At his end of the season press conference following the firings of Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York might not have had a leg to stand on but went ahead and said, “I own this football team. You don’t dismiss owners” when pressed about his role in the 49ers nadir. This statement shows that despite whatever comes out of his mouth, Jed York does not get it and how his refusal to relieve himself of making football decisions may continue to be one of the biggest problems in the 49ers dysfunction.
Even the most casual observer knew that the 49ers season was over months ago, but Jed York continued to display his ineptitude at the end of the 2016 season in the following ways:
Waiting too long to fire Baalke: Even Stevie Wonder could see that the 49ers roster is decimated and barren of talent at key positions, and that the only thing worse than Trent Baalke’s ability to evaluate and sign talent are his interpersonal and PR skills. We need not look further than Baalke’s yearly ACL reclamation projects to know that he could not draft well, did not like to sign free agents or skilled offensive positions and that he was reliably rigid in not veering from his dysfunctional patterns of management. Even Baalke said he would have fired himself. With each moment worth so much and no doubt about this season being lost and Baalke needing to be fired, why was Baalke signing contract extensions for Vance McDonald in the last weeks of the season? Not firing Baalke sooner wasted valuable time and money and shows that Jed is still lacking when it comes to making football decisions.
Firing Chip Kelly: There continues to exist a lot of controversy about whether Chip Kelly can be a successful coach in the NFL and the answer is still up for debate. But from a football decision making process, it is fair to question Jed’s firing Chip Kelly one year after firing another one-and-done-coach, Jim Tomsula and before a new GM has been hired. The reason why this can be construed as a misstep by York is because of the reality that Baalke destroyed this roster and it would be unreasonable to judge any coach’s body of work after one year with the roster and culture he inherited, even more so on the heels of Tomsula’s firing after a lone season. Maybe Chip Kelly turns out to not have what it takes to be an NFL coach, but we will never know if that was possible with the 49ers because of his premature dismissal and it would also have made perfect sense to hire a new GM first and let the new GM decide about the coach. Aside from it being unfair to Kelly, firing another coach after just one year brings more significant transition and instability to the organization, which will likely lead to requiring even more time to become competitive again and making some potential candidates weary of the 49ers front office.
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Continuing to use cliché, superficial language to rationalize his bad decision making and blame others: During his press conference where he announced the “mutual parting of ways” with Harbaugh, Jed York kept talking about winning with class, which indirectly suggested that Jim Harbaugh may have been lacking in class. At his season-ending press conference on Monday, Jed York kept talking about changing the culture, which indirectly suggested something left to be desired in regards to Chip Kelly’s culture or Chip’s inability to develop one after a single season. Aside from these hollow statements making Jed look like a superficial, entitled and blaming Millennial, they also just make him look dumb:
Jed York really, really wants to reestablish a championship culture with the San Francisco 49ers. Really. pic.twitter.com/YxfOaN8lY2
— KNBR (@KNBR) January 2, 2017
Continuing to rigidly act by what makes his ego feel better instead of what is good for the team, most notably by refusing to relieve himself of football decision making: At the end of the day, almost all of Jed York’s missteps have been due to his acting on what makes his ego feel good instead of what is best for his team. Many 49ers analysts have described how Jed’s problems are rooted in his prioritizing yes-men to surround himself with, and how these men tell him what he wants to hear instead of what he needs to hear. Jed making ego-driven decisions caused this downfall, continued to affect the aforementioned mismanagement of issues at the end of the 2016 season and will continue to plague the 49ers as long as Jed is meddling in football operations.
Harbaugh was a winning coach, but he hurt Trent and Jed’s feelings, so they prioritized their feelings over winning and that is how this began. Because our egos prefer not to be looked at as villains, we might not want people to know that we did not like and wanted to fire Harbaugh, so we might be more likely to leak bad stories about Harbaugh to the media to try and make him the bad object in public perception and re-frame it as a mutually parting of ways, but all this serves to do is further poison the environment and make outsiders more weary of joining the 49ers, making the front office look sneaky and insincere.
The 49ers were real close to having Adam Gase as their next head coach after Harbaugh, but because Jed allegedly insisted Gase hire Tomsula as DC instead of retaining Vic Fangio (perhaps to make sure Jed had a yes-man on the coaching staff), Gase decided to turn it down. Jed’s inaction during the tail end of the 2016 season and his waiting to fire Baalke is also likely rooted in ego needs, not wanting to look bad or impulsive by an in-season firing even though it made total sense for the organization.
But perhaps Jed’s most telling gestures that indicate he is still strongly driven by his ego are the statements he made on Monday. His saying things like “You don’t dismiss owners” in an almost indignant manner, corresponding to his refusal to relinquish control of football decisions, shows that he does not want to give up, not because it is best for the team but because that is what is best for his self-esteem.
He’s right that owners can’t be dismissed, but they can certainly take step back if it might be good for the team. Maybe one day Jed York will develop enough humility to see that truth, but if past behavior is any predictor of future behavior, we won’t hold our breath waiting for it.