(Extended headline) … to respectability, not San Francisco.
It’d be foolish to say the 49ers will NEVER return to The City, but if that happened it would be after most of us are long gone. No, this is a post containing an idea or two that would somehow remedy this horribly mismanaged franchise.
The game yesterday? Psssshhhh. No point in spending any time analyzing that. It was good for the 49ers that they lost, but that’s about it. Colin Kaepernick was the most dynamic player on the field for the visiting team (which, somewhat surprisingly, played noticeably hard for 60 minutes). Kaepernick was the team’s best rusher and, while he threw a few passes that were Gabbsolutely dreadful, he also threw several dimes that we weren’t expecting to see from him this year, or perhaps ever again.
But as I’ve written before, Kaepernick is doing his best to launch himself to a new team and a better situation. And once Kaepernick becomes a New York Jet (the most likely option if I had to guess), the 49ers will be left sitting with a roster completely devoid of star power. Not that Kaepernick has looked like a star since three years ago, but the overall boringness of this roster is astounding. And stars change the entire dynamic, as we’re seeing in Oakland.
So that’s why, as I start listing options for the Yorks heading into next year and beyond, I’m going to list the worst-case scenario first and get progressively more optimistic from there.
Option 1 (total disaster): Trent Baalke stays, Chip Kelly goes
This move would be a signal that the Yorks are pleased with Baalke’s performance and will keep cycling through coaches who fail with his crappy rosters for years as 49ers tickets go for $1.99 on the secondary market. Who would Baalke target to replace Kelly? Tom Coughlin? Bill Parcells? The corpse of Tom Landry? It’s impossible to imagine any ambitious, semi-young head coaching candidate happily agreeing to work with Baalke after what has occurred in Santa Clara over the last few years.
If this scenario unfolds, 49ers fans should just give up, at least temporarily. I’m not joking. Flip sides and root for the Raiders to knock off teams like the Patriots, Cowboys and Seahawks. Stop watching the NFL altogether. Pick a college team if you don’t already have one, and invest your time and emotion into that squad instead. My wife went to Washington, and being a college free agent when we met (I went to UC Santa Cruz, which concerned itself more with ultimate frisbee and hacky-sack than football when I attended), I dove in and became a Huskies fan. After several years of watching average-to-slightly-above-average football, I’m finally reaping the benefits this season. It can happen to you, too!
If you’re a “Niner 4 Lyfe” and can’t stomach the thought of changing that part of your being, you’re going to go through a lot of pain if ownership hasn’t already realized that Baalke is a joke of a general manager who’s been stockpiling “upside” guys for years. His strategy has produced a roster incapable of building leads or coming back from deficits, as well as some of the most boring football in the history of the organization. And it’s up to ownership to remove him from his post to prove they’re actually watching the games.
Option 2 (drowning in place): Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly stay
Option 3 (last-ditch attempt to save face): Trent Baalke goes, Chip Kelly stays
This seemed like the likeliest option when the season started, because the Yorks spent a decent amount on Kelly. Plus, at the beginning of this year Jed said, “Look, Chip’s going to be here for a long time, period.”
And if you can’t take Jed York at his word …
//wipes coffee from computer screen and keyboard
Here’s the problem (if you think Kelly is the best coach out there, something many observers don’t believe): a new GM would almost certainly want to choose the next head coach. So this option only works if Jeddy Y. replaces Trader Trent with Tommy Gamble, who’s tight with Chippy K.
OR, York targeted a potential general manager from outside the organization who legitimately wanted to work with Kelly, which would probably point to one of two things.
- The new GM was desperate for the position and would do anything to placate Jed.
- The new GM is too close with Kelly, who would probably assume more power over the roster than he deserves after the train wreck that unfolded in Philly.
I don’t know enough about Gamble — who’s supposedly tight with Trader Trent as well — to know whether he can steer the 49ers out of this. I assume Option 3 will lead to more of the same misery for the 49ers, but it’s preferable to seeing Baalke remain in his role of Chief Drafter of Long-Armed Projects Who’ll Get Extensions They Don’t Deserve.
Option 4 (I have no idea if this would work but it sure sounds better than the first three): Give the team to David Shaw
If Jed wanted to actually win with class instead of talking about it, making Shaw the head coach and giving him full power over personnel could be the right move. COULD BE. Shaw has nine years of NFL coaching experience and he’s shown the ability to keep Stanford relevant in times both good and lean. But he probably wouldn’t leave Stanford unless the Yorks handed him the entire operation, and many smart men have failed when tasked with doing every … single … thing.
Still intriguing, though.
Option 5 (my crazy idea that’ll never happen): The Full Shanahan
What could this organization use? It’s a long list, so bear with me.
