On Dec. 29, 2014, we witnessed one of the most remarkable press conferences in this region’s history that didn’t include Al Davis and his overhead projector. Jed York and Trent Baalke sat side by side, and with a healthy dose of arrogance, looked down their noses at the masses while explaining how better they’d be after “mutually parting” with Jim Harbaugh.
York took questions today in the same media room, but this press conference was nothing like the one in late-December 2014, or the one in mid-January when they introduced a completely befuddled Jim Tomsula as the 18th full-time head coach in franchise history. Some differences were obvious from the beginning.
- Trent Baalke wasn’t there.* He will take an informal meeting with the media this afternoon, which shows he realized after last year that he is both uncomfortable and terrible at televised press conferences, and has no plans to practice his interpersonal skills in front of cameras.
- York stood at a lecturn. Last year they both sat at a table.
Some differences were evident almost immediately after York started speaking.
- York apologized to the fans instead of making defiant statements about hanging Super Bowl banners.
- He admitted to hearing criticism in the form of comments, social media responses, and airplane banners.
- York said Baalke would be in charge of finding the next head coach, a year after saying, “We’ll do them together” in response to a question about the interview process (which eventually led to Tomsula, who was rumored to be York’s top choice all along).
One difference was noticeable when the press conference concluded.
- Last year’s lasted over an hour and was very contentious at times. Today’s press conference was 28 minutes long and, save for a few excellent questions from Brian Murphy, was short on instances where York was noticeably annoyed. He looked like he wanted to kill us at times last December.
But while York was short on catchphrases like “win with class,” “hold me accountable,” and “we’re not out to win the press conference,” and he didn’t make the excuses regarding personnel that I expected to hear, he had a couple points he wanted to hammer home.
1. The most revealing part of the press conference came when he described what he had learned over the past year.
“I think I’ve taken things too personally. Interactions with the media, some of the criticisms from fans. I think I’ve internalized that too much and taken it too personally. I think I’ve done things and we can get into tweets that I’ve sent. Thank God you can’t see tweets that I didn’t send. Those things aren’t helpful for the team,” said York, who certainly piqued everyone’s interest in whatever it was that he wrote and decided to keep to himself.
This was a drastic change in course from York, who a year ago showed no contrition for the tweet he fired off after losing on Thanksgiving to the Seahawks.
2. There were several mentions of Eddie DeBartolo.
“I don’t think there’s anybody better to help me as a mentor, as somebody that’s been there, as somebody that’s done it, than my uncle. We talked for a long time this morning. And I know that if I need guidance, if I need somebody to help, I’ve got a person that I think is the best owner in the history of sports that’s on my team, that’s on my side, that I can turn to at any time,” he said.
Like the so-called Paraag Marathe reassignment announcement, complete with a memo that was made public, the Eddie D theme seemed like a bone thrown to angry fans — one that didn’t carry much meat.
“Marathe’s role in terms of football will not change. He’s going to negotiate salaries, and negotiate contracts and he’ll be in charge of the salary cap and he’ll be working within the organization the same as he always has,” said York.
In other words, nothing has changed besides the overall tone of their coaching search (it’s not like the Yorks won’t have final say on who’s hired and how much that coach will make).
Baalke is still the General Manager. Marathe hasn’t lost any bit of power as the contracts/numbers guy, he’ll just be asked to handle some non-49ers duties (like advising Jed on what to do with the family’s minor league soccer team and other various business interests). As expected, they won’t hire an experienced “football guy” charged with overseeing the entire operation, a la John McVay or Carmen Policy.
But despite the apology, and York’s claims that he’ll let Baalke handle the coaching search and won’t “make any decisions on players,” today’s press conference was hardly impressive. More importantly, nothing in those 28 minutes indicated that the team will improve in the coming years. Baalke was a B- general manager through 2014 who had a D+ 2015 offseason (at best), and while he may have convinced York that everything will turn out rosy if he gets to choose the head coach this time, he hasn’t convinced football observers who’ve been paying attention that he has the wherewithal to turn around the lowest-scoring offense in the NFL.
On whether he regretted parting ways with Harbaugh:
“I think it’s well understood what effort we made to keep him here. I’m not going to dive into that. I’m not going to get into things that happened behind closed doors.”
