Scot McCloughan’s Long, Strange Goodbye

Mar 21, 2010 at 1:41 PM

Well then. So much for continuity.

Oh, don't get me wrong. If you know me at all, you know my views on continuity. Continuity for the sake of continuity is no better than change for the sake of change. By all means, if what you've got is smart and innovative, continue it. But if it's not--and if you wanna succeed--you can't be afraid. You've gotta change it.

Of the Niners' many weak links, Scot McCloughan was never the weakest. Don't forget how this franchise looked when he first arrived. In 2004, thanks of course to Terry Donahue, the Niners had almost no discernable talent. Without shrewd personnel moves, we easily could've gone a decade or more with no discernable hope. Yet only five years later, we emerged with a consistently competitive team that with a couple of breaks--and with smarter coaching--easily would've won 10 games and a division title.

In that emergence, no one was more important than McCloughan. Everything that's exciting about this team--Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Aubrayo Franklin, Ahmad Brooks, even Nate Davis--is here because McCloughan brought him here.

We owe this guy a serious debt. But--depending on what we end up with--his exit doesn't bother me at all.

As much as we should appreciate how McCloughan took us from awful to average, that was actually the easy part. The challenge will be in the NEXT step--from average to good--and McCloughan just didn't seem up to it. In five years, he never found a backup for Gore or a reliable secondary. He proudly declared that he wouldn't spend big cash on guards--his personal version of Moneyball--and his inability to draft them has produced the league's worst offensive line. His near-total washout of a draft in '08--think he'd take DeSean Jackson over Balmer or Rachal NOW?--was Donahue all over again. And in '09, he released not one but TWO viable kick-returners, a decision so breathtakingly stupid that it cost us our top corner, and perhaps even the playoffs.

And then, of course, there's Alex Smith. With a big push from his boss, McCloughan spent a #1 pick on a passer who couldn't drop back while reading a D, and we've paid for that mistake ever since. In his desperation to see some return on that investment, McCloughan simply refused to move on, and for five years, at the game's most important position, we've been as weak as any team in the league. (And still are, despite the addition of a certain SECOND #1 pick.)

I myself was ready for change. Jed York, however, was not. There he was in December, telling the world he was "fully in Scot's corner." There he was in January, watching Mike Shanahan go to the Redskins after Mike Holmgren had gone to the Browns.

And here he is in March, apparently firing Scot McCloughan.

Like I said, I was ready for change. But Jed, I think you owe us an explanation.

What happened?

McCloughan's agent told us he wouldn't resign, and with all the money he's owed, why would he? So that must mean he was fired (or, as the more politically correct among us have offered, he was given "an extended leave of absence"). Yet it's also reported that he was fired not because of how he did his job, but because of "a personal matter." And indeed, a pending divorce was discovered, and he admitted that he'd "lost sight" of his family.

I'm sorry about McCloughan's personal turmoil. But if the Niners thought he'd been capably doing his job despite it, why on earth would they FIRE him for it? And with a draft only a few weeks out, why on earth would they fire him NOW?

But really, an explanation of what happened isn't nearly as important as an explanation of something else. An explanation of what's GONNA happen.

What's the plan, Jed? McCloughan's top deputies, Tom Gamble and Trent Baalke (the latter of whom reportedly will lead us through the coming draft), are experienced and respected enough, though neither holds the street cred of a Shanny or Holmgren. YOUR top deputy, on the other hand, is Paraag Marathe; his Stanford MBA's impressive, and he knows his way around a salary cap, but the thought of him choosing a right tackle is enough to make most of us wretch.

And then, of course, there's the most wretched possibility of all: Mike Singletary, coach and general manager.

Please, Jed, no. Not again. Not another overmatched coach with personnel powers to boot. We're talking about a Hall of Fame linebacker who wouldn't have drafted Patrick Willis. That should be all you need to know; don't let this man near your draft board.

But there's a bigger issue, Jed. See all this speculating we're doing? See all this worry? It's because of you, and your inexcusable silence.

Even when change is a good idea, you've gotta finish the job. You can't just fire someone. You've gotta have a plan to replace him. You've gotta show us you know what you're doing.

