Throughout the history of sports there have been teams with great ownership, such as the Krafts, Maras and Rooneys in the NFL, Mike Ilitch for the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL, William DeWitt and Hal Steinbrenner for the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees respectively of the MLB, and Wyc Grousbeck and Peter Holt who own the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. These owners all have one thing in common with how they run their teams. Patience. Each and every one of these teams has been a stable atmosphere for over 10 years, with most either having the same front office and head coach/manager that they had since 2005, or they are only one of either removed from the one they had then. There are also plenty of examples of bad ownership in sports as well and the reasons why an owner can be bad are much more numerous. They can be too cheap when it comes to paying talent like Don Sterling was for years as the owner of the Clippers, they can be a rich person who bought the team for the revenue but who doesn’t care about the on field product like Stan Kroenke, or they can prove to be impatient and overinvolved in team decisions like how Jed York is proving to be.
York took over as the president of the 49ers in December of 2008. Since then the team has gone through 4 head coaches since then and are now looking for their 5th. They are also now looking for their 3rd general manager over an 8 season span. Over that time, it looked like York was off to a strong start in hiring Scot McCloughan as his first general manager and Jim Harbaugh as his first head coaching hire, but things quickly started to turn sour. McCloughan and the team mutually parted in the Spring of 2010 while McCloughan was dealing with alcoholism and a divorce from his wife.
After McCloughan was let go, they hired the team’s director of player personnel Trent Baalke. Baalke’s first draft looked very good on paper with him picking all pros such as Mike Iupati and Navarro Bowman as well as starter Anthony Davis, but most of the work for the draft had been done already by McCloughan. The team still ended up going 6-10 that season, fired head coach Mike Singletary and then they hired Jim Harbaugh. Since then, Baalke has had 3 draft picks pan out with enough time to judge them fairly (Aldon Smith, Eric Reid, and Carlos Hyde. So for Trent Baalke’s time in San Francisco he has had as many good draft picks as he has had drafts in control of with one of those drafts mostly laid out for him by his preceding general manager.
Now onto coach Jim Harbaugh. It takes a really good coach to take a team that was 6-10 and had a completely different coaching staff from the year before to being 13-3 the next year. He then had them sustain at least 12 wins for a 3-year period. One of those years he lost his starting quarterback to injury and had to change the offense around entirely for the backup and ended up taking the team within one score of a Superbowl championship. The next year he took his team to within one score of another Superbowl appearance. For most franchises that kind of track record would usually give a coach some leeway, but not with the 49ers as one 8-8 season with a depleted roster and a regressing quarterback got him sent out the door and replaced with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Tomsula was also the interim coach for the 49ers in 2010 after they fired Mike Singletary mid-season. That tells me that Tomsula was seen as mostly a guy who would do as he is told by the upper management and nothing more. That is the absolute worst type of head coach you can hire. The job of a head coach is to make decisions on the field and he isn’t allowed to be contacted by anyone in the front office during the game (as seen when former Browns GM Ray Farmer was suspended for 4 games and the Browns were fined $250,000 for in-game text messages between the him and the coaching staff). Tomsula being nothing more than a figurehead could only lead the 49ers, who, not by coincidence, had seen many players retire following the firing of Jim Harbaugh, to a 5-11 record. This caused Jed York to fire the 2nd head coach in as many years and bring on Chip Kelly. Now, some could argue that Chip Kelly wasn’t given a fair deal in Philly after one sub .500 season out of 3 years coaching, but he also alienated himself from the rest of the front office, seized control, and had the team regress under his total control. So the best place to put him would be the place where they fired a coach for going 8-8 with a depleted roster after 3 straight years of at least making it to the conference championship game, right? Wrong. I am a believer that if Chip Kelly were given a situation like the Browns, was allowed a minimum of 5 years to turn them around, and was given total control from the beginning that he’d have a chance at being an ok coach in the league. This isn’t a 5-year plan league though. This is a league where not firing someone after 3 losing seasons means unheard of patience (besides in the world of the Jacksonville Jaguars). So now you have Chip Kelly with a broken roster and no team control with a power-hungry general manager who will take who he wants regardless of fit or if the head coach would be able to find out how to use him. Everyone watching saw a collapse of the 49ers into top 5 pick territory coming and so it did with only the Browns having a worse record than the 49ers.
Now, Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke are both out of a job and there is only one person left and that is Jed York. York could have avoided this problem if he didn’t side with Baalke over Harbaugh and now he is left with the least desirable coaching job in the NFL and a record of not giving people enough time to actually build anything up before a new regime comes in to knock it down. If I were a director of player personnel or an assistant coach in the NFL or even a college coach, I would steer clear of the 49ers and Jed York. The only thing he will bring to the franchise unless he changes in a big way, is a long, playoff-less drought that can rival the one currently held by the Buffalo Bills (who haven’t made the playoffs since 1999).