San Francisco 49ers: The Sad Downfall of a Proud Franchise

Peter Panacy@@PeterPanacyFeatured Columnist IVOctober 5, 2015

Head coach Jim Tomsula continues to rehash similar answers for the same problems after San Francisco's Week 4 loss.
Head coach Jim Tomsula continues to rehash similar answers for the same problems after San Francisco's Week 4 loss.Ben Margot/Associated Press

The San Francisco 49ers are on the fast track to, once again, being the laughingstock of the NFL. The last year-and-a-half has been an embarrassment to a proud franchise known for Super Bowl trophies, Hall of Fame players and a plethora of memorable moments.

And it's a downfall that permeates through an entire organization, from top to bottom.

Not so long ago, the 49ers were considered perennial Super Bowl contenders. After a 17-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 4, San Francisco looks nothing like the teams that went to three straight NFC Championship Games.

What happened?

Blame can be widespread when it comes to evaluating this team right now. The offense is terrible. The defense is inconsistent. The coaching staff is in over its head. And the front office seems to have no idea in regards to the 49ers' identity.

And, sadly, there doesn't seem to be any hope on the horizon. San Francisco is dangerously close to repeating the same drudgery which existed during the mid-to-late 2000s.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick appears unable to return to the form which made him famous in 2012.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick appears unable to return to the form which made him famous in 2012.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Downfall of Colin Kaepernick

The 2012 season was quarterback Colin Kaepernick's best. The newly minted starter posted the best numbers of his career that year: a 62.4 completion percentage and a 98.3 passer rating.

Those numbers have steadily dropped as Kaepernick's interception and sack totals continue to increase. Kaepernick has already been sacked 14 times on the year. At that rate, San Francisco's quarterback would be on pace for 56 on the season—four more than the whopping 52 he suffered in 2014.

Take a look at this Fox NFL coverage of the 2013 playoff game between the Packers and 49ers when Kaepernick seemed unbeatable:

It's sad to see how much has changed since that moment.

Steve Berman of Bay Area Sports Guy describes this downfall and cites how the 49ers organization has destroyed its own would-be franchise quarterback:

Candlestick faithful once chanted David Carr’s name when Alex Smith struggled, while a totally-over-his-head coach with frighteningly little experience named Mike Singletary stalked the sideline. Smith never played with anything approaching confidence until the 49ers put together one of the best offensive lines in the league and brought in Jim Harbaugh, who accentuated Smith’s strengths—intelligence, mobility and caution.

Harbaugh liked Kaepernick’s attributes—speed, arm strength and fearlessness—even more, and the two won a lot of games together in a short period. To think that the same quarterback who went sleeveless in Lambeau when the wind chill made it feel like -14 degrees and led the 49ers to a 23-20 win looks like this in 2015 … well, it would’ve been hard to fathom less than two years ago. But the 49ers, through a series of awful decisions, buried a rising star.

The 49ers no longer have a competent coaching staff and can no longer boast of a strong offensive line. Kaepernick thrived in the confidence of a successful coaching staff while having a solid cast of Pro Bowl-caliber players around him.

Now, Kaepernick is no longer confident and no longer competent.

In a way, the 2015 49ers expressed their own lack of confidence in Kaepernick's ongoing development by simplifying the playbook—an element discussed in the B/R video below.

The thought here was to maximize Kaepernick's strengths by building an offense catering to his positive attributes.

But those attributes have been squandered since the 49ers don't have the ability to move the ball on the ground. Like many read-option quarterbacks, Kaepernick needs a strong running game. 

San Francisco doesn't have one despite boasting a promising running back in Carlos Hyde.

The Packers no longer respect Kaepernick. This SB Nation clip featuring Packers linebacker Clay Matthews mocking the quarterback essentially tells us all we need to know about Kaepernick's level of competency right now.

