Thursday, January 6, 2011

49ers Coach & GM Search: What happens when an amateur is running the show....

Boy 49’ers fans, this has been quite a couple of weeks hasn’t it? My thoughts after this brief parable:

In 1989 a “Flying Tigers” Air Cargo 747 was flying from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. On an instrument approach, the air traffic controller instructed the pilot “Tiger 66, descend two four zero zero” which means descend to an altitude of 2,400’ above sea level. The pilot mistakenly heard and confirmed “descend to four zero zero” believing he was instructed to fly at an altitude of 400’ above sea level.

Cockpit voice recorders showed the pilots repeating the “four zero zero” multiple times. Ground proximity warning alarms went off. They were ignored as false alarms. The pilots were heard to say, “he said to descend to four zero zero, this thing is F***ed”. The co-pilot called ATC asking, “Tiger 66 confirming descend to four zero zero?” the controller replied, “Roger, descend two four zero zero.” Moments later the fully loaded 747 plowed into the side of 600’ hillside a mile or so from the airport.

This is a common scenario replayed in aviation cockpit resource management training sessions to illustrate how the “strength of an idea” can cause people to ignore multiple warning signs and years of training resulting in an unequal number of takeoffs and landings.

I relate this tragic tale as an analogy for what has happened over the past few weeks with the San Francisco 49ers.

As it became apparent this season that Mike Singletary had to go the conversation in the print media, sports radio, television and of course blogs and twitter began to foam with various suggestions as to a replacement. The topic of Jim Harbaugh rose to the top. Mainly, in my opinion, because he’s local and because he’s the only REALLY successful football coach at any level in the Bay Area in around 10 years. The frothers chose, based on the strength of this idea, to ignore a raft of downsides to the fait accompli election of Harbaugh as the 49ers next head coach.

  • Harbaugh has only been a head coach, at any level for 6yrs (2 at San Diego, 4 at Stanford)
  • Harbaugh has very limited NFL coaching experience (2yrs as a Raiders assistant/QB coach…they finished 4-12 his second year)
  • Harbaugh has been wildly successful at Stanford but one must assume a wide disparity in the techniques used to coach and motivate the highly intelligent and strictly disciplined sort of young man that attends Stanford and your average self entitled NFL diva.

The common argument to the above is that Harbaugh played in the NFL for ~15years.....well so did Mike'd that work out?

Further, fans and media types alike ignored the historical track record of NCAA coaches who’ve moved directly into NFL head coaching positions. The list of successful transitions is woefully short.

Further still, fans and media type ignored the recent history of the 49ers in terms of hiring head coaches with no or limited NFL coaching experience.

So the strength of this idea built through the second ½ of the season, fueled by the continued success Harbaugh was seeing at Stanford until at the point of Singletary’s dismissal there was nary a mention of other alternatives.

Enter to our tale, the young Mr. Jed York:

 A bright kid to be sure. But at 30yrs old he is still pretty wet behind the ears in terms of life, business and certainly in the operation of an NFL franchise. Due in my opinion, largely to his youth and inexperience he too ignored not only the aforementioned, but also his own words at his press conference after firing Singletary. Platitudes stating their desire to attain the best available GM and head coach seem to have been cast aside in favor of the groupthink that had become Jim Harbaugh.

Also cast aside was York’s assertion that he’d be looking for the best available talent to fill the role of GM. Rather than making offers to anyone with actual experience, or an assistant GM in a succseful franchise, York went about 8’ down the hall and tapped Trent Baalke as the new GM.

Huh? What? The guy from Perfect Strangers?

 To be fair, Baalke has a reputation as a solid scout and talent evaluator and managed this years draft well by most accounts. BUT, his resume certainly doesn’t fit the description York alluded to in his statements and he has never been a General Manager, or assistant GM in the NFL.

So you have a rookie team president...

…and a rookie GM...
...convinced by the strength of an idea that another rookie head coach after Nolan and Singletary is a freakin great idea, and that if they didn't get Harbaugh the 49er faithful would be at the gates wielding torches and pitchforks.

So on Wednesday, less than 12hrs after the U of Michigan Athletic Director said that Harbaugh had been  offered and turned down $5m a year, these two boobs turn around and offer the same amount to Harbaugh. Ostensibly thinking that the cache of working for the 49ers was enough to seal the deal.

…..and the plane plowed into the hillside, in this case the one adjacent to Candlestick Park.

The list of failures here is long but not limited to:
-         you never negotiate in public, we all knew within minutes what figure had been offered to Harbaugh
-         you never throw offers around until you have interviewed all desirable candidates
-         you never make your 1st offer your “best and final” offer

York and Baalke are amateurs, were the first to blink in a critical negotiation and they got played by a guy with no experience and minimal leverage in the negotiation.

Now, in the interest of fairness, York's assertion that "money is no object" does not necessarily mean "we are willing to dramatically overpay for an unknown quantity." but I'm reticent to believe that there was that much forethought put into the process.

Not only have the Dolphins come in and reportedly beaten the 49ers offer which would make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in the NFL (a whole other matter of absurdity), but in making the list of above failures the two rubes have seriously damaged their position in future negotiations with other prospective candidates.

Imagine the phone call to Bill Cowher or John Gruden:

Jed York: “We’d like to talk to you about this head coaching position.”
Cowher/Gruden: “Ok kid.... start talking at $7m a year.”

More likely though is the following exchange:

Jed York: “We’d like to talk to you about this head coaching position.”
Cowher/Gruden: “You clowns have no idea what you are doing out there. I have [__] Super Bowl rings and I’m your plan-B?           F-YOU kid!”

This whole thing is still developing so all the above may be irrelevant within the next few hours. But I'd get ready for a few more years of 49ers futility.

 [EDIT] - As of 9:30am the following developments have occurred:
  • It looks as if Harbaugh has rebuffed the Dolphins cash-o-rama based on the uncertain management structure of the team. Tony Sporano must have been stoked at the whole thing eh?
  • A number of national scribes have stated that the Denver Bronco's were briefly in the conversation but seemed to have bowed out.
  • It appears that the two remaining players are the 49ers and Stanford University.
  • In the wake of Andrew Luck's decision to return to Stanford, common thinking is that Harbaugh will take Stanford's offer (rumored to be in excess of the 49ers offer) and decline the offer to work with the buffoons at the 49ers.
Comedic commentary abounds on Twitter....the 49ers are looking really bad on this.

12:50 PST

  • 49ers announce press conference to take place at 3:30pm at the Palace Hotel in SF, expected to announce Jim Harbaugh as head coach. 5yrs $25M
Wow. National sports writers were wrong on the Stanford thing. Probably due to the info from Elway on Denver radio this morning. I'm a little bit shocked.

To their credit, York and Baalke identified the guy they wanted and went and got him. Questions still remain about Baalke ability to serve as GM and about Harbaugh ability to serve as as a head coach in the NFL. 

+ Rookie

+ Rookie

I honestly do hope this works. This could go brilliantly and turn out to be a wildly successful combination of young NFL leaders. Or it could go right back into the same toilet the 49ers have been in for the last 8yrs. Given past performance....I'm leaning toward the latter.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for popping in.

    If you are reading this post, you should also read this one: