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GM Trent Baalke discusses head coach search, 49ers’ future, more

Jan 4, 2016 at 5:54 PM--

What kind of role did you play in the decision to fire Jim Tomsula after one season?

"Well, it was a decision that [CEO] Jed [York] and I made together with the rest of ownership."

And, I mean you were entrusted to hire Jim, correct?

"I was involved in both processes, yes."

As you have the ultimate say in the roster, who has the ultimate say then in the hiring of the coach?

"Well, anytime you work for somebody, they obviously have the ultimate say. As we went through the process last year, Jed and I worked, along with his father, and made that decision. So, ultimately ownership has final say."

Looking back, do you think that was the wrong decision?

"Obviously, anytime something ends after a season you could look to that. But, Jimmy did a lot of good things. He's a heck-of-a football coach and an even better guy. There were a lot of things that took place that were positive. At the end of the day, we just didn't feel that we made enough progress to get to the next step."

Is the roster strong enough to put a coach in position to make progress with the team?

"I think when you look at the roster, we've got work to do. There's no question about that. The good thing is we've got the ammunition to do that. We're sitting in a very good situation relative to cap and cash for this offseason. We've got 12 draft picks or around that number. We don't know officially yet, but it's going to be a significant amount of picks. So, we have the ability to do some things this offseason that we haven't been able to do going into this one."

Jed said he has the confidence in you to turn this thing around, to hire the right coach, to make this right so to speak. What was that conversation like with him and going forward what are your thoughts?

"Obviously I appreciate the confidence that ownership has shown in me. But, I also understand the gravity of the situation and understand exactly what this fan base looks for and what this ownership looks for. It's the San Francisco 49ers. It's about championships. It's about being in a position to compete for championships. You're not going to win it every year. That's unrealistic to think that. But, to put yourself in a position to is really the ultimate goal and that's what we're striving to do."

When did you get your last contract extension?

"The last time, I'd have to go back and check, but the last time I signed a deal was probably 2012 or 2013 maybe."

And it runs through when? How long are you under contract?

"Honestly, I don't know. I think it's two more seasons I believe. But, I'd have to check."

Didn't your contract matchup with Tomsula's, that you're both signed through 2018?

"Honestly, I do not know. It's either at the conclusion of the 2017 season or possibly the 2018 season. It's one of the two."

So, your deal wasn't redone in conjunction with Jim's four year contract last year?

"No. What I don't want to do, I'm not going to get into my contract details. But I believe, for transparency reasons, I want to say there was an option year that was exercised, but I honestly don't know if that was '17 or '18."

You just said what Jed said this morning, about that this team is all about championships and you need to get back to that level. It seems to a lot of people, a lot of observers, that you had a coach that got you to that level three years in a row. Maybe not won a Super Bowl, but that actually got to a Super Bowl, three championship games. You jettisoned him for a guy who had never done the job before. Now you're back at square one looking for a coach that can get you to the championship level. Do you think the organization has lost some credibility on this quest?

"I don't look at it like that, credibility. I think we're in a situation right now where we've got, I look at the positives. I'm not someone that's going to look back and say, 'We should have done this or we should have done that.' You look back and you say, 'What could you have done better?' But, right now the focus is on tomorrow and really the focus is on today. I just got done meeting with probably 85-percent of the guys. I'm going to finish that up as soon as I'm done here, getting a good feel for them and also letting them know what we need to do, what they need to do individually, just as I do. I need to look at what I've done and how can I learn from it."

You interviewed nine candidates last year, took the better part of a month to make a hire. Can you use that experience from last year? Will this necessarily be as exhaustive as last year's was?

"I don't have an answer for how exhaustive. I mean, we're going to go about this and do our due diligence, that's for sure. To answer your question, I think experience in anything matters. I think you learn from everything you do. Sometimes, you're going to make the right decision and sometimes you're going to make the wrong decision. And I've done both. We hired [former 49ers and current University of Michigan head coach] Jim Harbaugh and we hired Jim Tomsula. Some would say one was a strong hit and the other one was a miss. That's the game we're in. You're going to make mistakes and if you learn from them, that's what you hope to do. Just like the draft. People point to 2012. That was a bad draft. I've got no one to blame but myself for that because I was making the decisions, had the final say on who we drafted. Last year's free agency wasn't good enough. But, we've also had some really good years in free agency and we've had some really good drafts. So, you learn from everything you do in this business and that's all I hope to do is learn from it and get better."

The Cleveland Browns have hired a search firm to help them get their new coach. Other teams have done that in the past. Why wouldn't you guys do that given the last coaching search ended up with a guy who's not here anymore? Have you thought about that and why wouldn't you do that?

