Just a little something to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy on a Wednesday morning:
Despite Changes, 49ers May Be Doomed
Dec 27, 2010 – 7:46 PM
SAN FRANCISCO -- They don't need much. Just a head coach whose motivational skills equal his experience, a general manager who has unfettered run of the team, a quarterback who's not interchangeable, a disciplined defense, a reliable offense, and a one-week calendar that can give a bitter fan base some smidgen of hope.
Jed York, the baby-faced president of the San Francisco 49ers, stood before the cameras Monday afternoon and, without quite saying it, all but confirmed it was finally time to make drastic, sweeping changes to one of the NFL's most storied franchise.
The first step came hours earlier, after York told reporters he didn't want to make any "emotional decisions." But somewhere over the Rockies, as the 49ers' charter plane flew home following one of the most disheartening SF losses in years, it was decided that Mike Singletary needed to be jettisoned. It was the right move, done all the wrong ways.
And so it was that, in Monday's wee hours, hours after the plane landed, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was interrupted from watching film at the team's Santa Clara complex and told he had been promoted to interim coach, for Sunday's meaningless season finale against the Arizona Cardinals. Despite being the popular favorites amongst the terrible NFC West, San Francisco has missed the playoffs for the eighth-straight season. The Bay Area feels beyond dreary.
Tomsula, dressed in wrinkled clothes, his eyes bleary from staring at film of the 49ers' sloppy 25-17 loss in St. Louis that destroyed SF's playoff hopes, apologized for not wearing a suit and tie. He still hadn't been home, he said, and it was almost painful watching him skate around questions he never thought he'd have to answer. York could have waited one more week before whacking Singletary, but either way, these last few days in 2010 were going to be awkward, inelegant. (Pass rush specialist coach Al Harris and inside linebackers coach Vantz Singletary, the former coach's nephew, were also sacked.)
Did Tomsula hope to be considered for full-time head coach? "Oh, I'm not even going to go there," said Tomsula, best known for ripping up the NFL Europe League.
Why did he think the team, 5-10 after declaring itself playoff-worthy, failed to meet expectations? "Umm, you know, I'm not gonna go there. We did not perform. Our performance on Sundays was not where it needed to be," he said.
Eventually, he warmed to the fight. More than a football coach, he resembled at this moment someone you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. "We're going to win (Sunday)," he said, and he wiped sweat rivulets from his face. "Let me make that clear. We're going to prepare to win a football game." Near the end of this hastily called presser, Tomsula actually found humor in the situation, looking down at his ratty attire and saying, "Don't I look pretty good?"
By contrast, there was the strikingly attired York, the 29-year-old heir to the family legacy who, in his second year as president/CEO, has done all sorts of neat things, like adding the 49ers Café to the players' complex so their dietary needs could be met, as well as overseeing the creation of new uniforms. He also hired Singletary, a no-nonsense players' coach whose glorious past wasn't enough to restore the 49ers to greatness.
Samurai Mike did his best to mold the 49ers into a West Coast replica of the 1985 Bears. He was a hilarious motivator, pulling down his pants in the locker room to make a point, sending star players to early showers, yanking favored quarterbacks and firing everyone up with his infamous "I want winners!" speech.
But he was set up for failure from the start.
This is a fandom reared on Joe Montana and Steve Young and the brilliant Bill Walsh. Under Singletary -- and by osmosis, under York -- San Francisco never preached offensive creativity, never developed a reliable quarterback despite having two No. 1 overall picks. It was like asking restaurants down on Fisherman's Wharf to serve only steak. It was never a smooth fit.
More alarming than watching the weekly running soap opera under center was seeing the 49ers flounder without a general manager. Scot McCloughan, the last GM, was relieved of his duties last spring, for reasons still unclear, and York has never explained why he thought a professional franchise could remain upright for an entire season, through the draft and trades and player signings, without a general manager.
"If you recall, Scot left for reasons that, you know, weren't expected so it's not that I'm opposed to a general manager," said York, spinning the story slightly to the right of reality.
