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Niners Nation sits down with 49ers President and Owner Jed York

I really don't think this needs a whole lot of introduction.  However, I will say that this would not have been possible without the assistance of Bob Lange, the 49ers director of public relations and Ryan Moore, a media relations specialist who has been of great assistance in getting me some great access.  And of course, big time thanks are in order for Jed York for taking the time to sit down with me.  He answered questions for 25 minutes and provided a lot of insight into his background and many aspects of the 49ers we discuss here on a daily basis.  In reality, I could have asked him questions for days and not covered everything.  However, I think I've provided a nice little sampling of topics.

This was my first in person interview (outside of job interviews), so hopefully it doesn't read to choppy.  Given the length of the interview, I've posted most of it after the jump.  Also, I've posted a few quick comments at the end of the interview.  Enjoy.

NN: First off, thank you very much for the access.  I know my readers definitely appreciate it.

JY: Sure, no problem.

NN: By far probably the most important question is given your mother’s background, are you gonna be watching the game tonight? (Fooch’s Note: Denise York ran the Pittsburgh Penguins prior to taking over the 49ers from Eddie D.  She was the third woman to serve as President of a Stanley Cup winning team).

JY: Yea, absolutely.

NN: So you’re still a Penguins fan?

JY: Yea…hockey fan, I mean like the Sharks, but if it came down to it….

NN: If the Sharks hadn’t blown it, you’d be rooting for the Penguins?

JY: Yea

NN: I guess, to get an idea of your background, you worked outside of sports for a little while, did you always see yourself eventually coming back to the 49ers?

JY: Absolutely…As a little kid I always wanted to work in my family’s business, whether it was the real estate side or the sports side.  And there was no doubt which one I had more affinity towards.  I mean it’s a dream come true to be here.

NN: I can definitely imagine that.  If you weren’t president of the 49ers, is there something else that you could see yourself doing?

JY: I mean it’s hard for me to think like that.  I really enjoyed what I was doing in New York, working in finance.  And if I wasn’t here, I don’t know if it’d be exactly what I was doing, but it’d probably be where I was doing it.  I’d probably be overseas somewhere.  I really enjoyed London.  I was there for a little bit in school.  I’d love to be there for awhile.  But you know, again, I don’t think there’s anything that would make me change what I’m doing now.

NN: Given the team’s struggles the last few years, are you ever really able to get rid of the stress of a tough loss before the next week, or do you just have to wait until they win again before that stress goes away.

JY: You know, win or lose, you give yourself a day.  So, you have Monday to kind of get through, whether it’s celebrating or pounding your head against the wall.  And either way, Tuesday you have to let it go.  I’ve gotten good at, Monday morning you’re either happy or upset, but usually by the time you get to work you need to get through it, you need to get to the next day.

NN: Obviously you’ve kind of become the face of the ownership at this point.  Aside from the numerous charitable functions that your parents are involved in, what kind of role do they retain with the team?

JY: Well, I mean, as chairmen, they oversee everything.  They have the most important job and it often goes overlooked, but they’re the ones that ultimately write the checks.  It’s important and people just kind of assume that that’s a given.  But they need to make sure that the management team is operating properly, and I think obviously I have a very good relationship with my parents, working with them, business-side and obviously personal.  So it makes it a lot easier for them to feel in control and feel like things are being done the way they want them to be done with me reporting directly to them as chairmen.  It makes it just, I think, a lot easier to operate as an organization, as a team, when you pretty much have full autonomy to do things.  But you answer to them, and we have quarterly meetings to kind of go through things as any other business would.  But, it’s a lot easier for them to pick up the phone and call me, or when we’re sitting down at dinner and having those conversations.  It makes it a lot less stressful than in most presidents or CEOs reporting to their chairmen or their board.

NN: As kind of the guy who is overseeing the day-to-day operations, do you have a particular management style?

JY: I think especially with me being a younger guy, and being newer to this, it’s important to make sure you have the right team around you.  And that’s sort of how my grandfather always built his businesses, my mom, my uncle, when my uncle was running the team.  You know my uncle wasn’t very hands-on.  It was, you know Bill Walsh was the football guy, Carmen was kind of the business guy.  And he worked with them and he gave them the resources needed to get the job done effectively. Obviously I’ve inserted myself more into the stadium side and trying to get that done because I think that’s really where my strengths lie, on the financing side.  And obviously, being that face of the ownership group and being able to get out and talk to people, and let people in Santa Clara know what we’re trying to accomplish here and how that affects them and how the stadium will make Santa Clara a better place. 

