Mike Holmgren was told a year ago that he was too old to replace Jim Harbaugh as the 49ers’ head coach. Holmgren is currently 67. According to NFL Network, the 49ers will meet with Tom Coughlin today. Coughlin is 69. The 49ers’ math skills didn’t suddenly erode over the past year. The problem wasn’t age. Holmgren simply came from the wrong coaching tree.
I am no longer a fan of the 49ers, for several reasons. I didn’t root for an NFL team this year. This news wouldn’t have made any sense to me in the 1980s, when as a child I watched every second of every game with my parents on our 27-inch tube television.
My dad would get angry and go take a nap whenever the 49ers fell behind by 10 points, then I’d race to my parents’ bedroom and wake him up an hour later after the 49ers had come back to tie or take the lead. Every playoff loss drove me close to tears. Those defeats made my dad rather ornery, so within minutes he wanted me off the couch. So while he grumbled and I pouted, we’d grab our crispy Christmas tree, drag it to the backyard, and throw it down the hill into the woods to decay. I hyperventilated during the game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII. I’m still a fan of those 49ers. Championship teams never die, and they still represent some of the greatest visions of athletic achievement, precision and creativity since sports started being televised.
The uniform scheme and colors are still familiar, but the organization is the same in name only. It might not make sense, but rooting interests rarely do.
We already suffered through the 49ers emulating the early-2000s Ravens, as they welcomed Trent Dilfer into the fold as if he was Steve Young, hired Mike Nolan, and replaced Nolan with Mike Singletary. Now it’s all about Trent Baalke creating his own Bill Parcells-fueled utopia.
Yes, I understand — clinging to the past rarely, if ever, leads to championships. This isn’t a call to bring back Eddie D, hire Holmgren and Mike Shanahan, and fill out the rest of the coaching staff with former 49er greats. But for fans who were devastated when Joe Montana was crushed by Jim Burt and Leonard Marshall in two of the most painful playoff defeats in franchise history, and were so grateful to have Bill Walsh looking thoughtful on our sideline instead of Parcells looking like a stereotypical New York loudmouth on the other, it goes beyond “weird” to see the 49ers continually move toward that opposite sideline.
They’ve already hired Eric Mangini and Tony Sparano, and the 49ers reportedly wanted Sean Payton. Now they may want Coughlin, although it remains to be seen whether their interest in Hue Jackson has actually waned, or if the Coughlin interview is a negotiating ploy.
I know that there isn’t any logic to this. Burt was actually on the 49ers when Marshall obliterated Montana, before Roger Craig fumbled away the NFC Championship Game and San Francisco’s chance at a three-peat. These feelings are embarrassing to admit, actually. Payton is an excellent coach. Coughlin has won two Super Bowls. He seems like a hard-ass defensive guy, but he spent much of his career as an offensive assistant focusing on quarterbacks and wide receivers. He worked under Parcells as a receivers coach with the Giants from 1988-90, before moving on to become the head coach at Boston College.
(And throughout his head coaching career, both in Jacksonville and New York, one would have to admit that Coughlin’s receivers have been WELL above average … far beyond anything the 49ers have had since Baalke took over personnel duties.)
All those years ago, it seemed that with a coaching tree so extensive, Walsh would never die. And someday, the 49ers would find a link to Walsh that was on a football field and not in a museum. Times change, teams change, and winning is all that truly matters. Perhaps Coughlin’s discipline is just what the 49ers need. A “real fan” would probably support anyone the 49ers hired, but that part of me began to vanish when I started getting access, and after moving to Levi’s Stadium it died like those Christmas trees that are probably still resting 30 feet below the backyard of my childhood home.