Remember Steve Mariucci? Despite his success, a lot of us wanted him gone. Donahue obliged, but then he proved he had no Plan B. After wandering around in the dark for a while, he ended up with retread Dennis Erickson, and by sheer coincidence, we haven't had a winning season since.

We know you want us to trust you, Jed. We know why you so often choose to drop your uncle's name. You're telling us that you're not your father. You're telling us that you understand us, that you're one of us, that we can trust you. And trust me, Jed; we WANT to trust you. After what we've been through, we desperately want to.

But when it comes to leadership, nothing breeds distrust like silence.

We need you to speak. No, we don't need the details of McCloughan's personal life, if that's what your silence is geared to protect. We just need to know the plan. The longer you wait, the longer you hide, the more we doubt you have one.

And perhaps irrevocably, the less we trust you.

Come out, come out, Jed. Wherever you are.
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.


  • go0se
    I think McCloughan did an admirable job. He had no better option than to draft Alex Smith in 05. Whom else would you have drafted in his place? Braylon Edwards? Don't try to tell me Aaron Rodgers - if he had changed offensive coordinators every year he's been in the league and if he'd had the talent Alex had when he arrived Rodgers wouldn't be any better than Alex. I believe they tried very hard to trade out but no one would give them any value for the pick. Go back and look at that draft - the 49ers unfortunately had the top pick in a draft very thin on talent. Your infatuation with Holmgren and Shanahan is simply living in the glory days of the past. Holmgren left Seattle in poor shape and Shanahan wouldn't have been anything without Elway - who was probably one of the top 5 QBs of ALL TIME and he left Denver in pretty poor shape. Neither is the answer.
    Mar 27, 2010 at 8:57 PM
  • Dan
    About Singletary and Jed York, one thing you'll notice about Singletary is how he's driven to win. He wants to win and he'll do everything it takes to win. Also, he knows how to win. He's done it plenty of times on the field and he'll make it happen as coach. He also has the unique ability to pass this attitude on to the people around him, including those fans who are NOT immune to the idea of winning. It's going to happen, nothing can stop it. If Jed York is such a bad owner why would Singletary still be there? I have to let Singletary have some extra say in the team's personnel decisions because he's the one who's going to be working with them to get the most he can get out of each one. Also a lot of those picks would be here if McCloughan wasn't here so he doesn't get all the credit. The only thing that would have ruined our drafts is if we were winning a lot of games.
    Mar 26, 2010 at 4:22 PM
  • Ninerdawg
    Well Jeff, I am glad Jed gets it. You always bashed Sing like in an earlier response, you'd get rid of Sing before Alex, I am sooo glad you are not the coach of the Niners! The GM puts together the roster. Our record reflects the talent on this team. Now Jeff, once Sing gets his QB, and some of the players he wants, then we would be able to evaluate him better on his performance. How many excuses has Alex Smith gotten?? In my opinion, Scot and Alex have been handcuffing the organization since 05. There isn't any coach that would have done any better!
    Mar 25, 2010 at 2:01 PM
  • Riq Roq
    Awesome article. Someone knows how to write around here!
    Mar 25, 2010 at 11:01 AM
  • Mntidagold
    Props for giving Scotty credit for pulling this team out of the Donahue era. Fans seem to forget how bad that 2004 team really was. In defense of Jed, I think this whole situation with Scotty may be so uncommon that the remedy can only be silence. Sometimes saying nothing is for the best in our modern uber-technological world where we are starving for more and more information. This can be hard to accept.
    Mar 24, 2010 at 11:25 PM
  • Nick S.
    Yes, yes the rest was solid. I just think the Alex Smith situation can be summed up in a sentence- "We'll see this season."
    Mar 24, 2010 at 10:43 PM
  • Paul
    Jeff, way to nail it. P
    Mar 24, 2010 at 11:09 AM
  • charles
    stop blaming alex for everything wrong w/the niners--good article tho.
    Mar 23, 2010 at 4:39 PM
    Response: Thanks, Charles, though I don't know where I wrote that Alex is to blame for everything wrong. In fact, if I could get rid of either Singletary or Alex, guess who I'd pick?