When York was promoted to 49ers president and face of the team two seasons ago, he cited the few years he had working with New York-based financial-services firm Guggenheim Partners as key training for his role in assessing risk analysis and debt management -- qualities others in the organization praised as the team moves toward building a billion-dollar stadium somewhere in the Bay Area.
It was hardly the traditional background of a successful sports franchise president, but it's not as if young York is in danger of being fired, considering mom and dad own the team.
Singletary, to be sure, could have used an experienced general manager with far-reaching NFL connections. On Monday, York emphasized his next, first big move will be to hire a general manager, who will then hire a coach who will be offense-friendly, so that's something. That's at least not going backward. (The teams' private chefs are said to be secure job-wise.)
"It's important to me to get a general manager and have the general manager get the head coach. It's important to get someone who is the right fit for the 49ers," York said, as millions who bleed gold and scarlet mumbled, "It's about time."
Stressing that "money is no object" -- remember, Singletary has two years remaining on the $10 million, four-year contract he signed late in the 2008 season -- York said he had no time table for either hiring, and he hoped to "talk to a lot of people this week."
"Like my uncle who has won five Super Bowls. Some other folks like the Krafts. My uncle is probably the best person out there for me to talk to," York said.
Those Krafts would be the fine owners of the New England Patriots. That uncle would be former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., otherwise known as "Mr.D" or young Jed's godfather. But hadn't DeBartolo already advised Jed to bring a seasoned GM aboard, and if not, why not? Even if the boy wonder is being groomed to be king of all things 49er, he still needs not only a successful, tested general manager, but one who will be afforded power at least equal to his own.
Curiously, after saying he'd reach out to others for advice, when asked who would be involved in hiring the next GM, York said, "it will probably be just me." Empires have crumbled under similar hubris.
Though the 49ers were considered to have the most talent and potential in the weak NFC West -- yes, someone's got to be the tallest giraffe -- their 5-10 record exposed more than Singletary. The York family, with Jed holding the lead baton, made bad, foolish and destructive decisions. Do they have enough humility to trust an outsider GM who might tell them what they don't want to hear?
And what about the next head coach? The likeable, dynamic Singletary was a first-timer with a strong defensive background. After a 0-5 start, the 49ers were shockingly still in position to make the postseason; all they needed to do was beat the Rams last Sunday and Arizona at home this weekend. Whoever inherits Singeltary's clipboard -- interim Tomsula, an excellent defensive line coach, is just that -- gets a team that choked its way through the weakest division.
The 49ers seem to be screaming for a creative visionary, a multi-dimensional leader who does more than run them into the ground.
"I wouldn't say we're looking strictly at an offense-minded coach, but I think we've got a lot of problems on the offense side of the ball. So if not an offensive-minded coach it's got to be a coach who has experience in dealing with the NFL, in dealing with putting together a staff," York said. "If it's a defensive-minded head coach its gotta be somebody who understands how to put an offensive staff together."
Somewhere in the Bay Area, Jim Harbaugh felt his ears burn. Harbaugh could follow Bill Walsh's deep footprints from Stanford to San Francisco. Before he died, Walsh helped Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby choose Harbaugh to turn a moribund 1-11 squad into an elite program. Can his magic touch work in the pros?
"There are a lot of coaches that are on the street right now that are potential candidates for us. And I think there are a lot of guys that are coordinators that have been successful, so there's a broad array," York said. "But that's not me putting that list together.
Our general manager is going to put that list together." Early fan favorites besides Harbaugh: ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren, Houston's Gary Kubiak and Tennessee's Jeff Fisher. But how will the anointed work under or in tandem with York's chosen GM?
The 49ers quarterback situation is a whole 'nother mess. Alex Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick, is surely gone when his contract expires this season. Troy Smith's explosive sideline screaming match with Singletary Sunday was the nasty spit ball atop the 49ers' eight-years-and-growing grim existence. It's way past time for drastic changes.