NFL: York’s 49ers not quite your Walsh’s 49ers
By Cam Inman
Contra Costa Times
A decade ago, the San Francisco 49ers had Bill Walsh running their personnel department.
Then the York ownership turned that job over to unproven Terry Donahue, and then unproven Mike Nolan, and then unproven Scot McCloughan, and now (drum roll, please) unproven Trent Baalke.
It has not been a smooth decade. It has never been rockier than right now.
“We’ve been prepared for this,” 49ers president Jed York said on a media conference call Monday, five days after news broke that McCloughan was out as general manager.
Prepared? Of course. Personnel czars don’t last long under this ownership. They’re prepared to change them out as frequently as engine oil. It’s not a recommended trend for an NFL franchise that has only one playoff win in the past decade, however.
“I haven’t decided if we’re going to have a general manager,” York added.
He hasn’t decided?
But he’s been prepared for this. Sure. All is well.
Everyone should have been prepared for York’s barrage of non-disclosing quotes regarding McCloughan’s status. He repeatedly invoked the “private personnel decision” amendment, straight from the Settlements-’R-Us playbook.
York opened Monday’s call announcing that McCloughan was no longer the general manager. York’s final words were appropriate ones, as they addressed the quarterback situation.
Therein lies the link to the 49ers’ decade of instability. They haven’t found themselves a true franchise quarterback since Jeff Garcia — Walsh’s import from the Canadian Football League—got jettisoned after the 2003 season.
Things may have been different if Donahue hadn’t relied on seventh-round draft picks to replace Garcia. Ditto, if Nolan (and/or McCloughan) had made shrewder quarterback choices, whether it could have meant picking Aaron Rodgers over Alex Smith, or pulling the trigger on a major trade for a quarterback.
A Pro Bowl quarterback can solve any team’s ills. The 49ers haven’t had one of those or even one winning season since their 2002 playoff run.
York insists Smith will succeed for them in 2010, even though Smith’s contract says he can go succeed elsewhere in 2011.
“Alex is our guy. He’s our quarterback,” York said. “We believe in Alex. Coach (Mike) Singletary believes in Alex. I think he’s always said he believes in Alex.”
Let’s pause here to remind 49ers patrons that Singletary started last season with Shaun Hill before summoning Smith from the bullpen in October.
“It’s great (Smith) has continuity with the offensive coordinator. When you have weapons around him with Crab (wide receiver Michael Crabtree), with Vernon (Davis, their Pro Bowl tight end), with Frank (Gore, their workhorse running back), Alex is poised to have a good season for us and we’re excited Alex is our quarterback.”
All four of those guys arrived under McCloughan’s watch. He was doing something right.
And what will be McCloughan’s legacy?
“You’d have to ask him,” York responded.
Apparently McCloughan did enough wrong things—whether it had to do with his personal life or inner-office politics—that York insisted it was time to summon their next personnel chef, and Baalke is the lucky guy (and probable short-timer if 49ers history is any indication).
If this draft goes awry, York has made sure that McCloughan can serve as its scapegoat.
That’s because neither York, Singletary nor contract whiz Paraag Marathe will take on added responsibilities with McCloughan’s role.
“The one thing I’ll promise you is I will never be the general manager and Paraag is not going to be the general manager,” York said.
That sounds swell, until you realize Al Davis’ job title isn’t that of “general manager” but he still oversees all of the Raiders’ moves.
Baalke is in charge of that draft board, which York claimed is 90 to 95 percent set.
All of which leaves enough wiggle room — 5 to 10 percent—in which the 49ers could have used a veteran personnel man to step in and provide sage guidance.
If the 49ers were truly prepared, York would have installed a longtime, proven voice on the payroll and in the front office to help in such matters They are without that man. They are without a general manager. They are without a successful quarterback. These are the Yorks’ 49ers.