But when you look at everything else…Andy Dolich, who’s our chief operating officer, has over thirty years of experience in professional sports.  Having Scot McCloughan, who’s got, I think this is his 16th year in the NFL, I mean Scot’s what, 37, 38?  I mean, for a younger guy, having that much experience, and especially growing up in sports.  You look at Coach Singletary running the football team.  And Larry MacNeil, our chief financial officer, who’s really been the chief negotiator on the stadium side, has a huge resume on the real estate side of things and getting projects done.  They’re better at their jobs than I would be doing their job.  It’s up to me to make sure that they’re managed properly and to make sure we’re establishing the right goals and proceeding the right way to achieve those goals.

After the jump, we ask Jed York about stadium issues and the look of the team heading into 2009...

NN: Speaking of Scot McCloughan, there was a quote in a Chronicle article awhile back, where they asked you about Alex Smith.  You said you’re not a football guy and it’s hard for you to give a football opinion.  As the man in charge, do you have any input into that, or is it more or less hands-off for you?

JY: The most input I’ll have is in the draft.  So if there’s a character issue, or if there’s an injury issue where talent-wise you have a guy that has a first round grade; but one of the other things says, "ok, well we’re not going to take this guy in the first round, or we might if these are the risks…" That’s where I’ll sit down with Scot and kind of weigh in and give my opinion.  And if there’s a guy for any character issue that we don’t deem that we want on the team, or a medical risk that we don’t feel comfortable taking, then we’ll talk about it.  But once a guy is on the team, we feel comfortable with Scot and Mike making those evaluations.  So, I would never sit and say I want this person to start over this person.  It just, it’s counter-productive.  That’s why you have a head coach.  That’s why you have 19 coaches on staff.  You don’t need one more voice in that decision-making.

NN: You don’t go for the George Steinbrenner approach?

JY: No, no.

NN: Speaking again of Scot McCloughan, he’s listed as general manager and Paraag Marathe is listed as Vice President of Football Operations

JY: Marathe (pronouncing it Ma-rah-tay)

NN: Ma-Rah-Tay. Oh, ok.  That’s good to know.  What exactly is the difference…I understand Paraag deals a lot with contract negotiations, but beyond that, what’s the difference in their roles.

JY: They work together.  So Scot is really on the talent evaluation side and overseeing the contract negotiation.  So, the guys we just extended, Joe Staley, Brian Jennings, those guys.  Paraag physically negotiates the contract, but that’s a conversation between Paraag and Scot of, "Ok Scot, who do we want to try and extend?  What are we looking at?"  And Paraag is responsible for trying to set the market value, trying to see, ok, what are other left tackles making, what are other long snappers making, in those examples.  And bringing to Scot the details and the data and saying, "Ok, this is what we think we can get these deals done for."  And Scot will say, ok, that’s our range.  If we can get it up to here, great.  If we can’t get it done at this price and if it doesn’t make us a better team, we’re not going to overspend to get somebody.  So that’s really where they work together.  So Paraag doesn’t really do the talent evaluation.  He does a lot of the other evaluations and really the market research, and then the actual contract negotiations.

NN: I kind of wanted to switch gears to stadium stuff.  First, the most important one is, the Support Our Niners site mentions that they’ll stay the San Francisco 49ers

JY: Yep…

NN: Is that something the city of San Francisco will be able to fight, or is that just something you guys can kind of do and there’s no real issue?

JY: We have the trademark "San Francisco 49ers."  You can go through the phone book, or go on the Internet and type in San Francisco business and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands of companies named San Francisco whatever.  Or Rice-a-roni, the San Francisco treat – a good example of that.  So, there are a lot of examples outside of professional sports.  They don’t own the rights to the name San Francisco.  And especially when we have it trademarked San Francisco 49ers, it’s not something we’re concerned with if there’s ever any legal dispute.  And that’s why I don’t see an issue with it at all.  It doesn’t mean that they can’t sue…

NN: Yea, anybody can sue…

JY: But I’m not really concerned with it.

NN: You had mentioned Carmen Policy earlier.  I haven’t seen any updates on it in a while, but there was talk that he was working with the city of San Francisco on trying to retain the team.  Is there anything going on with that.

