Super Bowl 50 is officially a wrap, and that means all 32 teams are looking ahead to the 2016 season. The month of February following the Super Bowl is generally fairly quiet for news, but teams are busy getting ready for the Combine later this month, and free agency next month. The build to Super Bowl 51 is well underway at this point.
Over the weekend, I had a chance to speak with Ronnie Lott about the state of the San Francisco 49ers. Lott is one of the greatest players in NFL history, and his time with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s featured some serious greatness on both sides of the ball, and in the coaching staff. It is safe to say Lott knows a thing or two about excellence.
I asked him a few questions, including getting his thoughts on Jaquiski Tartt. However, it was his first answer that covered the majority of our conversation. We spoke for 25 minutes, and he provided me with a 16-minute answer to my first question.
I asked Lott how close or far he thought the 49ers were from being back in contention, and what might be needed to return to contention. I figured he might have a few specifics, but instead he took a more philosophical angle. I can't upload the audio, but I can tell you that he was incredibly passionate about the topic. He spoke about bringing excellence back to the team, and every time he said the word excellence, the passion flowed. It was quite fascinating.
Here is the full answer. Tone would be helpful to better understand it, so if you have any questions about his comments, let me know down below. The ending line in particular is fantastic.
Well first of all, the thing that you've gotta remember, and the thing that I've always felt like, is you're only playing for that. So, you're not playing for second place, you're not playing for third place, you're not playing for anything other than first place. And first place is winning it all. Every year you're either in or you're out. And, when you're out, there's always things to address.
And I think one of the things, when you look at this, is that they have to address a lot of issues. And the reason they have to address a lot of issues is that it's not just about just trying to fix a couple of things. So, when you're trying to get in, first thing you've got to think about, no matter if you win it all, or if you don't win it all, is that you have to start with the idea that this is the first day. This is the first day of a new opportunity. And you have to build a foundation of what that new opportunity's gonna be.
When you win it all, or when you're close to it, you still have to build that foundation. And one of the challenging things for the Niners is that this year, starting after the Super Bowl, is gonna be the first day of Chip Kelly's tenure as the head coach. They still have things they have to fix internally in their organization. They have to be united, they have to make sure they're all speaking the same language. I don't believe that they're speaking the same language. I don't believe that Trent Baalke is speaking the same language. So, they gotta get all of that to a point where, you know they've got Tom Gamble now. They got a lot of things that they have to get together on the same page.
So that's one. Bill Walsh was excellent at making sure that day one starting the new year, that excellence was going to be required from everybody. A lot of people felt like they thought they knew exactly what excellence was, but he would teach them what it was. Right now, there's no one in that organization that can teach excellence, that I know of. So, Trent can't teach excellence, Chip can teach excellence around a certain subject of offense. Not all offenses, but certain subjects of offense. Bill Walsh could teach excellence on all offenses. I want to just clarify that. Chip can teach excellence around a certain way of offense, not all offenses.
So, they gotta get that done. If they can get the excellence of understanding amongst all of them, that excellence matters, that's a very integral part to what they have to do. If they can get that captured in the first month or two, then the question is, is the excellence gonna translate to finding players that fit the style of what they want to be. I don't know what they want to be, because I'm not there, because I'm not around it. I don't know what they want to be, but again, Bill Walsh had certain things he wanted to be every year. Because it's a new coach, because it's a new system, and because you've got things that are all new, we are all going to be trying to figure out what is the new way of what they want to do. So they have to establish that very quickly. It's very difficult to establish quickly, but they need to do that.
And then, after they do that, they have to draft people accordingly to what that is. And what is drafting people to what that is, that might not be Carlos Hyde. And the reason is, that might be someone else. My point is, I don't know, but they have to draft to what are the needs for excellence. Bill was great at drafting to the needs of excellence. Roger Craig wasn't a typical guy when they found him, but he wasn't what everybody thought. But Bill saw something in his abilities. So they need to draft to the excellence of the needs of the teams.
And then the last thing, after they draft, then they have to form excellence amongst each other. And forming excellence amongst each other means that everybody has to have excellence on their mind. Eric Reid's gonna have excellence on his mind, but are the corners that he's going to be playing with, are they going to have excellence on their minds? Are they capable of having excellence on their minds? All of those things lead to everyone has excellence. And that requires a lot of a lot of guys.
And usually, usually, I believe that when you require excellence out of everybody, most people are afraid of excellence. And the reason they are afraid of excellence is because nobody has ever demanded it from them every day. The guys who know what that's like, that's why Belichick teams are made up of people who you don't think know excellence. But they love excellence. That's why sometimes the players he gets, it's not about the best athlete, it's about the guy who really wants excellence in his life every day.
So, that's why a guy like Tom Holmoe, he wanted excellence every day, so we drafted him instead of maybe another guy who wasn't the kind of guy who had, not maybe the right characteristics. You gotta want excellence every day.
And then once you get that in place, then you start learning how to play with excellence on the field. Now when you play with that kind of excellence, now they're going to have moments where there's excellence, and there's moments where they look like they've never played football, but eventually you have to build excellence every day.
