Jed York was a guest on Rich Eisen’s podcast on Tuesday (thanks to East Bay Sports Guy for making me aware of York’s appearance). The main reason York came on was to talk about landing Super Bowl 50, but York also had some interesting things to say about a certain quarterback switch. There are several interesting things in the portion I transcribed below, including:
— According to York, the coaching staff thought there was a good chance Colin Kaepernick would play erratically against the Bears, and tried to lower York’s expectations heading into the second-year quarterback’s first NFL start.
— Jim Harbaugh sat down with York after the Bears game to discuss who’d start against the Saints, and the San Francisco 49ers head coach wasn’t sure whether York would approve of making a permanent switch from Alex Smith to Kaepernick.
Eisen: It’s one thing to say you want to get the right people and not micromanage. That’s one thing. It’s another to do it. Certainly in a situation like, oh, say, in the middle of the season your coach goes with a kid who’s never played before over the quarterback who took your team to the cusp of the Super Bowl the year before. I imagine you, in that position, that may be a moment where you have to catch yourself? Or do you just sit back and say you trust in the system, and that’s the end of that?
York: Well, either you trust in the system or you need to change the players in the system. I watched that experiment, where people thought we were nuts. And even a part of us probably thought we were nuts. We weren’t sure how Colin was going to play. He got drafted, and it’s very hard for any young rookie to come in and play, and we saw that with Alex. We kind of put Alex out there, front and center, very early in his career. And that probably wasn’t the best decision for us. You watch the contrast, and everyone compares Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith. Aaron got to sit for a few years, and when he came out there he was much more ready to play by year three, as opposed to Alex in year one and really not having the opportunity to learn and mature. So you sort of take that knowledge, you learn from it, you let Colin sort of mature for a year.
Then the next half year, there was no thought that Colin was going to get out there and play. We got him in there in some of the wildcat packages and things like that. And then Alex unfortunately got hurt. So you throw Colin in there. He played pretty well in the game where he came in and subbed and then, I remember conversations the week leading up to the Bears, and it’s like, “Hey Jed, we’re not sure how he’s going to do. He might throw more interceptions to the other team than ours.”
Nobody knew how he was going to play, and everybody was sort of trying to defend, “Well, we drafted him in the second round, we’re not sure how he’s going to do.” And then he goes out there and lights it up.
And that’s where I give Jim and Trent just a tremendous amount of kudos, because they weren’t worried about what’s the world going to say if we make the switch. And I remember sitting down with Jim (after the Bears game, before the 49ers faced the Saints) and saying, “What do you think?” And he said, “You know, Jed, my gut says Kap.” I said, “Great.” And he just kind of looked at me. And he said, “You’re okay with that?” And I said, “You’re our coach.” If that’s what you believe, I support you 100%. And I could argue either one, but I understand why you’re doing this, and let’s see how it goes.
To have that culture that embraces failure, that will take a chance in order to get better, but know that there’s a chance where it blows up, that’s what I like and respect about the organization and the culture that we have right now.
During Harbaugh’s postgame press conference following the Bears game, something was definitely up. It was as if Harbaugh was somewhere else, almost in a dreamlike state — like he had seen a ghost, or witnessed some other supernatural occurrence that he still hadn’t fully processed. It seemed clear to me then that not only had Kaepernick exceeded expectations, he had convinced Harbaugh there was no going back. About 15 minutes later, Vernon Davis said, “Colin is THE MAN!” After that, I walked up to the pressbox and wrote this:
Nothing concrete was said, but my impression after all those press conferences is that Colin Kaepernick will start next week.
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) November 20, 2012
I ended up being right, but I had no idea Harbaugh had to sit down with York and get his approval before the decision was final. Some have said that the plan all along was to make Kaepernick the starter, and Smith’s concussion gave Harbaugh a perfect opportunity. That painted Harbaugh as remorseless and/or opportunistic. Based on what York told Eisen, that couldn’t have been further from the case — this was a difficult decision for all involved.