The situation in San Francisco is serious. If the tension between head coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke is as tumultuous as is being reported (and I personally don’t know if it is), then Jed York should make it his first and foremost priority. Clean this mess up, ASAP.
A storied history
The 49ers clearly are one of the storied franchises in NFL history. Throughout two decades San Francisco served as one of the model organizations not only in the National Football League but in all of professional sports. From 1981 to 2002 the 49ers had 19 double digit winning seasons, 18 playoff appearances, 11 NFC Championship games, and 5 Super Bowl wins. Bill Walsh brought with him a system and professionalism that permeated through all operational aspects of the club. His partnership with then President/CEO of the 49ers Carmen Policy truly built the very definition of an NFL dynasty.
The 49er way of doing business (built by Walsh, Policy, & Eddie DeBartolo, Jr.) spilled over into the Seifert and Mariucci eras as well. Success followed, but not to the degree of dominance that Walsh displayed. The 49ers for a myriad of reasons broke away from who they were when they hired Dennis Erickson in 2003, then continued to tailspin with Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary; eight seasons, three head coaches, no winning records, no playoff appearances.
Baalke/Harbaugh connection from the start
I interviewed for the GM position of the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, but it was abundantly clear that Jed York had his sights set on elevating Trent Baalke from within the organization and luring Jim Harbaugh away from Stanford. The Baalke/Harbaugh tandem was York’s preference from the start and it immediately paid dividends. Three consecutive double digit winning seasons, three consecutive NFC Championship appearances, and a Super Bowl XLVII loss to Baltimore.
My discussions with York left me believing that he was a very “confident” young executive, not to be deterred by the details, and dead set on achieving his goals. To him the answers were clear and a Baalke/Harbaugh combination would bring back the 49ers to dominance, if not at least respectability.
Maintaining the MISSION
Success is a funny thing; the very goals which you work to achieve can in the end be the conduit of internal self-destruction. The NFL has NO shortage of blown up egos in its front offices and coaching staffs. There’s a certain aura of confidence necessary to succeed in professional football, but just like in nature the melting point can be as little as one degree. Jed York now walks on “thin ice” as the ultimate solution to this heated situation. There is no one else.
Great teams remain focused on their mission as the internal/external elements beat down upon them day after day. San Francisco has accomplished a lot under Baalke and Harbaugh, but they haven’t reached their final goal of a Super Bowl Championship. Internal squabbles dealt through email, contract demands from a head coach feeling slighted, and rumors leaked about front office intentions do nothing to keep the ENTIRE organization centered on its mission. Throw a rock in a pond and there are ripple effects. Trust me.
Loss of focus promotes uncertainty and fear which can immediately lead to disunity. Nothing fractures an organization more than disjointed leadership and the resulting sides taken within the club. Make no mistake, the future of many support personnel within the 49ers rests squarely upon the fate of both Baalke and Harbaugh. If there’s ultimately a winner and a loser, people WILL pick sides and there will come with it more rocks on the pond.
Not knowing the exact details and particulars surrounding this situation makes it difficult to diagnose the details, nor would it be correct in doing so. One thing I’ve learned over many years in both college and pro football, things are never as they are reported. But sometimes they can be worse than realized.
Though in charge since 2008, Jed York is facing the most pivotal point in his young executive career entering 2014. How he puts the focus back on the mission of the 49ers and not on any one individual’s wants/needs, and then his ability to reunify personnel with coaching, will tell a lot about how far he’s come in a short period of time.
John Madden says it’s easier to find a “suit” than a coach. If it were only that easy. The symbiotic relationship between GM and Head Coach in the CBA era of professional football doesn’t call for black and white decision making. The ripple effects and shades of gray could easily pull San Francisco back into an abyss of mediocrity in the NFC West with the solid strength of the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks and the rising Cardinals out in Phoenix.
Jed York has a tall task on his table. Time to step up and LEAD.