Only three games into the 2010 NFL season, the once mighty football house that Eddie DeBartolo and Bill Walsh built into a Super Bowl juggernaut in the 1980s and early 1990s—the San Francisco 49ers—has fallen into woeful disrepair again.
After an 8-8 finish in 2009, the seemingly resurgent 49ers elected to maintain stability in both their offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye and their quarterback Alex Smith. In the first round of the 2010 draft, they added two behemoth linemen to buy added protection for Alex Smith and to open bigger holes for their workhorse running back Frank Gore.
Hopeful fans, local sports writers and even members of the national sports media were convinced that the right pieces were now in place to restore the once proud 49ers house to its rightful place on Playoff Drive. Picked to win the NFC West, the 49ers now find themselves 0-3 and in last place in their division—a division already considered to be weak at best.
In the first three games of the 2010 season, only the Carolina Panthers have scored fewer points than the 49ers, and they're now led by rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Today, the 49ers announced the firing of their offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye—the man who was supposed to give the much needed offensive stability to enable Alex Smith to flourish.
How can this happen you ask? The answer is simple: The 49ers house is not in order.
Like their decrepit stadium at Candlestick Point, the 49ers are decaying from within. A fresh coat of paint on the inside and some nice new green sod out front cannot mask the true defects in this once proud franchise. The roof is leaking, the framework is flawed and the foundation is crumbling.
Let's dust off the windows of this house and take a peek inside. We will start with the leaking roof at the very top—the ownership.
Denise DeBartolo York and her husband Dr. John York are not passionate NFL owners. To them, the 49ers are merely a business investment—like a piece of real estate. Their egos are not fueled by winning NFL championships.
The York's have been working hard to secure a new stadium for the 49ers but that's needed just to maintain status quo amongst other NFL teams—to keep up with the Joneses you might say. To their credit, the York's recognized that their hearts were not in running an NFL franchise and they duly appointed their young son Jed York as the new President/Owner.
Fans stirred with excitement over the appointment, wanting to believe that Jed was perhaps the next Eddie DeBartolo. After all, Jed grew up around 49er playoff appearances, watching one NFL great after another play with the 49ers in the 1980s. Jed even followed his favorite Uncle's footsteps to Notre Dame.
Certainly Jed brings a fresh perspective to the 49er front office and with his young age is surely more driven to succeed in his first real sports business venture than his parents are. But Jed is first and foremost a businessman—not a savvy NFL owner. As such, his primary if not singular focus has been on securing votes from city officials and citizens to pave the way for a shiny new stadium in Santa Clara.
Jed was convinced his team was in good hands with new head coach Mike Singletary. Mike Singletary is an imposing figure with a booming and authoritative voice. Without a doubt, Mike Singletary is a man of great character. He is a former NFL great, a Super Bowl champion and a Hall of Famer to boot. Surely the man known in some circles as "Samurai Mike" is the chosen one to bring the 49ers back to their days of glory. Or is he?
Which brings us to the flawed framework of this house we call the 49ers: the front office and coaching staff.
The 49ers have no general manager. The closest thing they had in a GM was Scot McCloughan but he was fired mysteriously only a few weeks before the 2010 NFL Draft. Scot McCloughan has since joined the 49ers rival Seattle Seahawks with something to prove—a dangerous proposition for the 49ers.
The 49ers also passed on a great NFL mind in Mike Holmgren who became the GM of the Cleveland Browns. Mike Holmgren coached the Green Bay Packers to their first Super Bowl championship in decades and later took the Seattle Seahawks to their first ever Super Bowl. Certainly there are questions as to whether Mike Holmgren has what it takes to succeed as a GM in Cleveland but there is no doubt that he possess a keen football mind.
Could it be that Jed York is hoping to avoid the same mistake his Uncle Eddie made in bringing in a strong willed GM?
