Jed York is getting so much grief on Twitter these days (and that’s putting it as nicely as possible). A couple weeks ago I clicked one of his retweets about some tech conference, and in his mentions I noticed that a photo I took of Jed at the “mutual parting” press conference had been turned into more than one meme.
After feeling like a bit of a lone wolf earlier this year, howling at the blogosphere moon that Trent Baalke is bulletproof and that probably shouldn’t be the case, everyone else seems to have come around. Baalke is definitely on the hot seat, or at least that’s how it’s perceived outside of Santa Clara.
No one outside of the organization takes Jim Tomsula seriously. Colin Kaepernick was benched over two weeks ago (props once again to Kyle McLorg for breaking what became a huge national story).
These four men are taking the brunt. But what about the others with power in the organization? Maybe it’s time to shift the spotlight to Paraag Marathe, along with Jed’s parents, John and Denise.
John York used to be the main spokesperson for this franchise, and 49ers fans couldn’t stand him. He was the one who pushed out Bill Walsh, pinched pennies, and presided over a team that sunk to the bottom of the NFC. Denise — who technically owns the team — never speaks publicly. Marathe is the silent man behind the scenes with draft value charts and salary cap spreadsheets.
The evening that McLorg’s story set the NFL world ablaze was an interesting one. It got even more so when @SoCaliSteph, a writer for Niners Nation, started explaining what she’s heard from her sources within the organization. Then Ray Ratto added his two cents, and I started researching Marathe. Before we get to that last part, here’s Steph:
I’m just going to tweet. It’s not Jed doing the leaks, it’s Paraag.
— So Cali Steph (@SoCaliSteph) November 3, 2015
Paraag never liked Kap. Thought he should represent himself differently and is super close with Florio. — So Cali Steph (@SoCaliSteph) November 3, 2015
(That’s Mike Florio, the lead editor of Pro Football Talk.)
All of the sudden you see Kap in a suit and tie. Hmmm. Cause Paraag is the face of the franchise type of guy. — So Cali Steph (@SoCaliSteph) November 3, 2015
And Paraag only got the job from the 49ers when he was employed at Bain and lucked into it. Ask anyone at Bain. — So Cali Steph (@SoCaliSteph) November 3, 2015
Marathe was routinely pilloried by Ralph Barbieri and others in the mid-2000s. The public disdain reached a fever pitch when it was learned that Mike Nolan put him in charge of calling for replay challenges. This led Matt Maiocco (then the 49ers beat writer for the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat) to defend the decision a year later when Marathe was performing the same task for Mike Singletary.
Marathe has impressed quite a few people with his intelligence and attention to detail, most notably the Yorks. This Marathe profile piece, written in 2005 by Kevin Lynch for SFGate, is fascinating.
Marathe (pronounced mah-RAH-tay) became the unwitting victim of what many perceived as co-owner John York’s NFL ignorance. It’s a fact this business consultant from San Jose, via Cal and Stanford, impressed York after then- general manager Terry Donahue brought him in and was a big influence on the coaching search. But he is not expected to play a major role, as yet, in the organization.
Still, there was cause for wonder, when York didn’t lean on someone such as personnel consultant Bill McPherson, who has been working for the 49ers for the past 24 years and has a 50-year association with football, to find and hire a head coach. Instead, York chose Marathe and assistant director of football administration Terry Tumey to assist him.
Wait, there’s more!
The industrious Marathe won the admiration of York, a licensed pathologist who admittedly relied heavily on his business background (running laboratories and race tracks) to steer his ownership of the 49ers.
“John is a scientist,” a source close to York said on the condition of anonymity. “He loves proofs and statistical models.”
In his projects, Marathe created graphs and charts that impressed York. After working with the 49ers for 18 months, Marathe befriended Jed York, John’s eldest son. Seemingly, as the 23-year-old Jed became more visible at the 49ers’ headquarters, eventually joining high-level meetings, so did Marathe.
Marathe’s ascension coincided with the departure of Walsh and director of football operations John McVay, which could have been more than a coincidence. Privately, neither liked the statistical approach Donahue espoused. Marathe and his computer shot down Walsh and McVay’s trade proposals during the 2003 draft. This didn’t sit well with either man, who had built the 49ers’ success partly on their impulses.
Contacted recently, Walsh didn’t want to comment on the team’s direction.
“Can a computer help determine who you pick on draft day?” Walsh asked. “I don’t know, maybe it can.”
Donahue also declined to comment.
As Walsh’s influence faded, Donahue’s system, which he kept secret for the most part, took root. Donahue and York allowed Marathe to hire interns to watch film and provide the scouting department with new statistics on players.
But Dennis Erickson’s old-school coaches weren’t informed of these hires. So they walked past Marathe’s interns “breaking down” film and wondered what was going on.
In the meantime, Donahue instituted a “tick” system whereby coaches and scouts had to dole out ticks in their player evaluations and then a percentage was determined. Ticks were earned on production — the number of catches made compared to passes thrown, the number of blocks executed, the number of tackles made when a player was in position to tackle.
Thus, it could be said that a linebacker made a tackle 83 percent of the time he had the opportunity.
