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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010

NFL: 49ers’ latest crisis points to lack of stability

By Tim Kawakami
San Jose Mercury News

Scot McCloughan is out, the 49ers’ front office is in turmoil, and, five weeks before the draft, the Yorks are exercising their emergency powers once again.

Declaring 49ers martial law. Hunkering down and locking up the compound.
Handing out battle-field promotions and pretending that everything is fine when we all know that chaos reigns.
This, I hate to point out, is sort of how the Yorks ended up with McCloughan as the general manager, running the football operation side by side with Mike Singletary.
Of course, this is not when the Yorks are at their best or most level-headed.
They have had a lot of practice, mostly because John and Jed York never seem to be able to maintain peace and prosperity in their kingdom.
The McCloughan crisis/departure, however, is uniquely de-stabilizing for a franchise that is not exactly anchored in bedrock.
The draft is almost here, with the 49ers holding two first-round picks and set up by McCloughan to do some very creative things.
Meanwhile, other giant questions loom: Is Alex Smith really the long-term quarterback? Can Singletary break through? Who makes the call if Singletary can’t?
By most accounts, McCloughan is leaving — either permanently or temporarily, depending on the source — to deal with personal issues.
That’s not the Yorks’ fault. They apparently have treated McCloughan with great compassion, and John and Jed want us to believe that McCloughan has been given a road back to employment.
All very noble, though it’s probably not realistic to envision McCloughan coming back to such a pressure cooker after such a dramatic departure.
All very thoughtful, nevertheless.
But McCloughan is the man the Yorks hired five years ago to aide Mike Nolan, the man they promoted over Nolan three years ago, and the man Jed York believed was the perfect philosophical teammate for Singletary.
McCloughan’s fall is, in part, the Yorks’ fall, too.
He was their fixer: McCloughan badly wanted to be the executive who came up with the answers and solved the 49ers’ cycle of disarray.
The Yorks always agreed, keeping McCloughan in power while luminaries such as Mike Holmgren and Scott Pioli ended up elsewhere.
But on his way out, after all the stability he provided previously, McCloughan is exacerbating and spotlighting every confusing thing that he wanted to eliminate.
What does Jed York do now?
Nobody in the 49ers’ organization was talking Thursday, which is their typical stance in the face of great tumult. When everybody wants an answer from this franchise, none is given.
At this point, it looks like the 49ers will temporarily hand McCloughan’s responsibilities to his deputies — Trent Baalke and Tom Gamble.
Singletary almost certainly will want and get a larger say in personnel matters. Paraag Marathe always has York’s ear.
None of those names, however, seems like a long-term GM answer. None has been associated with big-picture roster vision or has found independent success with any other team.
But I don’t think the Yorks will be looking (or paying) for a strong independent voice. And I’m not sure a Big Presence GM would be the right choice, anyway.
Singletary is the face of the franchise, and a Power GM might not be comfortable inheriting such a hurricane personality.
The Yorks are rather unique employers, too, you might have heard.
Would a Power GM happily accept John, Jed and Marathe looking over his shoulder, second-guessing, and potentially over-ruling?
Probably not. That’s why McCloughan, for all his strengths and weaknesses, was so vital to the York operation. McCloughan might have his own demons, but he was good with everybody in the building.
Without him, Jed York either has to commit to a GM who might clash with Singletary and ownership, or he has to hire a caretaker GM and basically assume control himself, Jerry Jones style.
My guess: A caretaker GM and Jed York with all the power, betting the entire York regime — and future stadium — on Singletary and Jed York’s own abilities. Can the Yorks stomach that?
It’s not exactly the way the Patriots or Eagles do it. It might not be what 49ers fans want or deserve.
And there are obviously huge risks involved.
But if Jed York is going to rule, and if Singletary is his man, I don’t see another legitimate way for them to do this.
Everything else has unraveled. The 49ers’ most trusted executive is walking away. Once and for all Jed, let’s see what you’ve got.