YORK MUST LEAN ON HISTORY
49ers are desperate to recapture past magic
Jed York surely has another new plan in the works as the once- proud San Francisco 49ers lay the tracks for Kyle Shanahan to presumably become the fourth head coach in as many seasons.
Shanahan, the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator, took a break from Super Bowl LI preparations on Saturday for another session with the 49ers and just as significantly, participation in the interviews of two finalists for the accompanying general manager job — Terry McDonough and George Paton — which underscores the part of York’s plan to foster a partnership to head his football operations.
Maybe this plan sparks a return to glory for the 49ers.
But perhaps it’s another shot in the dark.
I mean, it’s not that York — the CEO of a franchise owned by his parents, Denise DeBartolo York and John York — has the best track record in this department.
Two years ago, after letting Jim Harbaugh walk, he replaced a headstrongyet- proven winner with longtime assistant Jim Tomsula — who proved that it’s not about Any Given Jim. Tomsula lasted one season. Last year, it was Chip Kelly. He, too, was tossed after one season, along with the underperforming GM that Harbaugh bickered with, Trent Baalke. Never mind those declarations by York that Kelly was there for the long haul. Kelly got a raw deal.
Now York is going for it again, looking for chemistry and a revived culture, and thinking that giving Shanahan the juice to essentially pick his own GM — power that usually goes to proven head coaches — is the ticket.
Hey, that’s how it worked a generation ago when York’s uncle, Eddie DeBartolo, hired Bill Walsh as his coach, and Walsh hired John McVay as his GM. It set the course for a great model that resulted in three Super Bowl titles under Walsh and two more crowns under Walsh’s successor, George Seifert.
That model was bolstered, naturally, by picking Joe Montana and later trading for his successor, Steve Young. Yet beyond the Hall of Fame quarterbacks, the 49ers became a dynasty because they were able to surround the star passers with talent galore, which is why McVay and his staff, including pro personnel director Alan Webb and superscout Tony Razzano, were such unsung heroes to the 49ers’ success.
For as sharp as Shanahan is as a rising star in the coaching ranks, York obviously recognizes that the GM hire represents the head of the ultimate support system.
York blew it by apparently siding with Baalke to the point that Harbaugh would bolt.
He had the coach needed to maintain a winning culture for the long haul, which the University of Michigan now benefits from. Since Harbaugh left, the 49ers are 7- 25 … and 0- for- 2 on replacements.
It must be natural for York to reflect on the glory. He grew up with a frontrow seat, able to sense the magic of the people and the standard of excellence.
When York went on and on about “culture” during the news conference after the season ended earlier this month, it was a buzz word that was undoubtedly coming from the heart.
Besides, even the current 49ers have a clue. When they walk out of their locker room at the team’s headquarters and stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., they are repeatedly reminded of past excellence as photos of 49ers greats — such as Ronnie Lott, Walsh, Montana, Young and Charles Haley — decorate the hallways as a representation of the heartbeat that used to fuel championships.
Yeah, they need that culture. Yet as the 49ers suffered through a franchiserecord, 13- game losing streak this season, longtime observers marveled at the casual nature the players exhibited with one setback after another. No one seemed mad about losing.
Back in the championship era, all hell would break lose if the 49ers lost one game. Jerry Rice might not speak to the media for a week, Haley might have a tantrum, Lott might call a meeting.
In short, if they lost a game everyone, knew it and felt it. Their pride burst at the seams, which was reflected by a tremendous work ethic.
In addition to addressing the quarterback issue, restoring that culture will be a big part of the challenge for Shanahan — who can pick his dad’s brains for insight on what it used to be like at Santa Clara, as Mike Shanahan’s path included a stint as 49ers offensive coordinator — and the next GM. They must bring in the type of players who will passionately carry out a winning culture.
Yet another part of the 49ers’ culture came all the way from the top.
It came with Eddie DeBartolo, who provided great resources for Walsh and spoiled his players. The way DeBartolo lavished players and their families with gifts during the pre- salary- cap era made San Francisco a destination aspiration for many veteran players.
But with all of that affection came an expectation that fueled the culture.
DeBartolo could get as mad as anyone when the 49ers lost — and the players, coaches and staff, and reporters, too, came to know that temper quite intimately.
Eddie D. wasn’t a hands- on, day- today operator like, say, Jerry Jones. But he had a presence that permeated throughout the organization even when he was back in Youngstown, Ohio — demanded excellence and accountability.
That’s where the culture began, and that’s where York falls short.
It’s one thing to hire and support the people to run the operation — and the big hope for 49ers faithful is that York gets it right this time — but there’s another dynamic that demands accountability.
It’s too bad that York can’t hire his Uncle Eddie for the role.