On Saturday, when my wife got a well-deserved nap and I had a couple hours to myself (while holding our sleeping infant), I fired up the DVR and turned on “A Football Life: Bill Walsh.” I highly recommend the 90-minute retrospective on the Hall-of-Fame coach, which was enlightening and heartbreaking at the same time.
The older I get, and after seeing this York-directed movie play out for a second time (playing the part of Steve Mariucci: Jim Harbaugh!), it’s obvious that we’ll never see anything like those Walsh years again. And the 49ers didn’t even get it right when he was around — the championship drought from 1985-87, along with the quarterback controversy (which Walsh orchestrated) and a slow start in 1988, took a toll that would lead Walsh to call it quits after the team’s signature Super Bowl win over the Bengals.
It wasn’t perfect back in those days. Joe Montana actually threw interceptions from time to time. They lost playoff games, sometimes by huge margins. But taken as a whole, that 49ers Dynasty was one of the league’s greatest. And throughout the show there were references to “Camelot,” with Walsh at the center.
Fast forward to now, when the 49ers can’t find an offensive coordinator or even convince a defensive backs to coach to move across the country to Santa Clara (Perry Fewell chose Scot McCloughan and Washington over Trent Baalke and the 49ers today). The 49ers aren’t Camelot anymore. Let’s take a look at some possible reasons why.
1. Coaches talk
Fans and coaches disagree BIG-TIME on Greg Roman. Fans think he’s incompetent because he called too many fade passes that didn’t work out; other coaches think he’s brilliant. Other coaches also saw how the 49ers treated Jim Harbaugh over the last year, and how several strong coaches were jettisoned within days of the “mutual parting.” If Harbaugh, Roman, Vic Fangio, Ed Donatell, Jim Leavitt, Brad Seely and whoever else is talking — and it’s pretty much a lock that they’re telling the fraternity something about their time under Jed York, Baalke and Paraag Marathe — 49ers coaching opportunities go from “highly desirable” to “only if I get no other offers.”
2. Coaches want to get paid
Somewhere along the way, the Yorks grew tired of paying top dollar for a coaching staff that was unable to bring a sixth Lombardi trophy to the team’s headquarters. The move from one Jim to another will save roughly $1.5 million per season. Jim Tomsula’s staff won’t be as large, or as well-paid, as Harbaugh’s were. Even if Fewell was hesitant to move his family to the other coast (to coach under Tomsula and Eric Mangini after a set of press conferences that announced to the world, “Hey all, welcome to dysfunction junction”), it’s difficult to imagine he’d turn down the 49ers if the money was significantly better than what Washington offered.
On that note, I’ll just drop this here …
Let’s put it this way: Seems relatively likely that Lane Kiffin turned the 49ers down. Rattle that one around in your head.
— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) January 27, 2015
3. No coherent plan
York and Baalke also told the world (in so many words) that the team is talented enough to win the division, and the previous regime screwed things up. OK, fine. That’s a reasonable conclusion based on a variety of Harbaugh-related foibles I detailed here, especially if York and Baalke were in close contact with players who grew disillusioned with the methods of Harbaugh and/or his assistants.
In this case, wouldn’t the most logical course of action have been to scrub everything clean? By promoting Tomsula, Mangini (and we’re predicting Geep Chryst will become the team’s next offensive coordinator, after they struck out on Kiff and Chud), the 49ers are pinning 100% of the blame on Harbaugh and his top coaches from 2011-14. Yep, EVERYTHING WAS FINE until Harbaugh, Roman, Fangio, Seely and a few others who were loyal to Harbaugh screwed everything up. Uh, OK.
Instead of new coaches and ideas, the 49ers are hoping that the middle managers can become C-level execs and turn everything around. Maybe it’ll happen, but that’s not necessarily the way to attract the best and brightest from outside the organization.
4. Jed make Jimmy angry
I’m going to go ahead and borrow a couple paragraphs from Matt Barrows. Barrows is an incredible beat reporter with a seemingly endless supply of jokes, but he wrote this in all seriousness:
Chudzinski’s internal promotion comes three days after another candidate for the 49ers’ offensive coordinator position, Lane Kiffin, decided to remain at Alabama. National reports had Kiffin as “a frontrunner” for the job.
Both he and Chudzinski are represented by Jimmy Sexton. Sexton also represents Adam Gase, who appeared to be the frontrunner for the 49ers’ head-coaching job but who ended up as Chicago’s offensive coordinator.
Sexton also represents several high-profile college coaches (including Nick Saban), and Rex Ryan (who hired Roman). If the 49ers pulled the rug out from under Gase, that could affect their ability to land coaches for quite some time.
5. A meddlesome GM
The Fewell decision is probably based on some combination of location, money, and/or not wanting to work under Mangini/Tomsula. As for the offensive coordinator situation, well … money might have something to do with that one, too. But this quote doesn’t help:
“I think somewhere in there, he said we’re going to run the football.”
That’s what Baalke said during Tomsula’s intro presser. It’s the only quote I can remember right now without going back and reading the transcript, and you can be damn sure other coaches around the league raised their eyebrows when they heard/read it.
If you’re a candidate to become an NFL offensive coordinator, you’re probably pretty proud of your ability to craft an offense without anyone’s help. Alright, maybe if the quarterback is Peyton Manning you’ll bend your philosophy a little and give him some control. But who wants a GM breathing down his neck to “run the football,” especially when the only running backs under contract are Carlos Hyde (who showed flashes, but didn’t exactly burst onto the scene in his rookie year), Kendall Hunter (coming off an ACL tear, two years after tearing his Achilles), and practice squad fodder.
So there you have it, from Coaches’ Camelot to Siberia Clara. Coaches used to want to come and learn from the most brilliant mind in the game; apparently the lure of Baalke and Tomsula isn’t quite as strong.