The San Francisco 49ers are the last NFL team with a coaching vacancy. Barring an unforeseen late firing or retiring, they will be the last team to have its 2017 coach on the payroll.
But the 49ers aren’t only looking for a coach to replace Chip Kelly. San Francisco also needs a general manager to replace Trent Baalke.
That begs a simple question. What are the 49ers looking for? How can San Francisco get back to the heights of three straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance that it had under Jim Harbaugh.
“The accountability Harbaugh demanded,” Albert Breer of MMQB said, reporting on what the 49ers were looking to bring back. “It deteriorated to the point where players were often late to meetings, and the ping-pong and cornhole games in the locker room became a symbol of the team’s culture.”
That all sounds good. These are professional athletes, after all. Hiring people who will make them act like professionals is sensible.
In fact, San Francisco has generally taken the right approach in its coach and GM searches, which are reportedly linked. There’s no need to rush this thing. Now, are the 49ers really being patient? Or is it the organization in such bad shape that the previously desired candidates all went elsewhere?
We’ll probably never know the true answer. But either way, it’s working out okay for the 49ers it seems.
Generally speaking, fired coaches are replaced by the league’s top coordinators.
Naturally, the highest regarded coordinators often come from the best teams. Unfortunately, those teams often play deep into January (or even February) and teams don’t want to wait that long. Because of that, either Josh McDaniels or Kyle Shanahan (or possibly, both) will fail to grab a head coaching job.
Realistically, if teams had waited until after the Super Bowl to make their hires, these would have been among the first two guys hired.
In the NFL, there’s really no need to hire a coach before the Super Bowl ends. In college, fired coaches need to be replaced early to get a jump on recruiting. But no relevant part of the NFL offseason takes place until weeks after the complete season ends.
That isn’t to say that nobody should ever be hired from an eliminated team. But teams consistently hiring those guys and spurning those whose teams are on deep playoff runs is a sign of impatience — nothing more.
Over the last few years, the 49ers haven’t gotten much right. But we have to give credit where it’s due. They are on the money here.
Here’s something else that we haven’t been able to say about San Francisco over the last two seasons. The 49ers are not really getting anything wrong.
Not yet, anyway.
The problem is that if San Francisco’s CEO and effective owner Jed York truly wants accountability, he’s the man who has to step up and take it.
When the 49ers dismissed Harbaugh following a disappointing 2014 season, York demanded that he be held accountable. But two years after that declaration, York hasn’t exactly given his fans many ways to do that. He’s burned through two one-and-done coaches, a general manager, countless assistants, and an even greater number of players.
But York still stands.
Following his year-end press conference where Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke were dismissed, York defiantly said, “You don’t replace owners.” True, of course, but it’s a long way from being “held accountable.”
If San Francisco wants the accountability that it had under Harbaugh, it has to start there. York — or more specifically his designated media lackeys — can’t continue to blame the 49ers’ problems on Harbaugh, Kelly, Baalke, or Jim Tomsula.
If York wants the 49ers to turn around, then “accountability” can’t be just a catch phrase that York recycles from his business school days. It has to be something that he actually does.