Today’s press conference at Levi’s Stadium, starring 49ers CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke, was riveting. Not often do two men in positions of such power speak publicly for just short of an hour with so little polish.
York said a lot of things about being accountable while never explaining how one does that with an owner, and Baalke didn’t say much of anything at all. The latter admitted as such when he asked, “Are we ever transparent in what we do?” The answer to that, clearly, is no. And while this press conference was fascinating, Baalke summed it up nicely near the end. When Matt Barrows said, “He didn’t answer my question,” Baalke responded with, “I’m good at that.”
York didn’t provide much in the way of specifics as to how the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh came to a “mutual agreement” to part ways, as announced yesterday during the waning moments of Harbaugh’s final press conference in the same auditorium. But since fans demand answers (and rightfully so), here’s exactly what York said, including one of the two questions I asked during this press conference. York didn’t provide a concrete answer either time.
Q: Jed, you’re in business of winning, Jim did that, why isn’t he the coach?
YORK: This was a mutual decision. Jim and I have had conversations since he’s been here, but in the last probably two or three weeks we’ve talked about it, we’ve talked about different scenarios, different opportunities, and ultimately we just came to the conclusion that it was best for us to go in different directions.
Q: But if you have a coach so successful, why weren’t you able to make that work?
YORK: We’ve had philosophical discussions and when we sat down we just couldn’t come to a place where we thought moving together, together was the best for either party. This wasn’t us saying, ‘Jim, you’re fired, you’re not here anymore.’ This wasn’t Jim saying, ‘I don’t want to be there, I’m leaving.’ It was a discussion that took place over a decent amount of time to figure out what’s best for everybody involved. It was the conclusion that we came to, it wasn’t an easy conclusion for anybody, but that’s where we ended up.
Q: Shed some light on issues?
YORK: The discussions that we had were private. I’m not going to get into the private discussions. It was the right decision for both parties at the time.
Q: What I hear from fans is – stepping short of getting into fistfights with a coach who has been that successful, you’re all grown men and you work it out because you want to win a Super Bowl. If that’s the coach who can do that for you, you just find a way. Obviously, you guys feel like there was just no way to work that out?
YORK: Again, it was a mutually parting. This was on two different parties. This was on us. And this was on Jim. So it wasn’t that one side had a philosophical difference they couldn’t overcome. This was two parties that decided to move in different directions.
MY QUESTION: Jed, you said two to three weeks ago, you started the conversations with Jim that led to a mutual agreement. Even if there’s a mutual breakup, there has to be one party that starts it first, that starts the conversation. Without saying what you guys talked about, who started that conversation that led to this?
YORK: I don’t know if there was a conversation that led to this. It was a conversation that an owner and a head coach have. You sit down and you assess where you are. And we didn’t really start that until we were out of the playoff hunt. I didn’t think it was appropriate to sit down and assess the season before. To me, yes we had games, but if you’re not playing for the playoffs, it’s a lot easier to at least think about what’s going forward. We didn’t want more distraction, more things on the plate of what are we doing. Obviously Jim was under contract for next season. Once that took place, when we were out, we both decided to sit down. It was fairly mutual. We saw each other and said, ‘Let’s sit down and talk.’
Q: Jed, when precisely did you and Jim reach the mutual agreement?
YORK: Um … I don’t know the precise moment.
Q: Was it before this last game?
YORK: Jim announced to the team at the end of the game.
After the 49ers fell out of playoff contention, York and Harbaugh (as they often do) had a conversation. Or several conversations. Philosophical discussions. Without the playoffs to worry about, they were able to “assess” the overall situation, and during the course of those conversations, both parties agreed to part ways. Their agreement was “fairly mutual,” whatever that means.
Baalke said his relationship with Harbaugh was “very misrepresented in the media,” and it appeared based on today’s comments that this was more of a Harbaugh/York thing than a Harbaugh/Baalke thing. York mentioned how the team needs to win with class, and it’s Super Bowl or bust. He even said that the next coach that gets hired will be expected to win the Super Bowl in his first year on the job. He seemed to be doing his best to channel his uncle, especially when making several references to this franchise’s glorious past, including the Bill Walsh “coaching tree” and a plug of the team’s museum at Levi’s Stadium.
But York did not provide any window into what caused the breakup in the first place. We might hear bits and pieces over time — it took several months for Joe Lacob to let the world know (inadvertently, since he didn’t realize that the media exists everywhere these days) what his problems were with Mark Jackson. But York hid behind “respect” for Harbaugh in his decision not to let the world know what led to a rarity: a press conference where the owner and general manager refused to explain why they fired a coach, even when to most observers the decision seems illogical and based more on personality conflicts than on-the-field results.