Well understood? I remember hearing Jim Trotter on Tim Kawakami’s podcast say that the 49ers approached Harbaugh with hopes of doing an extension, and Harbaugh wasn’t interested, but I’ve never seen the details of those discussions (what the 49ers offered, if there was a counter-offer, whether Harbaugh requested more personnel control or Baalke’s termination).
York’s greatest rationalization of the morning:
“8-8 and 5-11 (shakes hands from side to side as if to say they’re equivalent), what’s … neither one of them is acceptable to me. I’d rather take a swing, like we did on Jimmy T, and if you miss, the nice thing about the NFL is they reward you for missing. We have a high draft pick.”
Many were looking for York to admit that hiring Tomsula was an idiotic move (which it was), but York wants us to believe that keeping Harbaugh would’ve kept the team in 7-9/8-8/9-7 purgatory. Let this be a lesson to all NFL owners. If your GM hasn’t put together a good roster for the upcoming season, hire the worst coach possible so you can pick earlier in next year’s draft! Never mind that Tomsula lucked into a couple wins too many, including an overtime clunker on the season’s final day that dropped the 49ers two spots in the 2016 NFL Draft.
York has a keen grasp of the painfully obvious:
“This is going to be a very important offseason for us. We haven’t been the most active in free agency in years past. We need to figure out what the right talent is outside of this building, what the right talent is inside of this building, we need to knock it out of the park this year in the draft.”
This is where he sort of put Baalke on notice. Although, this is professional sports, so all GMs should be on notice every single season.
York wanted us to remember that he’s still a young man:
“The world is different than when my uncle was in this role. We were about the same age when we started running the team, and I think you need to adapt as the world adapts. I learned a lot. This season wasn’t fun. It wasn’t fun for me, it certainly wasn’t fun for the fans, and I truly am sorry that we had to go through this year. But you have my word that I’m going to do everything that we can to get this team back.”
I’m sure Eddie D appreciates being used as a crutch to explain his nephew’s failings.
York didn’t admit anything regarding the constant flow of leaks coming out of Santa Clara, including yesterday morning’s national reports that Tomsula would get canned:
“That didn’t come from this organization … We have no interest in leaking information out of this building. If I find people that are leaking information, they’re not going to be a part of this team.”
So Mike Florio and Jay Glazer got their information … where, exactly? It must have been a coincidence that Glazer, only the most plugged-in NFL reporter on earth, said Tomsula would be “one and done” nine hours before the 49ers announced they had relieved Tomsula of his duties.
York channeled Mark McGwire:
“I’m not looking back at anything. You can’t undo those decisions. I’m looking forward.”
Stop daydreaming, 49ers fans:
“My family’s owned this team since before I was born and they’ll own this team after I’m gone.”
On accusations that the team is cheap, and the Harbaugh-to-Tomsula change was a “bait-and-switch” strategy to maximize profits after the Levi’s Stadium SBLs and luxury suites were sold:
“I would say this; we’ve got several years of Jimmy T’s salary left and we’re going to eat it. Whether he’s coaching somewhere else or not, we owe him that. That’s not a concern. I could have easily come out here and said, ‘Hey we had a lot of injuries this year. A lot of things didn’t go our way. We’re going to stick with this.’ That’s not where we are. We’re willing to spend what it takes to get everything right to get back to a championship culture. In terms of salary cap, just because you have room doesn’t mean that you have to spend the room. You can transfer that room over to this year. We’ve got a lot of salary cap room. So, you can’t just spend money to spend money. You want to make sure that you’re spending money wisely. So, we will always continue to manage the cap. Trent and his staff know that if they need to spend the entire room, they can do it. If they need to roll it over, they can do it and we will do what it takes to get back to a championship level.”
I’ll believe this when I see it. The Yorks have been C-H-E-A-P since they took over, four years of Harbaugh notwithstanding — specially considering how they replaced him.
But seriously, don’t you feel dumb for getting rid of Harbaugh?:
“We’re in need of somebody that can win Super Bowls … We haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1994.”
And like that, York was gone. 49ers public relations director Bob Lange said thank you to the media, and York walked off to embark on another one-year vacation from press conferences of any kind. He’s probably feeling pretty good about how things went today, mostly because he was better prepared for the questions he was about to face and avoided uttering anything stupid that will find its way on an airplane banner next year.
*Neither was I. I could’ve changed my plans for this morning, but I had doubts that they’d let me in the building so I decided not to make the hour-long drive.