Since Trent Baalke and Jed York decided it was time to "part ways" with Jim Harbaugh, one of the buzz words they have thrown around is that this is not a rebuilding situation, but rather a re-loading. Baalke has repeated that since then, but as we have seen the turnover on the coaching staff, it is easy to wonder how this could not possibly be a rebuilding.
From a very general sense, I get how people view this as the 49ers rebuilding. They are changing the coaching staff, and if sources are to be believed, they are making some schematic changes of note. Whether it be switching to the 4-3, or going toward more of a power rushing attack, the 2015 San Francisco 49ers will look quite different in some ways.
And yet, as I have listened to Baalke and York's comments dating back to that Monday after the season ended, I think I have figured out why they view this as re-loading. At its simplest level, I believe York and Baalke think Jim Harbaugh was overrated as a head coach. I don't imagine they think he was a bad coach for the 49ers, but they don't think he was good enough to be worth the personality conflicts that were an issue.
Tim Kawakami mentioned something about Jed York telling some people he thought Tomsula could have won more games than Harbaugh. Even if you think that is completely made up nonsense, Baalke's comments lately have only further emphasized that the team is simply re-loading around the existing group of players. After Tomsula's press conference, Baalke had some time with the local media. He was asked about the re-loading comments, to which he said (transcript):
I think if you look at the team and in particular the players, the core of the team is still intact. Every year you're going through a transition of players; there's going to be players who retire, players that you can't keep due to free agency. So every year you're replacing a certain percentage of your team. This year no different than any other years. There's a certain percentage we're going to change. With respect to the coaches, any time you lose good coaches there's an adjustment, there's no question about it. In this day in age, it's how fast can you replace those individuals. We had a lot of success; we had three-and-a-half or I should say four years of a lot of success. That's difficult to look to the fans and say, OK, how are we going to keep this going?
In this and other interview sessions, he talks about the players in place. He acknowledged the need to adjust with the coaches, but it is very clear that he thinks with the right players in place, they can make things happen with just about any coach. And maybe it will in fact work out.
The closest precedent to this situation might be Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys. Garrett was QB coach in Miami in 2005 and 2006, then moved to Dallas where he spent three seasons as offensive coordinator, with the final two also as assistant head coach. He was interim head coach in 2010, and has been head coach since 2011.
Garrett operates under the enormous shadow of Jerry Jones. He has had to deal with plenty of nonsense, with some viewing him as a bit of a puppet for Jones and the Cowboys. Trent Baalke is certainly not Jerry Jones, but all indications are that he is effectively running the football operations side of things. The most notable difference of course is that Baalke is not the owner, so he would be on the chopping block if things go south.
If the 49ers struggle and they do not find success with Jim Tomsula as head coach, it will be interesting to see how much time Baalke gets before York decides it is time to blow things up. I am certainly hoping it does not come to this, but given the power that Baalke currently seems to wield in the football operation, it is not something we can ignore entirely.
That effectively puts the pressure squarely on Trent Baalke. I do hope for the best, but if Tomsula fails, Jed York is not going anywhere. He would have to deal with a bruised ego, but the stadium is built, SBLs are getting paid, and he will not be fired. And sure, failure would result in Tomsula himself getting fired, but I don't think anybody would place the blame specifically on Tomsula. People will be incredibly disappointed, but in reality, Tomsula is coming in with low expectations.
Trent Baalke is the guy who would have to eventually pay the piper. I do have confidence in Trent Baalke as general manager. People rag on him for his failures, but they choose to ignore his many successes. But this situation is a huge make or break moment for him. He and his staff have put together some great football teams.
And now, he has as much power as any non-owner general manager in the league. We saw it with the way he handled Thursday's press conference. This is Trent Baalke's team, there is no doubt about that. There is not a great history of this kind of setup having success, but maybe they are on to something and figure this out. We won't know for certain until football returns in the fall. In the meantime, it is going to be a fascinating offseason.