood because the old "hire from within" strategy had failed and the team needed an outsider's touch. By most accounts of people in the league and former players, Lynch is very well respected, bright, motivated, intelligent and successful. Several high priority players and media types have already given him their full endorsement. Now, that doesn't mean much on Sundays but it's at least encouraging to hear people actually agree with something the 49ers did.
Now to Shanahan, who is one of the brightest young offensive minds in the game today. He is creative, assertive, intelligent and even a little arrogant, and those are all things that the 49ers will need as they try to compete with elite teams. Most of all, Shanahan wanted to be part of the 49ers organization (as did Lynch), which is a big deal given the current negative impression of the team in league circles. It took the Falcons 27 offensive plays to repeat the same formation twice in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay almost 2 weeks ago. 49ers fans have been yearning for that type of creativity since, well, Mike Shanahan. Shanahan is fresh blood, a new perspective and new life to an organization that desperately needs to change course.
York needed to change the culture of the organization, and it wasn't going to change unless something drastic was done. Hiring Lynch and pairing him with Shanahan definitely fits that bill. While I have reservations about the arrangement, I do think that this was the right move at the right time.
If this works out, the 49ers will rebuild their image, which has taken a massive hit because of what's happened in recent years. It's that same image that has made the 49ers a less attractive destination than almost every other team not named the Cleveland Browns. In turn, it has prevented the Niners from bringing in elite talent (players, coaches, front office people), which has decimated the roster and left the team in the state that it is today. Image did most of the damage, with its vehicle being poor organizational decisions from top to bottom.
If this doesn't work out, the 49ers will continue to move down the ladder of the NFL hierarchy, although they can't go much lower. Conventional wisdom says that a person who doesn't have experience in a position will struggle, which is why many people are skeptical about Lynch and Shanahan (both together and as individuals). However, would people really be doubting this if the Patriots, Packers, Seahawks or Broncos made such a hire? Probably not, because of their respective reputations.
Let's not be mistaken, Jed York is primarily responsible for the reputation that the team currently holds - that of leaking, undermining and general dysfunction within the building. Given that the 49ers are already a total mess, York doesn't have much to lose if this doesn't work out - the 49ers would remain irrelevant. York is gambling on people who have valuable traits that have made them successful with the hope that they will attract more talent to come work for the 49ers (see: Adam Peters). The payoff is clearly bigger than the gamble.
I'm willing to at least give Lynch and Shanahan a chance because they're so different than what we're used to seeing from the York's version of the 49ers. At this point, different is the best way to go.