JY: Do you mean, with?

NN: As far as with him, the interest…he worked with you guys and now he’s kind of like on the other end, working with you in a different aspect.

JY: I would say he’s not working against us.  Lennar, the developer at Candlestick, they’re trying to do a retail/residential mix.  10,000 condos and some retail space and really do an urban development and try to create something that’s a very unique development for the Bayview/Hunters Point community, a place where there hasn’t been a lot of development in a long time.  So Lennar hired Carmen, to sort of be their liaison between the 49ers and Lennar with their land development deal.  Since Carmen obviously has a lot of expertise, a lot of working knowledge with the NFL and trying to get stadiums done, he’s really the point person.  So he’s in charge of trying to get the site as good as it can possibly be for an NFL team. 

So we’ve had a good working relationship, and a lot of the issues that exist in San Francisco, especially at Hunters Point, they’re not issues that Carmen created, they’re not issues that Mayor Newsom created, it’s transportation and infrastructure issues.  And I’m sure you’ve been to Candlestick…it’s not the easiest place to get in and out of, and if you take fans farther away from the freeway, with less access to roads and real main thoroughfares, and even less access to public transit, that’s something for the 49ers, it’s difficult for us to say that’s what we want our fans to go through every Sunday.  So there are ways to overcome those transportation issues, and that’s really up to Carmen to try to fix those and figure out how to deliver a gameday experience that meets what can be here in Santa Clara.

NN: Yea, I took the train down here today and I can get here faster than I can to Candlestick.

JY: That’s what we see here.  And you can even be in the city and it can be easier, it might not be quicker…it might not be a shorter distance, but you should be able to get in and out in a quicker manner.  I think about 80% of our season ticket holders, they should be able to get in and out of Santa Clara easier than what they can today at Candlestick.  And that’s a huge benefit.

NN: Back to the stadium itself.  There’s the talk of the…I believe $330 million will be through a bond through the stadium authority…

JY: And those are very adjustable numbers.

NN: Right. I understand it’s still very early in the process.  It’s my understanding that a chunk of that would be recovered through naming rights revenues.  Have you considered the issues that Dallas and the New York teams have had in terms of getting naming rights sold at reasonable revenues?

JY: We’ve absolutely looked at that.  And I think that’s part of the reason why, I mean we’re shooting for 2012, and when you see what’s going with the economy, there’s no reason to push it for 2012 when that market just isn’t there.  So I think we’ve given ourselves enough room by looking at 2014.  I think the economy is at least settled.  I don’t know that it’s going to bounce back up, but I think most companies are where they’re gonna be and they’re gonna navigate for the next 12 months and figure out, ok, we don’t think we need more layoffs, is it time to really start ramping back up.  And I think that will play well into when we’re looking to open the building.  But I think, as a follow-up question, if there’s no naming rights market, if people don’t want to buy stadium builders’ licenses, then this deal doesn’t move forward.  It’s that simple.

NN: Speaking of the SBLs, is there anything that you can say to a 49ers fan that kind of views it as, "Well I’m paying money for the rights just to buy season tickets," when right now you can just buy your season tickets.

JY: Well obviously it’s a way to help finance the new stadium.  And without that I don’t think you can finance a new stadium.  It’s more than just paying for the right to have tickets.  You’re getting rights, you’re getting the ability to move over to the new building. You’re getting the ability to have access to all the other events that are taking place there.  And there will be a lot of other benefits that go along with those.  Do you have season tickets now?

NN: I don’t, no.

JY: You can go on Craigslist, you can go on eBay, and you can search the secondary ticket rights market.  I mean you can see that there’s a seat license market that’s already there, a secondary market amongst fans today, where fans are selling the rights to their two seats for thousands of dollars.  So, it’s not like this market doesn’t already exist.  It’s already there because fans see a value to it.  So I think that the folks that are buying the SBLs, they will be able to turn around and sell those and I think they will see that as a real investment.  And that’s been the case in many other markets throughout the country.  Especially in a big, dominant market like San Francisco where you have a lot of fans that are waiting to buy those seats.  You will be able to turn around and sell those to somebody else at somebody else if you decide you want to make that economic decision for yourself.

NN: Roger Noll has said that relative to other stadium deals, Santa Clara is getting one of the better deals ever.  Do you think that the 49ers have conceded too much?  Or given the economics of the times, it’s just something that had to be done?