And if you draft right, you can get lucky and draft Jerry Rice, who loves excellence all the time. Or you can get lucky and draft a guy that is like Guy McIntyre, who can show that, "I can be great guard, and I can do a lot of different things on the football field to create excellence." So, you have to have guys who want excellence. I don't know if they have a lot of guys who want excellence on the field. I know they have talent, but clearly, when they had Tomsula as a head coach, and this I was fascinated with the situation. If Tomsula was such a great coach, and everybody said that he was, Justin Smith wanted excellence, but did the other guys on the defensive line want excellence? If they did, they wouldn't have allowed themselves to let Tomsula down. But they did.
So now you look at the situation, he never demanded excellence from them. He's a good guy, we all like him, everybody likes him. We can all refer to him as a good guy, but I had a lot of coaches like that. You know, they were good coaches, but that guy's not better than Bill McPherson. Bill McPherson would make sure you have excellence on your mind. And if you didn't have excellence on your mind, you'd be gone. There were a couple players on the team that should have been gone, and were distractions and hurt the team. And hurt the locker room.
So, all of a sudden you want to elevate him to this position, and here we are now coming back to this word of excellence. And now, I'm going to talk about it in a way where, it's going to be hard, I believe, it's going to be hard for where they're at, is that Chip's got to diffuse about what people have heard about how he didn't handle the locker room. That's hard to overcome. If you have a teacher in a classroom, and people say that teacher is hard, a lot of people try to avoid that teacher. When people think that person is unfair, a lot of people try to avoid that person. So he's going to need to defuse all of that before he can talk about excellence. Because you can't talk about excellence and people think you're not excellent. So, he's got to defuse that. If he can get over that, and defuse that, and build a culture of people believing in him, then you can go to excellence.
But right now, one of my friends and my sources and my people tell me that all the Oregon players are not saying anything. They're not coming out and saying, "Chip Kelly knows how to build excellence in the locker room." I haven't heard it, and I haven't read it from any of the players. Mariota, did he come out and say Chip Kelly, he knows excellence, and he can build a culture.
So, you wait for those type of endorsements. You'll hear it about Bill, you'll hear it about Shanahan, you'll hear it about Holmgren, you'll hear it about these guys. These guys have learned how to build culture and excellence.
So now we move on to this next point, and the point I'm making is the last point. And that is, in this situation, where they're at. They have to fundamentally understand, it's at the bottom. Does that mean they can get to the top? You're dang right. If you look at my rookie year, if we were having this conversation, there would have been a lot of people saying, there's no way that they can have excellence the next year. It's improbable. There's just no way they can have excellence, let alone beat the Cowboys? No, no way. But it takes people who want excellence. Eric Wright wanted excellence. Carlton Williamson wanted excellence. Dwayne Board wanted excellence. Fred Dean demanded excellence. Hacksaw Reynolds came in and made us all make sure that we had excellence every day!
So, all of a sudden, just because you get Fred Dean, Hacksaw Reynolds, Charlie Young, Dwight Hicks, and you then transform it into an organization of excellence. And to me, what I just said about those guys, I don't know if any of the guys measure up to the excellence that those guys displayed. So, how do you get there? To me, I just named off a lot of ways you get there, and to me, they can get there. Chip Kelly can get there. All of it's possible, the question is, it takes a lot of sacrifice to actually get to the point where you can just smell victory.
Seattle, Arizona, and the Rams, when I think of those three teams, the teams that we compete against, when I think of them, every day, and I say this all the time, I have to have people across the field that feel like we can get them. We can get the coaching, we can beat them administratively, we can beat the ownership, we can beat everything. Eddie DeBartolo, I hope he makes the Hall of Fame, but he never thought that he couldn't beat the owners. Bill Walsh, the general manager never thought he couldn't beat, John McVay, never thought they couldn't win. You think Baalke, you think he can compete against [his counterpart] up in Seattle? That's who you're competing against. My job is to get up every day and beat him. That's my job. It's not about scouting. My job is to go up and beat him in every facet.
So for me, when I think what we're talking about right now, that's what I want, is excellence. And I want excellence to compete against the various people that I'm going against. It's very simple. And, every day, you wake up with that in mind. I'm waking up every day, if I was in the building, I'm waking up every day thinking, I'm gonna beat them. I'm gonna beat ‘em, and beat ‘em in every aspect. I'm gonna beat ‘em in revenue, I'm gonna beat ‘em in everything.
So, for me, that competition starts the day after the Super Bowl. We're all even, everybody's equal. The fascinating thing to me is that our record is what it is, and some teams are thinking, I'm going to get better no matter what. In our division, I know this, in our division, what frightens me is that right now, every day, those guys are hungry for another. That's what keeps me up late at night, if you had me as a general manager. That would be something that my hands would start sweating, because that's what the Niner nation expects. That's what I expected. That's what was in my hands every year that I played for the 49ers. It was an expectation of excellence, and if you didn't have it, then fricking go home. Fricking go home. That's why we won. So let's get back to that kind of conversation, let's get the coaches, let's get the administrative people understanding that.
On February 8, this is about one thing only, let's start kicking ass every day.