Friday, April 10, 2015

How Boneheads Baalke and York Ruined the 49ers








To angry Niner fans, San Francisco 49ers' general manager Trent Baalke and owner Jed York are
irresponsible, short-sighted egomaniacs who put themselves before the team. Their colossal blunder has set the Niners back three-to-five years. It's becoming more and more clear that this is a broken team--and these are the jokers who broke it.

Their stupid move? Firing head coach Jim Harbaugh at the end of last season. It was completely unwarranted. Riddled with injuries and unsettled by the looming loss of their coach, the team stumbled to an 8-8 record and failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in Harbaugh's four years as coach,  But his first three years were incredible. He's the first NFL coach ever to reach the conference championship game in his first three seasons on the job. That record alone should have bought him several more years as Niners' head coach.

But here's what got him fired. Baalke and York had been butting heads with him all last year. It was no secret that they hated each other. Harbaugh had little respect for either of them, considering them meddling clowns who were full of bad ideas and were constantly interfering with his efforts to do what he thought was best for team. Make no mistake, Harbaugh is surly, hard-headed and hard-boiled, with limited "people" skills. He's a rigid no-nonsense guy who doesn't massage egos or play office politics. But he's also a great coach.

Harbaugh considered Baalke and York clueless obstacles and treated them as such. They couldn't stand that. By last summer it was clear that Harbaugh was done as the Niner coach. Baalke and York weren't going to put up with a coach who disliked and disrespected them. No matter that Harbaugh was the team's best coach since the great Bill Walsh and one of the two or three best in the history of the franchise. No matter that, in just a few years, he had transformed the Niners from doormat to powerhouse by emphasizing rushing and killer defense. But even winning a Super Bowl couldn't have saved Harbaugh's job.

Harbaugh was a lame duck last season and the team knew it. Consequently, the locker room was a land mine of emotions. Players aren't going to perform well in an atmosphere riddled with uncertainty and toxicity. Key injuries, particularly to the line-backing corps--the heart of the defense--didn't help. Under those circumstances, coupled with a power surge by teams in their division, an 8-8 season was pretty good.

Bottom line--Baalke and York screwed up. They dumped an excellent coach because they couldn't get along with him. Harbaugh is like many great coaches--difficult to get along with and more than a little crazy. Vince Lombardi was a mean-tempered bully who was hated by everyone. Bill Belichick is an abusive ass who treats people like pawns. Bill Parcells was like that too. Tom Landry was arrogant and nasty. So is Nick Saban. But this is the cream of the coaching crop. They're hard to get along with but they win and win and win. Their bosses should just accept that they are miserable bastards, leave them alone and let them go about coaching. But Baalke and York couldn't do that.

Replacing Harbaugh with a first-rate coach would have been acceptable. But there was a problem. Top coaches weren't interested in the Niners. Word was out in coaching circles that working for Baalke and York is no picnic. Why would a first-rate coach, with other options, go to a place where a giant like Harbaugh got the boot for a stupid reason like a personality conflict with the bosses?

So what did Baalke and York do? They hired an underwhelming, inexperienced nobody, Niner defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. They replace greatness with an obscure position coach whose only head-coaching experience is leading the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe for ten games, winning six, in 2006. This guy isn't dynamic, has little credibility and doesn't command respect the way Harbaugh did. That superb coaching staff assembled by Harbaugh? Mostly gone. Tomsula has been hiring a new staff. So far, however, none of the new coaches has been that impressive.

Meanwhile there has been a blizzard of changes involving key players. Workhorse RB Frank Gore, the heart and soul of the team, signed with the Colts. Pro-Bowl offensive guard Mike Iupati jumped to division rival Arizona. Top-notch linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland have retired, while defensive end Justin Smith is considering it.. Defensive end Ray McDonald left to join the Bears. The status of  super LB NaVorro Bowman, who missed last season with severe injuries, is uncertain. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who has been shopping himself around the league, has one foot out the door. None of the recent Niner signees, like RB Reggie Bush and WR Torrey Smith, are game-changers. Meanwhile, in the midst of all these changes, struggling QB Colin Kaepernick, who will be operating behind a much weaker offensive line, has to reverse his drastic regression. Don't be surprised if he has another lousy year.

This is a team in turmoil. If Harbaugh was still in charge, he could, while fighting off Baalke and York, probably successfully navigate the Niners through these troubled waters. But can the new guy, Tomsula, do it while he's learning how to be a head coach and busy earning the trust of skeptical players? Wouldn't count on it.

What Niner fans can count on is a mediocre season. In fact, don't count on a good season for at least the next two or three years. The Niners will be in rebuilding mode. With boneheads at the helm, though, you can imagine how that's going to go.