SB Nation @SBNation

Clay Matthews is correct. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are not the same person. http://t.co/xRdgCWex50 https://t.co/0WUxDuVrVo

Berman alludes to the feud between general manager Trent Baalke and former head coach Jim Harbaugh—we'll get there shortly—as a possible reason why the 49ers seem to be leaving Kaepernick "out to dry." He writes, "[General manager] Trent Baalke wanted Andy Dalton. Kap was Harbaugh’s guy. Time to take out the trash."

Kaepernick looks as if he's the new scapegoat for all of San Francisco's woes in 2015. Given how the front office structured his contract, it wouldn't be a bad prediction to suggest Kaepernick won't be wearing red and gold next season.

But the blame doesn't fall entirely on Kaepernick. It can't.

Tomsula and offensive coordinator Geep Chryst haven't figured out a way to get the 49ers offense going in 2015.
Tomsula and offensive coordinator Geep Chryst haven't figured out a way to get the 49ers offense going in 2015.Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A Problematic Coaching Staff

Head coach Jim Tomsula continues his attempts to absorb the blame of all that is wrong with the franchise.

Tomsula's postgame presser, once again, pointed out how the team's issues all work their way back to the head coach.

"We came up short," the head coach said via the team's website. "Green Bay played a heck of a game. Offensively we've got to get some things ironed out, and that starts with me."

San Francisco 49ers @49ers

Tomsula: "We came up short. Green Bay played a heck of a game. Offensively we've got to get some things ironed out and that starts with me."

Tomsula could be an excellent head coach or coordinator at this level. But it isn't going to happen now. San Francisco needed to have a head coach capable of navigating the stormy offseason that plagued the franchise recently—someone with experience rectifying a turbulent period with a strong-willed, effective approach.

Instead, the 49ers front office elected to go with Tomsula and backed him with coordinators Eric Mangini and Geep Chryst, whose only qualifications were continuity and familiarity within the organization.

Remember, Chryst ran San Francisco's offense in the red zone last year—a problematic area in 2014. And, as Dylan DeSimone of CSN Authentic hinted at back in February, the 49ers won't be looking strong in this area anytime soon.

Dylan DeSimone @DylanADeSimone

And now Chryst, who was in charge of the #49ers' worst area offensively -- the red zone -- is in charge of the whole offense.

And it's a situation that, seemingly, is getting worse with every week.

Ray Ratto of CSN Bay Area describes just how bad things are for Tomsula's 49ers a quarter of the way through the season:

He has a team that can neither run nor pass. It gained fewer than 200 total yards in successive games, the first time a 49ers team has done that since 2007. If Kaepernick were a pitcher, he would lead the league in walks, and Hyde needs two more games at his present pace to catch the number of yards he gained in Game 1.

Even the most criticize-able play of the game, a plunge into the line by Reggie Bush on a third-and-11 play in the third quarter that gained zero yards proves how bereft they are of solutions.

Chryst shouldn't be running this offense. But the entire coaching staff can bear the blame for not creating an established identity and finding means by which to implement it.

CEO Jed York (left) and general manager Trent Baalke (right) have been heavily criticized for their actions handling the team in recent years.
CEO Jed York (left) and general manager Trent Baalke (right) have been heavily criticized for their actions handling the team in recent years.TONY AVELAR/Associated Press

It All Points to the Top

Perhaps no other figures within the 49ers organization bear the wrath of San Francisco's fans right now than Baalke and CEO Jed York.

As would be the case with any dysfunctional multi-million-dollar business, an underachieving organization would have to look at the top of its own command structure for both answers and a solution. Baalke and York don't seem to have one.

At least no one seems to know what it is.

What we do know is this: Baalke and York are the unquestioned heads of a downward-spiraling organization lacking any sort of cohesiveness. 

Remember when Baalke and Harbaugh's feud first became evident? This B/R video was one of the first revelations of this pending problem back in 2014.

Baalke won that bout over Harbaugh when the 49ers front office made a mockery out of the situation and dismissed their first winning head coach since Steve Mariucci. 

And York's cryptic tweet following the 49ers' Thanksgiving Day loss to the Seattle Seahawks was just another sign that San Francisco's brass had an ignoble agenda.

