It took the San Francisco 49ers all of one year to go from perennial Super Bowl contenders to laughingstock. This is how mighty the organization’s fall from grace has been recently.
Now, months removed from turning the page on the ill-fated Jim Tomsula experiment, San Francisco is getting back to basics under former Oregon Ducks and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.
An embattled personality in his own right, this represents Kelly’s last chance to prove that he has what it takes to make it in the NFL over the long haul.
For many in San Francisco, this is also a last opportunity to prove that they can get the job done in the face of tremendous adversity.
While it’s obviously ridiculous to draw conclusions about how well a new head coach will perform this early in the process, if Kelly’s first off-season activities as San Francisco’s head man are any indication, he’s off to a glowing start.
Just ask the players.
— Taylor Price (@TaylorPrice) April 28, 2016
It’s not that players in San Francisco didn’t respect Tomsula. Instead, there was a glaring lack of confidence in his ability to put together a winning game-plan.
No matter the issues Kelly had prior to his ousting in Philadelphia, one thing is clear. For the most part, he was a successful on-field head coach. After all, Philadelphia did earn multiple double-digit win seasons in his first two years with the team before his ego got on the way last year.
One of Kelly’s true calling cards, even as much as his up-tempo offensive attack, is his equally high-octane practice philosophy.
Instead of complaining about Kelly making them put in the work, it sure does seem like players in San Francisco are taking to it:
Great 1st day of mini camp! I can tell you one thing….. WE WILL BE IN SHAPE!!!
— Antoine Bethea (@ABethea41) April 26, 2016
Whether this lasts long term or can translate to the field on Sundays, well that’s a complete different thing.
What we do know is that this is a marked difference from Tomsula’s first off-season activities as the team’s head coach last spring.
Simply put, there seems to be an aura of confidence and energy in San Francisco. Something we haven’t seen since the Jim Harbaugh days.
Kelly also seems to be mixing it up a great deal with the personnel. He’s using former second-round pick Tank Carradine at outside linebacker, has seen last year’s third-round pick Eli Harold gain 30 pounds since the end of last season and is even using Pro Bowl caliber fullback Bruce Miller at tight end some:
#49ers FB Bruce Miller is mixing in at tight end this offseason. “He hasn’t missed a beat,” TE Garrett Celek said.
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoNBCS) April 28, 2016
It’s this type of creativity that’s been Kelly’s calling card since he was dominating the college football landscape at Oregon years back. It’s also this type of creativity that was missing under the old regime.
None of this really amounts to a hill of beans if San Francisco can’t improve what has to be considered a talent-stricken roster, starting Thursday at the NFL draft in Chicago.
There are also major question marks at the quarterback position. Is Colin Kaepernick going to be traded? Can the 49ers rely on Blaine Gabbert to start next season? Will they draft a quarterback with the seventh pick?
For a team that went from the upper-echelon of the NFL to cellar-dweller status in such a short time, San Francisco’s reemergence to respectability promises to take much longer. It’s all going to be about baby steps.
Doing the right thing from an organizational standpoint. Finding a common ground between the new coaching staff and a front office that’s been utterly disastrous as of late. These are the first two steps.
They are also the steps that needed to be taken before Kelly and his new team hit the field this spring.
At the very least, it does appear this has happened. It’s now all about continuing the process and moving forward from the enigma that was the past 16 months in Santa Clara.