Fooch's Update - Well, this escalated quickly:
USF strength coach Hans Straub, who sent critical tweet about USF DE Aaron Lynch’s character, has resigned— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) May 13, 2014
The San Francisco 49ers rolled the dice on Saturday, using one of their two 5th round picks on South Florida defensive end Aaron Lynch. The soon-to-be outside linebacker was viewed as a top tier pass rushing talent, but various off-the-field issues cost him in the draft. Over the weekend, South Florida strength coach Hans Straub decided to call out the 49ers for the pick. According to Bulls 24/7, Straub tweeted (and appears to have since deleted):
Thought an organization with 5 Super Bowl titles would have a stricter draft criteria. Clearly, integrity & character are not a priority.
The tweet apparently happened shortly after the selection, and Straub has since been suspended indefinitely by the university. College coaches are usually quick to praise their players going to the next level, but as I've come to understand it, strength coaches at the college level can be a bit of a different breed.
It is not surprising that somebody might have a problem with the Lynch pick. Lynch himself acknowledged that his mistakes cost him in the draft. When he spoke with the media after the draft, he addressed the issues to some extent:
And why did you expect this? A lot of people say that you’re a first-round talent.
“I mean everybody’s right. I am a first-round talent being that I’ve made some mistakes in my past and I figured that’s what hurt me a little bit. I’m just so excited that the 49ers came around and got me in the fifth round.”
A lot of your mistakes are documented. What do you see as your mistakes? What mistakes did you make to get to this point?
“Regular mistakes a person at my age makes. Just most mistakes that most people my age make. They weren’t mistakes like robbing, things like that. But, they’re mistakes that weren’t supposed to happen associated with football and I chose to do those things so those things hurt me in the end. But, I’m just happy that my opportunity is finally—I’ve been waiting my whole life to be drafted. This is my dream and I don’t know how to express how I’m feeling right now, it’s just amazing. First round, seventh round, it doesn’t matter. They picked me up in the fifth and I’m just so excited that somebody took the time out of their time to pick me and take a chance with me.”
Lynch was coached at South Florida by Willie Taggart. For those that don't recall, Taggart has a deep connection to 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. He coached for two seasons on Harbaugh's staff at Stanford, but before that, Harbaugh actually recruited Taggart as a quarterback to come play for Harbaugh's dad at Western Kentucky. When Harbaugh was still playing football, he and his brother John volunteered to help their dad recruit at WKU. Taggart played at WKU, then became an assistant, and was later head coach between his stint at Stanford and South Florida.
Naturally, Coach Harbaugh was asked what Taggart had to say about Lynch:
“Had a long talk today. And it was, as you expect from Willie, told it exactly the way he saw it and believes it. And believes that this is a good young man. Needs direction. Needs a good structure around him where he’s got guys, men that he would look up to. That he would have a chance to emulate. Feels that he’ll thrive in that kind of environment. Said he was extremely good when Willie and his staff got to South Florida and the structure was in place, and practiced every day, and had very good things to say, and had some good tips on what he thought would be in the best interest of the 49ers, and the best interest of Aaron, as well. So, that was very honest, very insightful and thought that this was a youngster that we could reach. That would respond. That would listen. That we could get to. And it’s never simple as sometimes you make it out to be. It’s not simple. It’s not, not going to be easy. But, we look forward to the challenge. I look forward to the challenge. I look forward to the challenge of coaching, teaching, mentoring. And he is all about it from our conversation on the phone. Had a very nice talk with his mother, as well. And I think there’s a real chance to have a partnership there. Me on this end over here, and our coaching staff and our football players and team and from her. Aaron’s very close to his mother. You can tell they care about each other very much. He’s got a chance to be successful, we felt.”
And of course, Trent Baalke was asked about the Lynch pick as well. Given some of the off-field stuff the 49ers have had to deal with, it is no surprise they would need to answer questions when they added guys with off-field issues. Baalke simply said that after talking with Lynch, Taggart and the South Florida coaching staff, the 49ers came away feeling like Lynch was a guy they could work with and develop.
Someone asked about whether Lynch fell into the category of a guy the team would take some chances on, to which Baalke responded:
“I think you need to dig into him a little bit more. This isn’t a young man that has a rap sheet that you’re dealing with. He’s not a young man that’s been in a lot of trouble. He’s made some mistakes. He’s got to do some things differently. He understands that and we as an organization understand that. We have a structure here, a system here, that we feel we can help him. But, ultimately it comes down to the individual, as we all know. With Aaron it will be a process, but a process that we’re comfortable he will be able to endure and flourish in."
Lynch initially went to Notre Dame before transferring. He had a big freshman year, but then decided to transfer. Naturally this raised some questions about him given the apparent downgrade in programs while he was playing well. As I understand it, Lynch was pushed to Notre Dame during the recruiting process, and really did not want to be there. And so, he transferred after that first year, in part to potentially get away from a lot of that.
While at South Florida, he dealt with a 1-quarter suspension for a rules violation, and it sounds like he was benched for some other bone-headed type stuff. Cincy Jungle interviewed a writer for the USF school newspaper to discuss Lynch, and that provides a few more details.
While national media have called out the 49ers for some of their off-the-field issues, they have also elected to focus on the few small problems, and ignore the fact that a huge majority of the locker room is filled with truly good people. Obviously players staying off the police blotter does not get the page views that some would like, so we don't see them writing about that. We don't see nearly enough articles about Colin Kaepernick volunteering his time with kids facing heart problems. We don't see much coverage of Patrick Willis sending flowers to a little girl for her birthday. We don't see much about Joe Staley's work with Smile Train. Why cover that when you can cover the bad?
Lynch may work out, Lynch may not work out. He'll get his chance with the 49ers, but the 49ers are not in a position where they absolutely need him to be a home run pick. Aldon Smith is getting multiple chances, but I think we know that top tier talent gets that. Smith came into the league with top tier talent, and was recognized as such in the draft. Lynch enters the league with considerable talent, but he's already on the radar for his off-field problems in college. He'll likely have fewer chances, but hopefully the 49ers veteran locker room can help him move his life in the right direction and become a solid NFL player and person.