The gloried past of the San Francisco 49ers is well documented, and forever instilled into the minds of those who followed the NFL for the last 30 years. The 49ers were the most successful and visible franchise from 1980 through the first part of the new century.
In 1977, Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. purchased the team and gave it to his son Edward DeBartolo Jr. who injected the team with the resources to restructure and build a foundation that would change the 49ers persona forever.
Edward DeBartolo Jr. transformed the 49ers by treating his coaches, players and staff members like family. The players were held to a higher standard than any other team in the NFL, as a reward Eddie D was extremely generous and pampered his employees by giving everyone first-class treatment.
The players and coaches were treated with class, offered five-star hotels and everyone got their own rooms; one among many perks for being a 49er. He did not see his team as a business but more as a family. An owner treating their employees in this manner was never seen before in the NFL. The players and coaches loved it, and they showed their appreciation on the field by winning five Super Bowls in 13 years.
Eddie DeBartolo Jr. laid the foundation and gold standard on how to own, operate and win consistently in the NFL. Transforming the 49ers into one of the most successful and well-known franchises in professional sports history. He operated the team with class and adding his own style and signature to his franchise.
In 2000, Eddie DeBartolo Jr. gave up control of the franchise to his sister Marie Denise DeBartolo-York, the franchise went south and everything that Eddie built was changed, altered and retooled with a different philosophy and attitude. The 49ers had only won one division title in nine years, compared to 13 division titles in 24 years under Eddie D.
Last season another shift in control had commenced. John and Denise York gave full control of the Franchise to their oldest son Jed. (See my previous article on my thoughts about Jed.)
This move was in the works for about six years; John and Denise were routinely scrutinized for their frugal nature and their silo-philosophy. They were not as visible and present as Eddie was, they hid in their home in Youngstown, Ohio most of the time.
They tore down everything that Eddie DeBartolo built his philosophy, the family atmosphere and the passion to win.
Jed York is not like his parents, he has been given a clean slate and the 49ers season ticket holders are giving him the benefit of the doubt to turn the team back to the forefront of the NFL elite. He has already made some changes back to what his uncle Eddie believed in.
The first thing Jed did was fire Mike Nolan, and replaced him with a true leader and motivator in Mike Singletary. That move will help the team win now, and with the knowledge of General Manager Scot McCloughan the 49ers could surprise the NFL this season.
Jed also changed the uniforms back to what they are supposed to be; a timeless look with a historical presence.
Nevertheless, building a successful franchise is more than just winning, its enabling the entire organization to believe in one mission, one vision and to re-establish a first-class brand that the San Francisco 49ers were known for.
Here are the building blocks I believe the 49ers are utilizing to become a successful Franchise once again:
- Foundation: The organization must have a vision, a mission statement to follow and believe in. Everyone from the equipment Manager to the owner must believe and work for the same goal and vision.
- Character: Perception is indeed reality in the NFL. Therefore, if everyone is being treated first-class they have to act like it on and off the field. There should be no leaks to the media and no negative press that would reflect poorly on the team.
- The Passion to Win: The team should only bring in players who love the game, and have a hunger to win championships every year. Players that are individuals and only care about making money and themselves need to stay away and/or play for the Raiders.
- The Will to Spend: Money should be no object, but should be spent on the right things. Look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, they spend their money in the most efficient way possible and are consistently in the mix for the Super Bowl.
- Managing the Salary Cap: Creating a strategic plan on manipulating the cap and drafting sound contracts is key to keep the team in good shape for the future and to avoid another salary-cap hell.
- Retaining Talent: Resigning the teams top talent a few years before their first contract ends is key to keeping the teams talent level consistent and it helps the team sign free-agents every off-season.
- Consistency: This is about finding a winning formula and sticking to it. Teams that change philosophies often do not find consistent success in the NFL, it is imperative that once a franchise have found an organizational model that yields success; that they do not waiver or change unless the goals that were set are not being met.
If being a successful franchise in the NFL were an easy feat to accomplish then the league would not be as successful as it is today. The parity in the league makes it unique, and every season has Cinderella stories that are intriguing to observe and talk about.
However, the San Francisco 49ers has a responsibility to their fans and the NFL, to reclaim and re-institute the brand and the world-class prowess that was seen consistently for the better part of 23 years.
The 2009 NFL Season will be the beginning of sustained success for the 49ers as long as they consider and acknowledge the history and foundation that Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. created in 1977.