In Defense of York

Jan 16, 2005 at 12:00 AM


Everyone has a plan to fix the broken home that is 49ers Headquarters. After it was clear that the 49ers assured the top pick in the draft, which seemed to be the only drama worth watching this season, all eyes focused on the front office changes and what they should be. Of course, everyone wanted an overhaul - fire everyone. Donahue for doing no better at his job than a monkey in a funny hat and Erickson for not taking a team with a lower talent level than De La Salle to an 8 and 8 record.

So he did it. York made the big changes that everyone wanted, save, of course, firing himself or selling the team. He finally delivered on one of his promises after the countless ones fans have heard over the years. Despite the fact that York finally made a couple smart moves, he is still under fire for not handling the search for the coach and GM the "right" way.

The local media is replete with reports from "NFL Font Office Officials" that York doesn't have football guys on his interview staff, that his reliance on statistical analysis is bogus and that he is at it again without a plan. As if the Bay Area and its media was the in-law from hell, telling anyone that will listen that the 49ers should have never married that York shmuck. The latest person to chime in is John Madden, saying, "It doesn't look like to me that they have a plan (for hiring the coach)."

So let me get this straight: York was supposed to fire Erickson and Donahue with replacements in mind, conduct no interviews, pursue the people he wanted and spend whatever money he could in order to get them into the organization. Oh yeah, he was also supposed to find Jimmy Hoffa's body, catch JFK's killers, and balance the U.S. budget. Oh and let's not forget, he must also do this while wearing a red spandex suit with a big fat yellow "Y" on the chest.

Had he done what Madden suggested, pursued one candidate, he would have come under fire for not interviewing minority candidates, which is a requirement in the NFL. He would have been lambasted for being myopic once again, falling into the tunnel vision trap and not exploring his options. He would have been attacked for not looking into the coordinator's ranks, the same ranks that produced John Fox, Jim Mora Jr., Bill Belichick, George Seifert, Mike Shannahan, Mike Holmgren and a litany of other past and present successful NFL head coaches. York could eradicate crime from the planet and come under fire for taking away policeman's jobs. Basically, the guy can't win.

The other thing York is getting heat for is hiring the coach before the hires his GM. I have to apologize profusely here, I seem to have missed the memo on "The Right Way to Hire a Coach" that everyone else seems to have read. I guess the Patriots didn't read it either, since they hired their head coach, Bill Belichick, first and had him bring in his personnel guy, Scott Pioli. But hey, it didn't work for them either, right?

The 49ers have been a coach driven organization since Bill Walsh and York is making an effort to get them back to that model. It wasn't until York arrived in 2000 that the GM became an important part of the organization. Even then, the GM was Bill Walsh so you could even argue that it was still coach drive, albeit an old coach. The GM has been the primary source of problems since Walsh though, with Donahue finding a way to have anyone questioning his authority fired. Now York wants to ensure that his coach and his GM work well together, he wants to ensure that his coach has a say in personnel matters, he wants to ensure that he won't hire another Donahue. What better way to do that than to have the GM be the final piece of the puzzle?

I am not an all out York supporter. In fact, I was wish he would sell the team to Steve Young, Brent Jones and their financial firm. But maybe, just maybe, York can do what an owner should do: hire a good coach and a good GM and let them do the work. Heavy involvement from the owner will not save a franchise, especially when that owner has little real NFL experience (see Daniel Snyder).

York has taken the initial steps this year that show that he is committed to winning. Yes the jury is still out. Yes, we need to see what is spent in free agency. Yes, we need to see some of the frugalness leave the organization. And yes, we still need to see the record at the end of the 2005 season. But don't be so quick to tear the guy to shreds.

Even under Eddie DeBartolo the 49ers' aggregate record over his first three years was 9-37. The best thing DeBartolo did was hire the right guy in 1978, then he retreated behind the scenes and let the coach/GM do his thing. It looks like York might be poised to do the same thing in 2005.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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