In the early years of the Eddie DeBartolo regime, Eddie brought in an opinionated veteran GM in Miami's Joe Thomas to supposedly turn the franchise around. Joe Thomas promptly fired popular head coach Monte Clark who had coached the 49ers to an 8-6 finish the year before (barely missing the playoffs) and then traded away the 49ers first 1000 yard rusher in years in Delvin Willams. Not yet finished, Joe Thomas then traded away a basket of draft choices for O.J Simpson who was already past his NFL prime. All in all, Joe Thomas was a total failure in San Francisco with his only saving grace being that he brought wide receiver Freddie Soloman to the team.
At the head coaching position, there is no doubt that Mike Singletary possesses a football attitude, but does he have a football mind? I am not speaking of intelligence here either but the ability to play chess with the masters in the NFL—the likes of Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton and Rex Ryan. Motivation can be a huge factor at the high school and collegiate levels but in the NFL, where every player is already a professional, motivational speeches will only take a team so far.
Mike Singletary, in my honest opinion is in way over his head at this juncture in his professional coaching career. I would love to see Mike coach at the college level perhaps—take a breather from the NFL and head to the NCAA. There is no doubt in my mind that Mike is a wonderful man with great character, the kind of man any other man would like to call his friend and mentor in the game of life. But I just don’t believe he is fully prepared—yet—to be a head coach in the NFL.
Lastly, we need to look at the foundation of the 49ers: the talent that has been drafted in recent years.
Frank Gore and Patrick Willis are most definitely draft day gems and the 49ers are to be commended for finding these rare talents. Vernon Davis looks solid at tight end but was probably a reach in the first round. The jury is still out on Michael Crabtree but when one looks at the exploits of this year's NFL rookies like Dez Bryant or Dexter McCluster, Crabtree looks to have been significantly overvalued by the 49ers. Throw in a wasted pick in Kentwan Balmer and you have the makings of so-so drafts over the past few years.
Perhaps the 49ers biggest weakness is their inability to find a quarterback. Steadfast in their belief in Alex Smith, the 49ers and fans alike still don’t know who the real Alex is. Has it been the team? The coaching? The offensive system? Or is Alex Smith just a bust. All these years later and we still don’t know.
So where do the 49ers go from here?
For sure, the season is not yet over but with stalwart foes Atlanta and Philadelphia ahead, a 0-5 start to the 2010 campaign is not out of the question.
The 49ers have fired Jimmy Raye. Is Mike Singletary next? In my opinion, firing Mike Singletary at this point in the season, even at the mid point of the season, would make no sense, mostly because there is no one on the 49ers coaching staff who is a better choice, even as an interim coach. As such, Mike Singletary should finish out the season, no matter how bleak it may get, unless of course he loses the team completely and it is needed to avoid all out embarrassment.
Next off season, assuming that Mike Singletary does not pull off a miracle and win the NFC West, I say that Jed York must, like his Uncle Eddie before him, look to the Farm for his next head coach.
Yes the Farm, Stanford, the same school that brought Bill Walsh to the 49ers.
Stanford's Jim Harbaugh should become the 49ers next Head Coach. A quarterback by trade at Michigan and in the NFL, and the brother of a successful head coach for the Baltimore Ravens, Jim Harbaugh is ready for the NFL. Like Mike Singletary, Jim Harbaugh has played in the NFL, but unlike Mike Singletary, Harbaugh has successfully coached as a head coach.
Critics will say that Harbaugh lacks experience. They will say he has only coached at the University of San Diego and now Stanford. They will say that college head coaches lack the ability to succeed in the NFL.
I realize there are no magic pills one can take or magic wands one can wave to make things better overnight. Jim Harbaugh may even be my emotional reaction to a very frustrating early 49ers season, but I believe Jim Harbaugh has what it takes to be successful in the NFL.
Jed York should not stop there. He needs to go back to the farm again for his next quarterback—Andrew Luck. Trade up, bundle picks, do whatever it takes to land this outstanding athlete at the quarterback position.
Jed York: it is time to get your house in order. Your team's fans deserve it.