Most of Trent Baalke’s public comments these days come during interviews with the team’s broadcasters. KNBR’s Kevin Jones transcribed the most recent Baalke interview, which took place before Sunday’s game against Miami.
Most who read the Q&A seized on the part where Baalke said he feels bad for the fans and “the ownership, in particular,” for how this season has gone. But other than the tone of the interview — in which it wouldn’t have come as a surprise to find out Tim Ryan was giving Baalke a full-body massage as they chatted — I was taken aback by the obvious divisions within the team that Ryan brought to the surface.
“Thoughts on the defense the past couple of weeks? The staff will say they haven’t played any better, certainly against New England and then in the run stuff with a couple of big pops by LeGarrette Blount.
“When you watch the tape, I don’t think there’s any question run defense has tightened up over the last couple of games. I just think we need to get out of stunting linebackers, that’s when you give up the big one. Talk about the run defense.”
That’s two shots fired at the coaching staff. First, Ryan noted that the coaching staff would probably be overly negative when asked about the team’s performance defending the run. THOSE INGRATES. Then Ryan threw out a defensive strategy the staff apparently utilized that, in his opinion, placed Baalke’s players in a position to fail.
“I think the fits have gotten better. We’ve tightened things down, inside the tight end, which has helped, and we needed to. We’ve gotten ourselves in situations where we’ve been stressed, especially at the inside linebacker position and it’s cost us some games. Playing good run defense, discipline fits, you know it, you played it. We’re up against a good running team today again and a damn good back. We’re going to have to fit things up solid inside.”
It’s tough to know what to make of what the GM says here. Does he think they were “stressed” due to a lack of talent/depth or the coaches’ schematic choices? It would seem that Baalke was taking the high road, or at least a higher road than the 49ers’ color commentator.
But Ryan didn’t stop there.
“In terms of protection, and this is what I wanted to talk to you about, how can we help? And I don’t see a lot of help in terms of helping offensive lineman in protection in this system, in this scheme of Chip Kelly’s. Joshua Garnett, Trent Brown — how can we get them a little bit of help today against Suh and Cameron Wake.”
Jesus. To Baalke’s credit, he didn’t take the bait and declined to utter anything of substance in response. (When football guys say they need to be productive on first and second down to avoid third-and-long, it’s always a clear indicator that they’re sleepwalking through an interview.)
Ryan was ridiculous throughout, coming awfully close to comparing the 2016 Dolphins to the NFC Championship teams led by Jim Harbaugh and singing the praises of Vance McDonald like he’s Delanie Walker or something. But that’s to be expected when a 49ers employee speaks to another 49ers employee on the flagship station. The stuff about Kelly and his staff would be considered embarrassing by most, except the 49ers have lacked self-awareness for quite some time.
Harbaugh has a lot of cheesy catchphrases, including this one: “The team, the team, the team.”
It’s a Bo Schembechlerism, and its simplicity appeared to mean something in 2011, when a talented team finally came together. Mike Singletary tried to make that happen, most notably when he sent Vernon Davis to the locker room, but he lacked the vision and expertise to do much more than motivate. For a brief time during the York era, Harbaugh’s collegiate spirit seemed to permeate every level of the organization. They were all working toward the same goal — shocking an NFL establishment that had grown used to seeing the 49ers roll over with equal parts physicality and unity.
We all know about the fractures that eventually broke the team apart and ended Harbaugh’s tenure. If anything, things are even worse now. Instead of the team, the team, the team, it appears to be Team Baalke vs. Team Kelly. No one is safe, and precious time is wasted propping people up by denigrating others. (Kelly isn’t blameless either.)
Some fans ask journalists to “stick to sports,” but the same could be asked of the 49ers given how political they are and how poorly they hide it.
Openly blaming the coaching staff for problems in a pregame fluff interview showed, yet again, how toxic things are in Santa Clara. It’s no surprise that a team that has spent so many high draft picks on defense, and still has the worst defense in the NFL, would wonder if the talent could be better utilized. But a team employee … openly questioning the coaching staff … in an interview with a front office executive … is the professional sports equivalent of a high school couple getting into a heated argument in a mall food court. So much for “class.”