"Oh, sure, there are signs of danger. Despite Jed's plan for a 'search,' he'll consider Trent Baalke, otherwise known as the cheap and easy internal promotion...." December 28, 2010

Please, Trent, try to understand.

After nearly a decade of misery, this franchise was desperate—desperate—for a strong and proven front-office executive. Our most recent general manager, like our most recent head coach, had been promoted from within this dysfunctional organization. He was inexperienced, but he wouldn't question the Yorks' authority. And the results, of course, were disastrous. Now, Jed implied that he'd learned his lesson. Since you'd been serving "sort of in a GM-like role," you'd get the courtesy of an interview. But Jed's sights were set much higher. He vowed to "go out and look at a lot of other people that have been there, that have done that before," and he assured us that "[m]oney is no object."

So Jed spoke to various notables, raising hope that he might be serious. But naturally, it was just a sham. All along, the job was yours; the "runner-up," a strong and proven outsider, knew right away. In the end, we were left with the same cheap and easy internal promotion, but now it was wrapped in a package of lies.

Needless to say, I doubted you.

And I'd go on to doubt you, each step of the way.

"If Baalke's unqualified to evaluate coaches, and if he's overrated at evaluating players, how on earth will he land a top coach?" January 4, 2011

Your first assignment, of course, was to hire Jim Harbaugh. Everyone knew he was perfect for us, with his genius in general and his Walsh roots in particular. But he could wait for a job that was perfect for him, and how could this one possibly be? Certainly, a fish his size would want to run his own organization; and even if he were willing to join someone else's, that someone else would have to be an established winner. And you, of course, were not. You hadn't run a football operation, much less a winning one. Indeed, you hadn't even been part of a winning one, in any capacity, in more than a decade. Why would Harbaugh sign on with you?

Even now, it isn't clear. Maybe he was swayed by your vision, captivated by your grand design. But maybe you didn't matter at all. Maybe he just wanted to stay on Walsh's trail. Or maybe he just wanted to satisfy his wife, who didn't want to go house-hunting.

On the day he arrived, I was tempted to trust you. I mean, if Harbaugh did, why shouldn't I? But it wasn't enough. There were too many possibilities here, too many variables. On the one hand, you might've proven yourself. On the other, you might've just gotten lucky.

You'd earned some rope, without a doubt. But you'd have to prove yourself again.

"Beyond quarterback, our greatest needs were corner and pass-rusher. Having already chosen a defensive end as an outside 'backer, Baalke decided to bring in a safety and stick him at corner. (And we needn't discuss the offensive tackles who'll move to guard or the defensive end who'll play as a fullback.) Obviously, that's a whole lot of projects, and they'll keep the pressure squarely on Baalke. He didn't do much to quiet the doubts about whether he's truly got what it takes...." May 3, 2011

So we moved to the draft. And what was I supposed to think? That things were going well? In round one, you were visibly pissed when you lost out on Patrick Peterson, and you were even more visibly pissed when you couldn't trade down. And then you picked Aldon Smith, noting that he was "certainly going to be raw when it comes to playing on his feet and learning his [new] position." Continuing on the theme, you went on to add a half-dozen other projects, rolling the dice on athletic measurables instead of going with proven production. Harbaugh's coaching would help, of course, but this class couldn't possibly make an impact soon, if indeed it ever would. For the sake of argument, I put together my own draft, and I dared your guys to do better than mine.

And they did, by a mile.

Though Smith indeed showed nothing at outside 'backer—he played maybe a dozen snaps there all year—he became one of the league's best pass-rushers anyway. He racked up 14 sacks, more than Sam Acho and Pernell McPhee combined, and he was a popular choice for defensive rookie of the year. Chris Culliver, the pick of whom sent me over the edge, looked at least as good as Prince Amukamara (who, in fairness, missed half the year with a broken foot). Kendall Hunter was a perfect change-of-pace back, while Jordan Todman was waived. Bruce Miller became the versatile West Coast fullback we've needed forever, while Owen Marecic's reviews were decidedly mixed. And all this while the star attraction, Colin Kaepernick, waits in the wings.

There's risk in judging a draft too early; some observers wait three years. But to wait on my concession would be to deny the reason for my doubt in the first place. I doubted your draft because I saw no way that it could make an immediate impact. Yet your draft had a more immediate impact than any other draft in the league.

In other words, you proved yourself. Again.

"Harbaugh was told that 'we're close,' that he would put us over the top. Instead, no matter which of the remaining free-agent scraps we pick up, Baalke's stuck him with a rebuilding project, likely the Niners' worst roster in years...." July 31, 2011

Yet it was in free agency that you made me look my absolute worst. I admit it, I panicked; but try to understand. The centerpiece of your strategy, or so you said, was to keep our own guys. David Baas and Dashon Goldson were the most important of those guys, and you let 'em both go (at least initially). Then you let three more guys go, leaving backups at four positions. And then, despite having warned us that you wouldn't pursue many "high-end" free agents, you pursued some of the very highest, and didn't land a single one.

So, when you had the audacity to assert that you were "executing the plan," I pretty much lost it.

Let's not pretend that you executed Plan A; we know that Plan A revolved around Matt Hasselbeck and Nnamdi Asomugha. But an executive often proves his worth not when things go right, but when they go wrong. And your Plan B was magnificent.

Your dominance of free agency's second wave looked impressive immediately, but no one—not even you, I daresay—could've imagined how great it would look on the field. With three Pro Bowlers leading the way (including Goldson, who came crawling back), you satisfied our every need. Only Braylon Edwards was a bust, but he was an injury bust more than anything else. Oh, and those backups you installed? Upgrades, each and every one.

For a third time, I doubted you. And for a third time, you delivered.

"I'm still not sure I trust Trent Baalke. But I can't deny it.... I'm excited for this season again...." August 7, 2011

And during that season, it all came together. With the roster you'd assembled, the coach you'd hired went on to produce our most stirring season in 30 years. But as much as I appreciate that season—I can even (almost) stomach how it ended—what's more exciting still is that this organization is primed to sustain, simply because of the men who are running it. Downstairs, the unanimous Coach of the Year. And upstairs, the not-quite-unanimous Executive of the Year. Incredibly, you.

As we stand on the eve of a new league year, you face a difficult series of tasks. You know what you have to do. Re-sign Carlos Rogers, to complete the restoration of last year's D. Re-sign Josh Morgan, and add three new receivers to boot. Re-sign Ted Ginn, and, please, get a competent backup. And yeah, I'll just say it: re-sign Alex Smith. All while adding depth at every level.

That's a lot of work, to say the least.

A year ago, I wouldn't have thought you'd be able to do it. I'm not apologizing for doubting you; under the circumstances, I think my doubt was reasonable. But I persisted, no matter how many times you succeeded. I doubted your coaching search. I doubted your draft. I doubted your free agents. I said you'd failed, "just like that." And that's why I apologize. Not for doubting. But for being wrong.

You've got a lot of work to do. Yet I know you'll succeed.

Because now I'm sure. Now, I trust you.