The standard for success in San Francisco used to be measured in a very simple way. For the 49ers, it was clear: Win the Vince Lombardi Trophy, or the season was a lost cause. There were no “moral victories”, no “almost there’s.,” and no excuses for losing.
From 1981 to 2000, the 49ers, run by Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., were beyond successful. They were dominant, plain and simple. Names such as Montana, Rice, Lott, Craig, and Young will be forever etched into minds of 49ers Faithful as the some of the greatest players to ever suit up in the NFL. Let’s face it, 49ers fans were, and still are, spoiled rotten.
For Jed York, it will be a long road to return this franchise back to that once familiar pinnacle.
It isn’t hard to see some similarities between Jed York and his uncle. Eddie was a mere 31 years old when he took over the franchise in 1977. 21 years and five Super Bowls later, it is safe to say his tenure was one of supremacy. Jed is only 26 and in his first year of unofficially running the team.
The DeBartolo name alone, however, will not be enough to give 49ers fans faith in the path the team will be heading.
After all, Jed is a York as well.
Still, youth may be one of the biggest advantages for Jed York in the short term. 49ers fans have been desperate for some kind of positive change after a sixth consecutive losing season. Mike Singletary was a decent start, but Jed’s off-season will be hectic if he intends to find even a fraction of the success that Eddie D. enjoyed.
While 49ers fans sought answers in the 2008 season to some of this franchise’s most pressing issues, it appears that this season has only worked to bring to light more unresolved issues, both about the personnel and the direction this team must take.
Some questions will be screaming out loud to the front office:
Is Mike Singletary the right choice for the head coaching job?
Should Scot McCloughan remain as the 49ers GM?
Will Mike Martz be the long-term offensive coordinator?
Can either Shaun Hill or Alex Smith be the quarterback of the future?
And what the *bleep* is the deal with the 49ers stadium plans???
Let us also not forget about the 2009 NFL Draft, where the 49ers should be around 7-9 in the draft order, depending on what happens in the final week of the season. This team will soon be faced with some big decisions going into Draft Day.
Quarterback or receiver?
Defensive Lineman or safety?
Offensive tackle or cornerback?
What Jed York must keep in mind is that this team will not be a quick fix. He must also keep in mind that this team is NOT as far from success as many fans may believe.
It is important to note that that barring a six turnover performance in Week One, a disastrous 60 seconds on Monday Night in Arizona, and an inability to score in the final minutes in Miami, this 49ers team is sitting atop the NFC West, and heading into the playoffs. Granted, they would most likely get destroyed by the elite teams such as New York, Carolina, and Chicago.
For 49ers fans however, even a one-and-out playoff appearance would be a giant leap forward after six seasons of mediocrity.
Jed can also take some solace in the fact that the NFC West is by far the weakest division in the NFL. This makes it a wide-open division going into 2009, one that really any team has a chance of winning with some smart off-season moves. The Miami Dolphins can show many teams, even the historically bad Detroit Lions that in the NFL, a franchise can turn themselves around sooner, rather than later.
What the 49ers need now, more than anything else, is stability.
This team needs an identity, and young players such as Joe Staley, Patrick Willis, Manny Lawson, and Josh Morgan, can help with that. The less the 49ers need to search for talent outside of the franchise, the better. As the pieces begin to fall, it will be far easier to examine what exactly this team needs to find long-term success.
Of course, the quarterback dilemma may be the most immediate issue, but the secondary remains the weakest link. The front office will have their hands full in trying to balance out their search for help. This team will most likely not be a Super Bowl caliber team next year, but they are not as far off as people may believe.
With a change in ownership comes a change in attitude, and positive motivation can often be one of the most powerful tools for both players AND fans to hold out just a bit longer, until these answers can finally be found.