Chicago Sun-Times


49ers are des­per­ate to re­cap­ture past magic

- Jar­rett Bell jbell@us­ato­day. com FOL­LOW NFL COLUM­NIST JAR­RETT BELL @ Jar­ret­tBell for anal­y­sis and break­ing news from the grid­iron.

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.

 ?? TONY AVELAR, AP ?? 49ers CEO Jed York, above, has to hire a gen­eral man­ager and coach af­ter Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly were fired.
TONY AVELAR, AP 49ers CEO Jed York, above, has to hire a gen­eral man­ager and coach af­ter Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly were fired.
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