Jed York @JedYork

Thank you #49ersfaithful for coming out strong tonight. This performance wasn't acceptable. I apologize for that

As the team's CEO, York isn't going anywhere unless he decides to.

But what about Baalke?

Baalke bears equal responsibility in all of this. Now we can't exactly delve into the general manager's frame of mind and "think" what he's thinking. But we can evaluate some of his decisions he's made, which have put San Francisco into this spot.

Take a look at some of his recent NFL drafts—first-round selections, to be precise.

Baalke's recent draft classes have been suspect despite a handful of promising players.
Baalke's recent draft classes have been suspect despite a handful of promising players.Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Round 1 selections are typically intended to be Week 1 impact players. These are guys generally selected to be "ready to go" at the NFL level. They aren't project players nor are they developmental pieces.

Baalke selected the following players in Round 1 from 2011 through 2015: Linebacker Aldon Smith, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, safety Eric Reid, defensive back Jimmie Ward and defensive end Arik Armstead.

Smith is no longer with the team following an array of off-the-field incidents. Jenkins turned into a bust and the book is still out on Ward and Armstead. Out of that group, only Reid continues to impact the team on a consistent basis.

Subsequent picks have also been problematic to an extent. Defensive end Tank Carradine (a second-round pick in 2013) looks like just an OK player. The majority of Baalke's 2013 picks, including tight end Vance McDonald and outside linebacker Corey Lemonier, are either not living up to expectation or are no longer with the team.

49ers 2013 Draft Picks
Round 1Eric ReidStarting Safety
Round 2Tank CarradineThird-Down DE
Round 2Vance McDonaldNo. 2 TE
Round 3Corey LemonierNo. 4 OLB
Round 4Quinton PattonNo. 4 WR
Round 4Marcus LattimoreRetired
Round 5Quinton DialStarting DE
Round 6Nick Moodyw/ Seattle Seahawks
Round 7B.J. Danielsw/ Seattle Seahawks
Round 7Carter Bykowskiw/ Minnesota Vikings
Round 7Marcus Cooperw/ Kansas City Chiefs
Pro Football Reference

Baalke can stock up on draft picks. He's shown ability there. But a great number of these picks, especially injured players, never panned out.

And then there was the fifth-round selection of punter Bradley Pinion.

The 49ers had depth to absorb a lot of the losses seen during the offseason. Baalke was responsible for that. 

But was that depth good enough to ensure San Francisco wouldn't suffer a lapse in talent in 2015?

The record and lackluster statistics (last in offensive scoring and No. 32 in points allowed prior to Week 4) suggest it isn't.

Kaepernick is on pace to surpass the 52 sacks he took in 2014.
Kaepernick is on pace to surpass the 52 sacks he took in 2014.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Collapse

York and Baalke should bear the brunt of the blame and not let guys like Tomsula shoulder the burden of the 49ers' 2015 failures.

But it isn't happening.

The frustrations are starting to boil over now. It's apparent watching San Francisco's games. Veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin's sideline disgust is one piece of evidence. The 49ers' leading receiver in 2014 refused to speak to the media following Sunday's loss.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman was the veteran presence visibly frustrated during the 49ers' 47-7 drubbing at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3, per Eric Branch of SFGate.com.

Eric Branch @Eric_Branch

NaVorro Bowman was also frustrated after this completion to a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald. #49ers https://t.co/k5t99nNlzW

How will the frustrations continue?

It's hard to predict. But they aren't good signs at all when trying to evaluate exactly where the 49ers go from here.

The 49ers lack identity. They lack direction. They lack organizational leadership.

And that hurts when one thinks that this franchise was a perennial favorite just a couple of seasons ago. 

What needs to happen is a concerted effort from the entire organization top to bottom—an effort that preaches a re-establishment and commitment to the legacy of the 49ers franchise. 

Right now, signs don't point to this being atop San Francisco's priority list.

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist covering the San Francisco 49ers for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterPanacy on Twitter.


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