Some scouts and coaches found the information useless and a distraction from actually evaluating what the player could do.
Meanwhile, York was making cuts to nearly every department, and seemingly the only area that was expanding belonged to Marathe.
In fact, personnel only consumes a quarter of his duties, Marathe said. Most of his time is spent on salary-cap analysis.
Nevertheless, Marathe was asked by York to lead the head-coaching research, and his profile skyrocketed.
Marathe studied 120 coaches to determine where the most successful NFL coaches come from, and what makes them excel once they have the job. Along with other factors, Marathe discovered that coaches who were with successful teams and worked with winning coaches made the best future coach.
The 49ers’ short list of candidates was determined partly by Marathe’s criteria. The interview process included a meal with John and Jed York, and then a sit-down with John York, Marathe and Tumey. York ultimately determined the next man to lead the 49ers.
York said Marathe was involved in the head-coaching interviews because York trusted him. Marathe had helped billion-dollar corporations hire CEO’s when he was at Bain, and like it or not, an NFL head coach must have CEO characteristics in today’s NFL.
It might have been assumed Marathe would influence York to hire a coach who embraced Marathe’s statistical program. Of the five candidates, Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was the most enamored of statistical analysis and Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan the least.
Nolan was hired, and even though Marathe will have significant say in salary-cap matters, he’s not the power broker many assumed he would be when he was included in the interview process.
“I think Paraag is clearly the salary-cap person and negotiator, I don’t think at this point in time that Paraag has the experience to be the general manager,” York said. “I think over time that he could.”
So many interesting tidbits on Marathe and his relationship with the Yorks are in Lynch’s story.
— Marathe is the last remaining piece of Donahue’s 49ers legacy. Donahue was known for spending more time in Southern California than in the Bay Area during his tenure as GM, as well as some awful drafts and free agent signings.
— Marathe became buddies with young Jed as both men became more involved with front office decision-making, or were at least present during meetings where such decisions were made.
— Walsh and McVay, only two of the strongest minds in franchise history, didn’t appear to be all that enamored with Marathe’s methods.
— Dr. York was slashing the budget, but he protected Marathe (whose job was — and is — to figure out ways to save the team money, by hiring the right head coaches and keeping a watchful eye on the team’s cap situation).
— Dr. York didn’t let Marathe pick the coach in ’05, but he thought that “over time” he could gain the experience required to be the team’s general manager.
(Hold up. I just realized something.)
If Baalke gets fired after this season — an unlikely event, but one that’s certainly possible if the team goes further into the tank and the younger players he drafted don’t show much improvement — it isn’t out of the realm that Marathe would replace Baalke and become the 49ers President AND General Manager.
He is the club’s chief contract negotiator and salary cap architect, and also runs the team’s football analytics efforts. He is responsible for the 49ers compliance with the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement and works closely with general manager Trent Baalke on all aspects of the club’s football operations.
Marathe has played an integral role in helping the 49ers maintain a solid veteran nucleus, negotiating contract extensions in recent years with a number of key players, including QB Colin Kaepernick, DT Glenn Dorsey, All-Pros LB NaVorro Bowman, TE Vernon Davis and T Joe Staley. Additionally, Marathe’s work during free agency has helped to land accomplished veteran players, such as S Antoine Bethea, RB Reggie Bush, K Phil Dawson and WR Torrey Smith.
The Yorks clearly love Marathe, and it’s been over 10 years since Dr. York made those comments, plenty of time to gain the experience necessary (according to the Yorks, anyway). He’s been with the team since Mariucci, and throughout that time, through the Erickson, Nolan, Singletary, Harbaugh and Tomsula years, Marathe has continued his rise and gained more power since joining the team in 2001.
Jed certainly deserves some blame for how things ended with Harbaugh, and for his tunnel vision when it came to replacing Harbaugh with Tomsula. Baalke deserves some blame: as the percentage of players acquired during under his watch has increased, the quality of the roster and the club’s record has continued to sink. Tomsula deserves some blame, because not only has the team gotten blown out several times (the 49ers have the worst point differential in the league), but he goes conservative when they’re down by multiple scores for no reason other than to keep the losses semi-respectable. Kaepernick deserves some blame, even though the 49ers ruined him, because he’s the highest-paid player on the team and was completely unproductive in half of his starts this season.
But what about Marathe, who rarely goes on the record but seems to have a lot of power within an organization that has very few real power players? It’s hard to know exactly what he’s been responsible for in the last two tumultuous seasons — whether he had a hand in getting rid of Harbaugh, whether he’s either in charge of leaking information to reporters or someone who delivers the Yorks’ chosen messages to the press, whether he’s already kind of a co-GM with Baalke already, as it would appear from Marathe’s bio on the team’s website. All we know is there’s been a lot of blame to spread around, and Marathe (along with Jed’s parents) have kind of skated through this without much negative attention. Kaepernick has shouldered more than his fair share. Baalke’s performance is getting questioned. Jed’s Twitter mentions are a dumpster fire. Tomsula is coaching for next season, starting on Sunday. Meanwhile, Marathe’s job appears to be very, very safe.