"I think we've discussed it. But like you say, we pointed to the last search but what about the one before that, right? You're going to hit some and you're going to miss. Coach Tomsula, once again, he did some awfully good things, some things that didn't show up on the scoreboard. It's unfortunate that we're in this position, but at the same time, this is the San Francisco 49ers. It is a job that people respond to and respect. It is an organization that's respected and we've got to get looking forward. We've got to get this one right."

So, you think you have enough in-house to go out and do a thorough and exhaustive search?

"We're going to rely on resources that we have. So, to say we're not relying on any 'search firm,' that may be the case but we have resources and individuals that we rely heavily on in this business that have a lot of experience and that have worked with us for many years."

Would one of those be former NFL head coach Bill Parcells?

"I'm not going to get into the specifics."

Who is your sounding board though? It seems like everyone has an advisor or somebody that they bounce ideas off. Who do you go to for that?

"Well, I think it's well documented that I search our coach Parcells on a lot of things and will continue to. I've got great respect for the man and everything he's accomplished in his life. I don't know what else I can say. He's somebody that I have great respect for."

In your search for this head coach, are you willing to give up some of your control over the roster or is that absolute? Is that something you would negotiate with a candidate?

"We've talked about this so many times and roster control and who hires the coaches and all that stuff. For this to work, both individuals have to be in sync, working together for the same goal and purpose. It doesn't matter who has the ultimate final say because what matters is that you make the decision together and once the decision's made, you move forward and you don't look back. And that's the type of relationship that you have to have. The control part I think is way overblown."

Have you had any interviews yet?


Have you scheduled them? Starting when?


Will you have any in-house candidates this year?


Some names have, you're probably not going to comment on specific names and I realize that, but some names have been floated from older guys that have been out of the league awhile like former NFL head coach Mike Shanahan and former NFL head coach Mike Holmgren. Will you rule that out? Are you looking for somebody who's working today as a coach?

"We haven't ruled out anybody, within reason obviously. Everything's on the table and really there's no competitive advantage for us, with all the openings that are out there, it's an extremely competitive market. So, it doesn't do us any good to lead into who we may be looking at, who we may be interviewing, who we've ruled out. Just not willing to go there right now."

Do you want someone with experience though considering that this last coach didn't have any head coaching experience?

"I think experience is a good word."

What about offensive experience?

"Once again, I'd like to go there with you, but in this case the transparency would hurt us, not help us."

With last year, it seemed like last year with the coaching vacancies, people were kind of slotted. You kind of knew where people were going. You had your eye on Tomsula all along and Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase wasn't getting any big bites from other people. Do you have to move more quickly just because this is going to be competitive and there's going to be multiple teams going after perhaps the same people?

"Yeah, I would go back to last year, I wouldn't totally agree with your assessment that it was slotted. There were a lot of the individuals that we went through the process with that weren't slotted, that we were open to hiring and could've hired. So, I think every year's a little bit different. Are things going to move a little quicker this year? I think a lot of it depends on teams that are in playoffs, not in playoffs, when you can get access to him, when you can't. There's a lot of variables that go into it."

You mentioned the 2012 draft. You had mentioned this year's free agency.

"You keep going back to 2012."

You brought it up first.

"Own it, right? The only way you can fix it is if you own it."

There have been other draft picks in recent years that, to be kind, we don't know about yet or it doesn't look like they're going to work out. Jed said recent events this year had humbled him. Do you feel the same way that it just hasn't been good enough as far as your job performance?

"I'm not here to evaluate my job performance. That's for you guys and gals to do. It's not for me. I would say that you have to look at all of the, put all of the pieces together. I'm humbled every day in this business, not just by one experience. Every day you get humbled in this business. So, to say that one event humbles you, I don't look at it like that. I think every day in this business humbles you on what you think you know versus what you really know. You learn on the job. I think, I forget if it was [former Indianapolis Colts executive] Bill Polian or someone who was talking about this job and there's no training ground for it. Once you're in it, that's when you start really figuring out what all goes into it. You just don't go to school for this. So, I think every day you figure out a little bit more. You make mistakes. The draft is a crapshoot. We all know that. It is. Now, it's an educated crapshoot and you can do the best you can to minimize the misses. But, at the end of the day, when you look at the percentage of guys that make it and don't make it around the league, across the board, it's a crapshoot."

Will this free agency though, in your experience, carry more weight given the youth on the current roster and the fact that so many veterans will become unrestricted free agents and you also lost so many last year? Will that be a bigger importance for this upcoming roster?

