NFL

49ers’ great unknown as they search for GM, coach: The power of Paraag

“We have a president,” Jed York said yesterday. “His name is Al Guido, and I don’t make football decisions.”

This didn’t go over too well, partly because nothing the Jedster says after going 2-14 … after going 5-11 … after firing Jim Harbaugh because he was a big meanie … is going to go over well. That’s something York made fairly clear yesterday when he said “nothing I’m going to say is going to be satisfactory” three different times. But since he only faces the local media (and, by extension, the fans) once a year, the slack he’d like everyone to cut just isn’t coming his way.

However, if we’re looking at actual football maneuvering: choosing which free agents to sign, who to play, which quarterback to start, who to draft, who stays on the 53-man roster and who leaves … by all accounts, York does not meddle. That’s not to say he hasn’t suggested anything, but I’ve never heard or seen any reports of that occurring. York chooses who makes those decisions, and that obviously influences what the roster looks like every season, but let’s not confuse him with Jerry Jones or the late Al Davis.

Here’s where it gets tricky, though.

“Paraag will be with me in the interviews. We’ve certainly done research together and will be moving forward.”

Paraag Marathe. Oh, Paraag, Paraag, Paraag. We used to think Trent Baalke was bulletproof. By that measure, Marathe could survive a nuclear bomb.

He was supposedly demoted a year ago, but it appears Marathe was simply given alternate responsibilities. For example, the minor league soccer franchise in Sacramento (a city that might end up becoming a major league soccer town in the not-too-distant future). That goes along with his salary cap management and contract negotiation duties.

Tim Kawakami wrote a comprehensive column that detailed a few important things: how the 49ers are running this search in a seemingly logical way, some possible GM/coach pairings, and how Marathe fits into this equation.

Why is Marathe back on the main stage after he was banished out of the team presidency last year?

Marathe was demoted by the Yorks to try to stop the flow of leaks against Colin Kaepernick, and the leaks did indeed stop once Marathe was out of the inner circle.

But he is always a wild-card because he has that connection with Jed, and if Marathe is around, always look for other executives to get fired and Marathe to move forward when that happens.

Like now.

The Yorks are very isolated from the normal NFL levels, which is why Jed almost always goes back to Marathe and why Jed communicates so often with national reporters.

I’ve been semi-joking for a bit about the possibility of Marathe becoming the team’s next GM, partly to troll fans during a Niners season that was more boring than a day of jury duty with no cell phone reception, but mostly because Dr. John York put it on the table over a decade ago when Marathe was the assistant to the general manager (the GM at the time was Terry Donahue).

“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.”

It’s been 11 years since Kevin Lynch wrote that feature on Marathe, and even someone as tone-deaf as Jed “You Don’t Dismiss Owners” York knows what kind of virtual (and maybe even literal) rioting would ensue if Marathe was named the GM this month. So I highly doubt that Jed and Marathe will lead a GM search that leads them to … Marathe. But Marathe is still around, and remains quite powerful.

***

While Jed has never been called a football meddler, that label has followed Marathe.

Remember when Marathe was in the booth during games and had some say in whether Mike Nolan, and later Mike Singletary, threw challenge flags?

And here’s this from Stephanie McCarroll of Niners Nation:

Marathe active game involvement is something that has been discussed in a limited manner, but has picked up a bit of steam more recently. Play calling and other football decisions – normally reserved the coaching staff – was a point of escalating tension under Nolan, Singletary and finally Jim Harbaugh’s coaching tenure. Marathe – an analytics guru and numbers cruncher – often presented mid-game suggestions for Harbaugh to go for it on fourth down, or go for two instead of kicking an extra point. At certain points, Marathe was even given a chair in the coaches booth and put in charge of replays and determining whether or not to suggest challenging questionable calls.

Marathe’s active game day role underscores one of the primary criticisms leveled at Jed York: that he and his fellow suits in the owners suite meddle too much with football decisions, and that has contributed to one of the most stunning collapses of a successful sports franchise. It also highlights the growing chasm between football strategists who rely on the growing body of analytics and statistics available versus the more old school types who remain wary of using newfangled algorithms to coach football.

Sorry to the folks at Niners Nation for the huge quotes, but there’s more:

Harbaugh has a more conservative football nature. And, he is largely driven by emotion and gut instincts. According to sources, it drove Marathe, and by extension, York and Baalke, nuts. Harbaugh resented Marathe’s meddling and often refused his counsel. Jed York and GM Trent Baalke threw their support behind Marathe, exacerbating the, by now, well documented breakdown of the relationship between Harbaugh and ownership.

That was written last November, a few days after I questioned why Marathe wasn’t getting the same kind of scrutiny for the 49ers’ decline as Jed, Baalke, or Jim Tomsula.

***

Many have suggested that the 49ers’ GM opening is an attractive one, including at least one of the reported candidates. ESPN’s Louis Riddick, who was drafted in the ninth round by the 49ers in 1991, said as much on TV. After considering what a GM would inherit if they accepted the 49ers’ offer — high draft picks, cap room, and a roster canvass as blank as any in the NFL with which to work — one has to wonder what might hold the 49ers back in their search. Particularly since there’s only one GM job available at the moment.

The Yorks present an obvious red flag — when times get bad, their go-to reaction is to start firing people (even if they have no viable backup plans at the time). However, annoying/unprofessional/incompetent owners have been able to lure executives with large stacks of cash on numerous occasions. Otherwise, who’d work for Dan Snyder?

It’s not like the 49ers CEO is known to be an abusive jerk, either. Actually, the fact that the Jedster seems like he’s in over his head might convince an ego-driven NFL executive type that he could kiss York’s posterior just enough to stay in good graces, while doing whatever the hell he wanted with the team after accepting a long, guaranteed contract.

***

But what about Marathe? He’s still there for a reason. If you’re Nick Caserio, Sean McVay, or one of the up-and-coming execs from Green Bay or Seattle (or a head coaching candidate), will York and Marathe offer you the job only if you promise to take Marathe’s draft day, cut day, and game day suggestions to heart?

The political minefield has to raise concerns as well. If you take either one of those jobs, how can you be certain that Marathe won’t persuade York to leak negative stories against you to national reporters, or go rogue and become a “league source” himself?

Many vocal fans have been crying for the Yorks to include some well-known former players, coaches and execs in their decision-making processes. While there’s no guarantee that inviting say, Joe Montana into the fold would lead to anything positive, I understand the frustration. The frustration is in large part due to Marathe. No one is questioning his intelligence. By all accounts he’s a good negotiator (just ask Colin Kaepernick’s former agents). But we know very little about him, other than he’s tight with Jed and he’s been here through everything we’ve seen since 2001. With everyone else now out of the building, the only mainstays are the Yorks and Marathe. Without knowing how much influence Marathe has, or how he’s perceived by the candidates the 49ers plan to interview, it’s difficult to experience a surge in confidence about how all of this is going to go.

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