- A franchise quarterback and more talent on both sides (but especially at the skill positions)
- An innovative coaching staff with a track record of success in the NFL
- A GM who understands that creating a team is more about finding pieces that work in concert with one another than simply accumulating assets that may or may not pan out at a later date
- A president of FOOTBALL — as opposed to BUSINESS (i.e. tickets sales and Coldplay shows, or minor league soccer teams) — operations who supervises, advises and oversees everything and everyone, from general manager to equipment manager (in other words, Jed needs his own John McVay/Carmen Policy)
- And, subjectively, a reminder that they don’t need to mix-and-match philosophies from other organizations when the 49ers were the most brilliant and innovative team in the NFL for almost two decades
As you can probably surmise, my crazy idea that’ll never happen is to hire Kyle Shanahan as the head coach. As for his father, Mike, we’re going to make him the President of Football Operations. His job will be to create a team in his vision, hire a GM, and fight the Yorks to get his son whatever he needs to propel the 49ers to a level where they can start winning division titles and contending for Super Bowls again.
The elder Shanahan isn’t so old that he couldn’t possibly serve as GM, but at 64 his experience (he was V.P. of football operations in Washington) and knowledge is better suited for a role that doesn’t necessarily entail flying across the country multiple times each month. Bringing Mike Shanahan aboard would also create a connection with the times that made the franchise and everyone who roots for it so proud, without forcing Jed to look like he’s blatantly copying his uncle (Shanahan was only with the 49ers as their offensive coordinator from 1992-94).
Totally sentimental side benefit alert!
You know what would come with Mike, right? Instead of Trent Dilfer being the 49ers’ top surrogate on ESPN, that title would move to Steve Young. Anyone who makes a habit of listening to Young’s fantastic interviews with Tom Tolbert knows how much he credits Shanahan with his success. I’ll always remember what Young said about Kaepernick’s development a year ago.
“Think about what happened in the offseason. (Kaepernick) had been working — every year I’d hear ‘I’m getting stronger, I’m getting faster.’ Those are the things he’s great at. He’s great at that.
“And this year it’s more different. ‘I’m going to work on some of the more softer skills.’ Well, it’s still hardware. Right? I’m going to work on my release. I’m going to work on my footwork. All important, super important stuff.
“But the stuff I’m talking about is way more tedious than that. I keep using that word because it’s boring. Middle of April, in the back room, just kind of going through it over and over. It’s Mike Shanahan, drive you crazy going through it.
“‘Let’s go through it again.’
“‘No, Mike, I literally cannot go through it again.’
“‘But Steve, if you don’t go through it again, and get it deep into your brain, it won’t reflex back out. You’ll have to think about it for a second, and it’s too long. Too late. And then if you start to get all the stuff now embedded into you, you can start to dictate terms.'”
The 49ers could certainly use that kind of attention to detail.
As for Mike’s son, just look at the Falcons. They’re leading the league in points, yards per play and yards per pass attempt (8.2). Sure, they have Julio Jones … which helps. A lot. But they also throw passes to their running backs that actually work in situations other than “it’s 3rd-and-15 and we need to get a little better field position, so let’s dump it off to Draughn or Hyde.” And Matt Ryan, who has tantalized/frustrated Falcons fans for years, is playing the best football of his career by far. (Ryan currently has a quarterback rating of 114.3. His career high is 99.1 in 2012.)
“He’s extremely smart and extremely competitive,” said one high-ranking official from a rival team who knows Shanahan well. “He learned a lot from the Washington and Cleveland experiences. He’s got a good mind for putting players in positions to succeed and using them to their strengths.” One of his former quarterbacks echoed the sentiment, calling Shanahan a “very smart guy. Always has his mind on football.”
Kyle has finally broken through the dreaded nepotism label that followed him through prior stops, something Jed would probably like to discard as well.
The Falcons are 7-4, with a head coach in Dan Quinn who used to serve as the defensive coordinator in Seattle. Atlanta is 28th in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed. So Kyle Shanahan — now in his ninth year as an offensive coordinator at age 36 — is going to be in high demand after this season. If the 49ers are going to get him as their replacement for Kelly, they’re going to need to provide more than a market value salary and some flattering words. He’s going to require some assurances that he’ll have the best personnel staff in football to make his life easier.
It’s not like he and Shaw are the only head coaching candidates out there. Washington’s offensive coordinator, Sean McVay, is an up-and-comer. Josh McDaniels has been mentioned several times, although it’s beyond me why he’d want to come to Santa Clara unless he was also given personnel control — no thanks to that. Maybe if the 49ers hired Scott Pioli as their GM, but he’s currently the asst. GM in Atlanta — it might make more sense for the Yorks to make Pioli their GM and have him report to Shanahan the Elder.
This scenario I’ve listed last (meaning it has my stamp of approval, whatever that’s worth … probably nothing) — hiring Mike Shanahan as the President of Football Operations, Pioli (or Mike Shanahan’s first choice, if Pioli isn’t it) as GM, and Kyle Shanahan as head coach — would cost a lot of money and force a power shift away from the Jed/Trent/Paraag trio that has strangled the organization in so many ways in recent seasons. But that’s what this team needs.