"We're a young team. I believe we're the eighth youngest and if you took [K] Phil [Dawson] out of the equation, we'd probably be the fourth or fifth youngest. So, it's a young roster and when you have youth, you're going to have growing pains. It's just the nature of the business. They haven't quite learned how to be a professional, what it takes. So, you look at the locker room and then you look at each room within the locker room. You look at the receiver room, what does that need? You look at the running backs, what does that need? You look at each room and you try to, in your mind, equate what's going to help that room grow the quickest. And some rooms, you look and you say, 'You know what? It's going to be an influx of young guys.' Other rooms you look at and you say, 'You need a veteran presence there.' So, that's kind of how you start putting this thing back together."

Jed mentioned that you're going to be top-five in terms of salary cap space. Does that mean that you're going to more aggressive than you have been in the past in previous seasons and do you have to be as far as reaching a salary cap floor, minimum?

"Well, the one thing that I'm convinced of is you can't buy championships. You earn championships and there's a process to it. You build through the draft. You supplement your roster with free agency. You take care of your own guys because that creates ownership on their part. So, to say we're going to go out and because we have X number of dollars to spend, how are we going to spend that? Are you going to spend that on two players or are you going to spend that on 12 players? I don't know. I don't have that answer right now nor would I from a competitive standpoint share that. But, there's different ways to use that money. We just have to make sure we use it correctly."

Any disappointment that the win yesterday pushed your draft pick back a couple of slots?

"No. This is the National Football League. You play to win. So, there's absolutely no thought of tanking it. And I'm proud of the players, real proud of the players. Proud of the coaches because they went out there and they played a team that was playing well, playing good football coming into this game and I think we put up 460-plus yards of offense and the defense did a nice job as well and the kicking game. The players went out there and they were pros. And when you go out there and you're still playing hard, I think that says something about Jim Tomsula."

What about your quarterback situation next year? You've got some choices to make it would seem. What do you expect that to look like?

"That's still, that's going to be evaluated. I think the most important thing we've got to do right now is get the head coach in place and then follow that by getting the coaching staff in place. And once we get those pieces together, then myself and the head coach and the rest of the staff can sit down, evaluate the roster, evaluate every player within it and then determine who we're moving forward with. Because system, and I've said this many a times, system is so important to so many of the guy's success in this league. You put a guy in the right system, they have success. You put them in the wrong system, they don't. That's why you see players leave a team that no one thought was very good and they go somewhere else and they become good."

But, you're the architect of this. So, do you go look for a coach with a system that fits your roster or do you go for a coach and then have him help pick the roster that will fit his system?

"That's a good question. I mean, what came first the chicken or the egg? I do think the least amount of changes you need to make the more easy the transition. But, the most important thing is getting the right guy for the job and then we'll work from there. We're fortunate in the fact that our players have some versatility. We're not a team that's maybe locked in specifically. We've got some flexibility because of the versatility of some of our players."

What's your timeframe just given that the playoffs, when they begin, I know some of the coaches will be off limits I think during the playoffs? What is the timeframe for you? Are you up against it for candidates on playoff teams that you're interested in?

"Well just for everyone, the team's that are playing this week, obviously anybody that are on those staffs, they're off limits. Anybody that has a bye this week you have access to or obviously if they're not playing right now you have access to them. The teams that don't have a bye, then you've got to go to the next week and then you get one opportunity and that team determines when you can visit with their staff members. So, if they say the only day you have available is Monday, then you've got to find a way to make it work. And if that individual has five or six or seven interviews, obviously that's a long day."

Just to follow-up on that, do you have a timeframe then or no? Obviously you want to get the right person in here.

"We have a plan in place. We know the directions we're going. We've just got to make it fit within the schedules that are out there that these men are tied to."

Do you have a gauge on former 49ers T Anthony Davis' health? He's expressed wanting to come back to football.

"All I can tell you about Anthony Davis in all honesty is he's retired. And until the NFL sends me a notice that says he's un-retired, he's retired."

What about Colin Kaepernick's physical condition? The shoulder, the thumb, the knee. How does his physical condition impact his future with the team?

"Well, you've got to get it healed. You've got to get him through. And the most important thing is the health of the player and getting him ready for the offseason program. I've got extreme confidence in our medical staff. I think it's as good as there is. They'll continue to work with him. He's got several things that he's working through. We'll get a better grasp of how the rehabs are going and the different things and get him ready for the offseason program. That's the goal."

He suffered that thumb injury in October. I'm just curious, why is the process starting now? He might need surgery later this week. Why didn't it happen sooner?

"I can't answer that. I think there's a process that these players go through. That would be a better question answered by our medical staff."

Are you confident with it by April 1 you'll have enough medical information to make the choice, a pretty big money choice for you guys?

"I'm not worried about April 1 to be honest with you. I'm more worried about getting him healthy and getting him ready for the offseason program. So, whatever that date is that the medical staff steps up and says, 'Look, he's ready to go.' That's when he'll go."

