In the 80s and 90s, the San Francisco 49ers were one of the elite franchises in all of sports. They were well known to exude professionalism and class from the top down. This started from Owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., President Carmen Policy and head coach Bill Walsh. George Seifert also carried on the tradition when he took over after Walsh retired.
After Eddie Debartolo Jr. was forced to relinquish his beloved Niners, the entire feeling around the team changed. Dr. John York was viewed as cheap, and was an absentee owner, as he and wife Denise, (Eddie's sister), lived in Ohio. I'm sure Dr. York is a solid professional in his field of expertise, but running a football team was not something he was good at.
The 49ers were headed downhill when Terry Donahue was promoted to GM. Not only did he make some poor personnel decisions, but he seemed more concerned with his real estate interests in the LA area.
Donahue's replacement, Scot McCloughan was a step in the right direction, but personal issues led to him leaving the team prior to the 2010 draft. McCloughan is also the GM who drafted Kentwan Balmer in the first round, so he swung and missed on an important draft pick.
Strong leadership coming from the head coach was also missing. The 49er Faithful endured the Dennis Erickson debacle for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Erickson was fired, along with Donahue, after a dismal 2-14 season in 04.
Mike Nolan, who replaced Erickson, started to bring the 49ers back towards respectability. However, in three and a half seasons, Nolan could not get the team back to the .500 level, as his best record was 7-9, in 2006.
Mike Nolan is a fine X's and O's assistant coach, however he was not a leader of men. Nolan struggled with his relationship with Alex Smith and there was some apparent back stabbing involved. His indecisiveness on the Smith situation caused him to lose the respect of his players.
Nolan was overly sensitive to how the media perceived him and seemed to dwell on trivial issues without seeing the big picture, which is an essential quality for a successful head coach. Nolan also feuded with the NFL about wearing a suit on the sidelines. Nolan's rationale, that this honored his father, the late Dick Nolan, was fine, but he spent an excessive amount of time dealing with this, which was disfocussing for him and the team.
The tide started started turning favorably when Jed York, son of John & Denise, took over running the team. Jed, who is the nephew of Eddie, has a similar passion for the team, just like his uncle. His hiring of Mike Singletary as head coach brought more respect to the franchise, as Singletary lives by a no-nonsense code of honor and professionalism.
The younger York also successfully got the stadium ballot measure passed in Santa Clara, in the most recent election. His enthusiasm, hard work and passion for the 49ers were integral factors in getting this passed. I do not think John York would have been able to get this done.
Trent Baalke, the new head personnel man, appears to be a solid nuts and bolts football guy. He doesn't exude charisma or crave media attention, but he is a hard worker, dedicated to his job.
Mike Singletary has been most responsible for changing the perception of the 49ers. No longer are they viewed as disfunctional organization lacking direction. Singletary preaches a tough work ethic and being a professional at all times. He transformed Vernon Davis from a self-promoting diva to now being one of the most dedicated and respected leaders on the team.
Brian Westbrook mentioned Coach Singletary as one of the main reasons he came to the 49ers. This is reminiscent of the glory years of the 80s and 90s, when players from all around the league wanted to play for the 49ers.
Leadership comes from the top and Jed York, Trent Baalke and Mike Singletary have brought the Niners back to being a respected franchise around the league. The professionalism, dedication and focus of this trio will lead the team to success. Good things are on the horizon for the 49ers.