  • Dan B.
    I'm a personal fan of yours jeff and at the risk of browning my nose I'll just say "thank you." You take the deep feeling of distrust and confusion that I have and you put it on paper. I like to think that Jed is at home today and that he'll log on the Webzone and read this article. Maybe nobodies telling him the right advice? .......yeah that's it! YEAH! nobodies telling him and now he knows and we'll never lose.....yay!
    Mar 23, 2010 at 1:14 PM
    Response: Thank YOU, Dan, and thanks to all of you as always for your feedback.
  • Scappman
    Jeff, I really enjoy your articles, to the point, not a hint of sugar-coating and usually on the mark! Just listened to Jed on KNBR about McCloughan's release and he seems intelligent, adeptly side-stepping Ralph and Tom's questions about the termination, but when it comes to finding another Joe Cool, a QB that can aspire to greatness and lead his Niners to the Superbowl, he drops the ball like he is not related to his uncle, Eddie D. Jed, for Godsakes, the more time spent on the A. Smith experiment, the longer the Niners will be prevented from playing in the Superbowl. We need to identify and develop a truly outstanding QB, not save face by trying to have faith that our former #1 pick will finally prove that he can succeed in the NFL. We can't wait forever on one guy. The current stars will get older or move on, leaving us in a constant state of rebuilding but never putting it all together to get to the top. N. Davis moved the team last pre-season, let him compete with Carr. Nothing Smith has ever done as a Niner, last year included, justifies his #1 status. Sing and Jed back him, so off we go, destined for another 8-8 with no hope of reaching the Superbowl.
    Mar 23, 2010 at 12:53 PM
  • natefan
    Nate Davis. Get it? It's not Smith versus Carr. NATE DAVIS.
    Mar 22, 2010 at 10:53 PM
  • IDniner
    If Jed says something like: "We've decided to sell the team. Sorry we screwed it up so badly." If he says ANYTHING else, expect the Niners to continue to be mediocre, at best.
    Mar 22, 2010 at 4:55 PM
  • Randy
    Jeff, I usually hate your articles but this one was right on. If Jed doesn't give a halfway decent explanation of what's really going on, he's a slimy creep just like his father and the team will continue to suck until it is sold to someone else.
    Mar 22, 2010 at 6:49 AM
    Response: Well, Randy, I appreciate your sticking with me 'til I got one!
  • gabriel flores
    Great article from a fan's perspective.
    Mar 21, 2010 at 11:19 PM
  • louie
    You speak the truth. But for this mess to get back to greatness it will take a lot more than Jed speaking out. He's got to tell the truth. Not to us, but to himself. He needs to face the fact that neither he nor his father know what they're doing. He's got to forget that he's a prince and take a backseat to some real, experienced, successful football people who won't feel indebted to him for giving them their jobs, like everyone else the Yorks have hired. We've seen this bad movie before in other franchises. Hard to believe it's happening to our 49ers.
    Mar 21, 2010 at 10:43 PM
  • le_seus
    kaplan we agree once again on almost every point. that PFW article makes marathe seem better than the impression most of us have about him. though i still don't know about his gm abilities. and some of his contracts are still crazy. but anyway let's just suppose that jed had Eddie in his ear, wouldn't you think with Eddie's guidance young jed would have a plan b for every position. you are absolutely right, the silence is the worst. just a press release saying hey we will address it when we can would be better than this. oh and yeah some dude did mention many of scotty's blunders and how he has lasted in the league 5 years without a winning season. i guess maybe while this seems crazy now, if we get a young talented gm/coach then we could be better in the long run. yeah i'm not sold on sing. and it was a blasted shame seeing holmgren and shanny go and now seeing this happen. they better not bring that knucklehead gruden in here. i would have to stop watching football then. God Bless.
    Mar 21, 2010 at 10:32 PM
  • Nick S.
    Boo for turning part of this article into a mini-Alex-bashing session.
    Mar 21, 2010 at 3:17 PM
    Response: But yay for the rest of it, right Nick?

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