Did you have your exit interview with Dawson today?

"Oh yeah."

I mean, he's expressed that he'd like to be back here. He also still believes he can kick off. So, what's the status in that and in terms of how that conversation--?

"Well, I like his evaluation. We had a great conversation. Phil's a pro. He knows the business. What I told him is, in all transparency here, I told him I would visit with him as the process unfolded. The first priority is getting the head coach in place and then we'll sit down. I know exactly where he's at. I know exactly what he wants to do. And he's a pro's pro. He's been awfully good for this organization in a lot of ways, not just on the field."

Obviously, Colin signed his extension and it's a very lucrative one. He's a guy that was benched this year. What's your expectation for him going into the offseason? Where do you want to see him if he's back here at the start of next year?

"Like we do with all the players, you've got a great opportunity in the offseason to get better, to work on your craft. Whether that's in the weight room, in the film room, on the field, doesn't matter. You've got a great opportunity. I want to see what guys are willing to go the extra mile. Put in more time. We've got a great opportunity ahead of us. We finished 5-11, which we all know is not good enough. Not here and not really anywhere, but it's certainly not good enough here. So, what are you going to do? As I mentioned to all the guys today, I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to take a hard look at every decision that I've made and try to get better from it. Now, what are you going to do individually? There's no finger pointing. There's no excuse making. We are what our record said we are and it isn't good enough. There isn't a player, there isn't a coach, there isn't anybody in this organization that would say it is. We know that."

We know that Colin does put in the work. He gets here early. He went to Arizona to try and improve his game and then midway through this season he was benched. So, your next head coach you want to have experience, but how important is that coach going to be in the development of the quarterback position? Because, Colin is entering his sixth year, if you have QB Blaine Gabbert returning, if you draft a quarterback, that's a very important position.

"Absolutely it's an important positon. But, I don't know that I have an answer for, the next head coach is going to have a lot of say in what we do at that position and a lot of say at what we do at all. Working together. Bo back, I keep saying it, these decisions, I don't sit in that room with a gavel and slam it down and say, 'That's what we're doing.' Every coach that's been here has had a great opportunity to have input. Whether it's the draft, whether it's free agency, whether it's impending trades, there's no iron fist in this organization. At the end of the day, a decision has to be made and you have to make it, but you hope you come to the conclusion that it's the right decision for everybody and that's what you try to do."

Jed in his opening comments, he felt compelled to say, "Hey, Trent Baalke is still our general manager." And talking specifically about you, he said that you know he's not satisfied with the state of the roster. (York from earlier in the day – "Trent understands that I'm not satisfied with the current state of this team.") I inferred that to mean he's not completely pleased. What conversations have you had with him and has he expressed any sort of disappointment as far as how this roster is currently constructed?

"Well, we've had a lot of conversations. I'm not going to get into all the particulars. When you're 5-11, it's not all coaching. You'd love to say it is, but it isn't. I guess I shouldn't say I would love it, but it's a team effort. We got to this point for various reasons and we can once again point to this guy retired or that. There are no excuses. It is what it is. We know, and I personally know, what we need to do moving forward. There are things that we need to do better. Anytime you're sitting answering these types of questions, it's obvious you need to do better. The good thing is, once again, we've got the ammunition. In the past we haven't had a lot to work with in terms of free agency because our roster was an older roster, a lot of guys on second contracts. And when you're in that position it's usually a good position to be in. If you have a team that has a lot of guys on their second contract and a lot of guys that were homegrown, now you've got a real chance. That tells you something. When you don't have that, it means you've got a young roster and when you have a young roster you generally go through growing pains. And that's where we're at."

I was just going to ask a follow-up to you. You said you learned on the job. What'd you learn in this past 12 months?

"I learned a lot. I learned a lot."

Please expand.

"Once again, you get humbled. You get humbled by decisions you make that you think are going to work. You think you're making them for the right reasons and some don't work. Whether that's a draft pick or whether that's free agency, whether that's a coaching hire, whether that's somebody within, every decision you make is going to get scrutinized and rightfully so. The fans deserve it, the media ask for it and so every decision you make gets to that point. Got to make better decisions more consistently."

LB NaVorro Bowman's comeback year was a real bright spot. I would think you would agree. How do you assess how NaVorro came back? How do you feel about how he came back from such a devastating injury?

"I think anytime you come back from a significant injury it's a testament to who you are and how you're wired, what's in your DNA. His injury was significant. It wasn't just a normal, typical ACL. There was significant damage. So, for him to come back and to play the number of snaps he played week in and week out and to see him get better with each outing, that was a tip of the cap to him. What can you say? This is a man's game and he's a man."

* Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers

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