The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up a 2-14 season, one of the worst in franchise history. It is no surprise then that the team has formally announced the firing of general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly. Adam Schefter and others reported on Saturday and Sunday the firings were expected, and Baalke confirmed his own firing in a pre-game interview on Sunday. But now it is officially official.
Baalke had been on the hot seat all season, overseeing a football team went from three straight Super Bowl contending seasons to three consecutive seasons that seemingly got worse and worse and worse. His drafting strategy yielded several day three gems, but he struggled finding nearly enough immediate big impact players. They found talented players in the first couple rounds, but they did not get nearly the return they needed as players retired and left in free agency.
There is no doubting that Trent Baalke made important contributions to the 49ers Super Bowl contending teams. He made some big draft picks and signings, particularly in 2011. But his tenure with the 49ers will be forever marred by two things in particular: 1) the medical redshirt picks not panning out, and 2) Jim Harbaugh’s departure.
The process of draft injured injured players made some semblance of sense given the depth of the 49ers roster early on. But as the team lost players for various reasons, the redshirts rarely developed as the team was hoping. They would get some quality play here and there, but too many of the picks proved to be busts. Whether it was lack of talent or the struggles of returning from injury, many just did not work out.
At the same time, Jim Harbaugh’s departure and the bizarre triangle that existed between Baalke, Harbaugh, and Jed York will remain shrouded in some level of mystery. Whether it was Baalke vs. Harbaugh, or Baalke and York vs. Harbaugh, or something else entirely, that will remain a major part of Trent Baalke’s legacy with the 49ers. Who knows what would have happened had the parties been able to work things out. Instead, we’ll wait for the inevitable “30 for 30” about the 49ers collapse.
Given Baalke’s firing coupled with the 2-14 record, it is not entirely surprising the team decided to fire Chip Kelly. You could make an argument that the roster was a problem, and so it is hard to judge Kelly’s performance.
Whether you agree with that assessment or not, the other issue is the departure of the GM. If the 49ers are going to bring in a candidate from outside the organization, odds are pretty good that person will want to hire their own head coach. You could find someone who would work with Kelly, but you are automatically reducing the pool of candidates. And in doing so, the organization would not be looking at the overall best pool of applicants.
It was a long year for Kelly and the 49ers. It was a shotgun marriage for a team hoping to put a band-aid on so many problems. Rather than blow things up last January, they decided Kelly could make things work. At the time it seemed questionable, and in hindsight it seems like gross incompetence. I think Chip Kelly can be a quality head coach, but with the culture of issues in Santa Clara, they needed a complete re-set. Maybe Kelly hired by another GM to build from the ground up could have worked, maybe not. But they set this whole thing up for failure from day one.
The next few weeks are the most important the York family have faced since the end of 2010 an the beginning of 2011 when they promoted Trent Baalke and hired Jim Harbaugh. The franchise is bottoming out in a bad way, and it is hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. It is a plus that the Yorks are making such a complete overhaul. Of course, if the Yorks are the real problem here, such an overhaul might not matter.
Removing that pessimistic view of things for the time being, the first step will be finding a general manager. Any GM worth his salt will want to hire a coach more to his own liking. Right now the 49ers are the only team with a GM opening, so they have the proverbial pick of the litter. They hold the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and a ridiculous amount of cap space. They also have questions up and down the roster, but there are assets to work with. The Yorks can find a quality GM if they are prepared to turn over the reigns for the right price, and get the heck out of the way.
Once that gets done, they can find a coach. If we hear more rumors about coaching candidates before the GM search is over, it will remain slightly troubling. Maybe it will be GM candidates leaking names, but if Jed and Paraag and company are leaking coaching names they’re interested in, we could just be looking at the same old crappy song and dance. Let’s hope that is not the case.