JY: I think when you look at any professional sports buildings that have gone up in California, you know, you look at AT&T ballpark, there’s really no public money that went into that.  There’s some redevelopment money and some infrastructure money, but that was a privately financed stadium.  I think the stadium in San Diego, Petco, I’m almost positive that was a privately financed stadium.  And you look at the NFL stadiums that are in California, you’ve got the Raiders, you’ve got the 49ers, and you’ve got the Chargers, which are the three oldest stadiums in the league.  So there’s not a huge appetite for public money in California. 

And I think when you look at the deal that we have with Santa Clara, it’s a win-win.  We have a great site.  Is there investment less than in most other municipalities?  Yes, but it’s still a significant investment for the city of Santa Clara.  And you can’t treat a $79 million investment as well, you know, it’s chump change.  It’s not.  It’s a big investment for the city and it’s important that there’s no impact to the taxpayers of Santa Clara and no impact to the city’s general fund.  But I think it’s something we can work together, and if we have a good partnership we’ll make this project work.

NN: There was a mention of $35 million that was going to come from the hotels.  I’m assuming the hotels would probably want to vote for that since a new stadium means more revenue for them.  But do you have a backup plan in case that doesn’t happen?

JY: I mean $35 million, it would have to be funded somewhere else.  There are definitely potential shortfalls in this plan.  When you brought up the naming rights, etc., the $35 million coming from the hotels, but we’re pretty confident that the hotels are on board.  We sat down and talked to the 8 hotels that would make up this new Mello-Roos district and they see the benefit of bringing this stadium.  The only people that are really being taxed are the hotels and they’re the ones that are voting for it and they want this to happen because they know what economic impact this is gonna have for their business.

NN: Well, I think that covers most of the stadium stuff.  I had a couple more football-related questions.

JY: Sure.

NN: The stadium, off the field, was probably one of the more exciting things to happen in a while.  What about the on-field product has you most excited this offseason?

JY: You know I keep hearing things about the minicamps and the OTAs, and it’s hard to really assess guys when they’re just in shorts and helmets.  But, the thing that you can assess is the feeling.  And the guys are down there, working out early in the morning.  Because I get here early, I’m here usually around 6:15, 6:30.  And usually around 6:30, 6:45 guys are starting to roll in and starting to get their workouts in.  And you can see that team bond starting to build, and guys starting to hold each other accountable.  Where Coach Singletary has really set the bar and said this is my standard; but now the players are starting to pick up on that.  Where, yea that’s Coach’s standard, but this has to be our standard for us to win.  And you see leaders really starting to emerge and that makes me feel good.  Now, does that mean you’re going to win football games?  I have no idea what’s going to make you win a football game or not.  It’s about having the right talent, the right coaching staff and the right feeling in the locker room, and I think we’re starting to get there. 

You know, we haven’t been successful for 7 years, we haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002.  That’s something that needs to change, but it has to change from the mindset first.  I think that we’ve added enough talent to be successful.  I think our defense is going to be very strong this year.  Obviously on offense you’ve got some issue at quarterback of which guys is gonna be your quarterback.  But I think we’re excited about both Shaun and Alex because they both won for us.  Shaun finished the season very well.  When Alex was healthy, Alex played very well for us and he’s a young talented guy.  So I think either way you’re pretty happy with either one of those guys.  And I think we’ve started to build enough pieces around that you can really make something happen on offense to complement the defense. 

And you see the guys starting to work together where it’s not just this unit goes here, this unit goes here.  The offense, the defense, the special teams are really starting to come together and being one team.  And that’s what we had in the 80s and 90s.  You had everybody fighting for the same common goal and I think that’s something that’s been lacking here for a while.  It’s really, well the offense does their thing and the defense does their thing.  And sometimes the defense plays well, sometimes the offense plays well.  We can’t really find a way to put a full game together.  Well, that’s what Coach Singletary I think is bringing to the table.  And you started to see that a little bit last year where we played well on both sides of the ball.  Or we didn’t play as well as we could, but the defense made a stop when they needed one and the offense came down and scored.  That’s what you need in order to win and that’s what I see right now is that starting to build.

NN: With Coach Singletary, was there a specific time in the season when you just knew he was the guy who was going to be here in 2009?

