"This is the last time our season ends in December"
I gotta hand it Jed York. Even though technically he was correct with that statement, what he really meant was playoffs, and youth sometimes has a little bravado to go along with naivety. But boldness is a big part of leadership, and when you have big shoes to fill, the success of the franchise will be determined if the shoes you left behind will either be too tight for Shaquille O’Neal to wear, or the shoes being cast in bronze as baby’s first pair. Jed’s now famous words wasn’t a baby step into the future, but a Neil Armstrong step back to the Glory Days of "Super Bowl or Bust!!". Jed’s mini mission statement reminded us of a time where every year had the promise of a championship, and it helped erase years of mediocrity for just one moment. Head coaches, players, and GM’s come and go. While some people think that ownership really doesn't have much of an impact on the franchise, Jed York made it clear that day that they do. The thing is, now he has to back that statement up.
Even though Eddie DeBartolo left the 49ers in humiliating fashion, he still is beloved amongst the fanbase. A lot of that stems from his passion for the 49ers, and that trickled down to the coaches, players, and the fans. DeBartolo was far from perfect however. He was arrogant, brusque, emotional, and sometimes brutal as an owner. Even though George Seifert was one of the most successful head coaches in franchise history, he was unceremoniously replaced by Steve Mariucci. Mariucci was brought in as offensive coordinator at first, due to Marc Trestman’s ineffectiveness the year prior as OC, yet Seifert saw the writing on the wall and retired. What 49er fans weren’t realizing at that time was that the team already had started to decline due to poor drafts, then GM Carmen Policy’s arrogance, and the final nail in the coffin, the Salary Cap. They had also distanced themselves from the principles that the legendary Bill Walsh created within the organization. DeBartolo eventually had to give up control of the franchise, due to a scandal involving Louisiana ex-Governer Edwin Edwards. DeBartolo gave control of the team to his sister, Denise DeBartolo-York, who eventually became the owner, along with her husband John York.
When the Yorks took over the franchise, it was in deep peril. After Policy had left to become GM of the Cleveland Browns, the 49er front office was in complete disarray. John York has since brought in several GM’s (including Bill Walsh), and head coaches. The 49ers have only been to the playoffs twice under the York ownership, and in abrupt move after a playoff loss, fired then head coach Mariucci. The 49ers then went into a nosedive due to a myriad of reasons (poor decisions from the Front Office, and the Salary Cap purge) that eventually led them into a rebuild of the franchise. During this time, John York was getting skewered by the fanbase and the media. Some of the criticism was valid, yet John York really had a mess on his hands, and part of it was due to decisions made prior to he taking over. Yet, some decisions he made himself were poor ones, and the fans who were once faithful now had no faith in the ownership. Gone were the days of hoping for a playoff spot. Now are the days of just hoping to get to .500 football. That’s more of a reflection of where the true leadership lies, and that’s ownership.
Jed York is a lucky guy. Not because he is one of the youngest (if not the youngest) President of a NFL franchise. It’s that he has grown up witnessing the success and failures of the franchise firsthand that should help him succeed by looking at where the team failed. But he knows that the value of the brand lies in it’s faith in ownership. Whereas his parent’s stayed firmly in the background as owners, he is up front and in the foreground, letting people know the ownership does have the passion to win, and that they will try to succeed. But it takes a lot more than just saying words. A successful organization has to have a plan and stick to it. One could say that the 49ers are already on that plan and have been, but just without Mike Nolan in charge of it. Whether it's successful or not remains to be seen, yet it makes more sense to go along with it for the immediate future, since another full blown rebuild over this one can do a lot more damage if it isn't done properly. It’s pretty clear that Jed York is in charge, and his challenge is to bring the 49ers back to respectability. His decisions will impact the 49ers into the next decade, and he has to be careful with those decisions. Just how can he do it? That’s easy. Just look back.