JY: I think it was a progressive process where you obviously knew his passion, you knew the guys were going to buy into what he was saying.  But it’s one of those things where ok, is it just gonna be a game or two or are we really going to turn this thing around.  And I think you saw it probably in the Monday night game, where you’re a yard away from beating the Cardinals on Monday night.  And if we win that game and go 8-8, or if we win that game, do we end up pulling out the game in Miami, do we end up pulling out another game somewhere and winning the division.  And you hardly ever see a team turn around in the middle of the season when you have a new coach.  You might see one or two games, or a spurt, but we got consistently better throughout the season.  And it was just something that kept building momentum and building momentum. 

When we sat down before the Washington game, we talked about it and said, "Coach, we want you to take over, drop the interim title, be the head coach."  And he was ecstatic.  He said, "I think the right way to do it is announce it to the players right afterwards because that’s where this starts."  And I mean his comment was just outstanding.  That’s all he said.  And people asked us afterwards, what if you lost?  Well, that was just something that didn’t enter in my mind, Scot’s mind, coach’s mind, my parents’ mind, because the feeling was, that’s not an option for us.  That’s not even something on the table, that’s not something that we considered.  And that’s what I’m talking about, that feeling of we’re gonna win football games because we’re in this thing together.  I mean you could see it and you could feel it for the Washington game.  And you saw us come back.  We were up, we let ‘em back in, and then we ended up shutting the door on them.  That’s something that this team hasn’t been able to do for a long time.  And I think it’s pretty clear that Coach Singletary has done a very good job of being able to shut the door on opponents.

NN: So, Arizona kind of limped into the playoffs then took off and managed to make it to the Super Bowl.  Did that raise your own expectations about the 49ers heading into 2009, or were you already, did you already have this feeling that we can play with anybody in this league on any given Sunday?

JY: I think we can play with anybody in this league.  The goal is to win our division.  That’s the first goal.  If you win your division and you get into the playoffs, you can have a season like Arizona where you can say, well this is a 9-7 team, they don’t deserve to be there, there are other teams in the AFC that have 11 wins and they’re not in the playoffs and you know, this isn’t fair.  Well, what’s fair is winning your division.  Those are the rules, and division play is the most important thing.  And if you win your division, which I think we can win the NFC West, I think we’re poised to win the NFC West and that’s what the goal is, and you get into the playoffs, anything can happen.  It’s a brand new season.

So I don’t know if what the Cardinals did raised our expectations.  I think it made it a lot clearer for our players that when you keep talking about, "all you need to do is win the division, once you get into the playoffs then you really do control your own destiny;" You don’t believe that until you see a team that you’re really familiar with, like the Cardinals, get in, and, I don’t know if they limped in, but that’s what people like to say.  They were a very good football team last year.  But they raised their game to the next level once they got in and that’s something that we need to learn from and see that it’s a possibility to get in and raise your level, and who knows what happens.  And I think we’ve got the ability to have that type of season.

NN:  Ok.  If you’ve got anything you wanted to say to some of the more hard-core fans of the team…

JY: I’m appreciative of all the fans that are there and I think we received a lot of good feedback with Coach Singletary and I think there’s a good positive feeling right now going forward with the team.  And you know, just, just watch.  I mean I think it’s going to be a very exciting season.  And, I know as a fan I’m very, very excited.  I mean I can’t tell you how excited I am to get this thing going.  It’s frustrating to just watch OTA practices.  It’s like, alright, let’s get to August.  Let’s get camp going and let’s get to the real games.  I just think it’s going to be a very fun season.

And with the stadium, we’re getting a lot closer.  I think the analogy that I made earlier was that we’ve clinched this playoff spot, won our division, but there’s still a lot of tough opponents to go.  We feel pretty good about our team and our chances to move forward and win at a ballot, when the city of Santa Clara puts us on the ballot.  And hopefully we’re gonna have a brand new football stadium, the newest football stadium in California very soon.

NN: Sounds good.  Thank you very much for your time.  This was fantastic.

After looking back over this, I like the little swipe (even if unintentional) at the Patriots.  They were the only 11 win team to not make the playoffs and while I'm sure Jed didn't mean anything by it, it's always amusing thinking of their whining fans.  Additionally, one of the more intriguing comments was in response to the naming rights question.

A transcript of an interview doesn't quite reflect the emotions, but I can tell you he was definitely excited about the team and the upcoming season.  I know there are folks out there who are down on this offseason, but Jed York is definitely not in that crowd.  A little passion in ownership is most definitely a good thing.