Monday evening, I tweeted that a source told me assistant general manager Tom Gamble was Jed York’s pick to be general manager. Last week, York was specifically asked if Gamble would be a candidate for the job. York said the following (emphasis mine):
Tom is a very loyal employee. I think he’s one of the unsung heroes in sort of the scouting world and the professional world in the NFL. I have a ton of respect for Tom Gamble. But again, I think it’s time that we have two new people at the helm from the general manager and the head coach perspective.
The San Francisco 49ers have been interviewing candidates for the general manager position over the past week, and naturally, my tweet created an uproar. Fans have been operating under the impression that York is looking to make a significant change, and York’s own words would suggest as much.
However, as we have seen since the beginning of the end of the Jim Harbaugh era, he has not been entirely forthright with what he says. We want to believe he has the best interests of the team in mind, but sometimes he appears to be in over his head, and what is conveyed is not always how things end up playing out. Steve Berman had a great piece on Tuesday about Jed York and what he says and does.
I wanted to make one thing perfectly clear about what this source said. This does not mean Tom Gamble is going to become the next general manager of the San Francisco 49ers. This is a fluid situation, and while that might seem like a cop-out to some, with this many candidates, and this much change potentially happening, it could go any way. Louis Riddick or Eliot Wolf could become the general manager. Or Tom Gamble or one of the host of other interviews could end up with the job. That is simply the reality of this fluid situation. People believed either my source was lying or I was lying. Since my initial tweet, however, I have had two separate sources confirm that I am on the right track with this.
So, why is Tom Gamble still in the picture?
Tom Gamble joined the 49ers as director of pro personnel in 2005, when Mike Nolan first hired Scot McCloughan to be his chief personnel guy. Prior to that, he had spent seven years as a college scout. In 2010, he was given additional college scouting work, and was promoted in 2012 to director of player personnel.
Gamble left the team in 2013 to work for the Philadelphia Eagles as their VP of player personnel. He made the move because his father, who previously was a personnel executive, was ill and he is originally from out there. His father passed, and at the end of the 2014 season, Gamble was fired in a power struggle involving Chip Kelly. Gamble returned to the 49ers in 2015 as a senior personnel executive, and was then promoted to assistant general manager this past offseason.
Gamble has received accolades from everyone in the league and had high marks from 49ers former general manager, Trent Baalke. When the 49ers brought back Gamble in 2015, Trent Baalke described him as, “one of the most experienced, knowledgeable, and respected personnel men in the business.” Between 2005-2012, Gamble played an instrumental role with player personnel. It could be argued the 49ers were at their peak when it came to personnel during this period. It would be hard to argue his impact was anything but stellar.
According to my source within the 49ers, the brass believed they had a window to build a Super Bowl caliber team. They felt it was achieved by 2011, and was even stronger in 2012, when the 49ers fell to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. This might seem like an obvious statement, but their faith in the system that put this team in place was absolute.
Following the loss, and I have stated this fact on many occasions, Jed York blamed coaching deficits over personnel deficits. He believed the team should have brought home Lombardi No. 6, but Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff came up short at the most critical time. York gave Harbaugh another year as head coach, but it was done under heavy scrutiny, including reports of rumored trade negotiations with the Cleveland Browns.
Since Harbaugh’s departure, there have been insinuations that while Jed York wants to win, it has to be under his own philosophy. Among other things, York has become a big believer in football analytics. He believes Paraag Marathe’s algorithms and how they influence personnel choices can win Super Bowls. This has led to a disconnect for many fans, who either don’t understand the use of analytics in sports, or understand and support it, but think Paraag might be over-reaching in his role.
So how does Gamble fit into this? Ownership believes he was critical to turning the 49ers into contenders in 2011, 2012, and 2013. They came to the precipice of a Super Bowl victory, and Jed York believes Tom Gamble was critical to that. In addition, Gamble is extremely supportive of the team’s analytical efforts over the past decade.
When teams prepare for a game on a weekly basis, there is a significant amount of data accumulated. But, most fans equally understand there are a lot of moving variables. Even when it is possible to identify the statistics of the game, the data does not show the full story or guarantee future performance. A wide receiver is dependent on his quarterback. A running back needs an offensive line to create gaps. A speed pass rusher needs a nose tackle.
What about the game changing feeling of momentum? What about nerves? What about team chemistry? Last year, I wrote about Paraag Marathe’s influence in the organization, and I continue to assert it is accurate and fully details the 49ers trajectory.
The big take away with analytics is how you streamline them into an organization. You need the right leaders in place, and everyone else is a worker bee in their general guidance. There is no question in my mind Paraag Marathe probably knows more about football analytics than most people in the NFL. However, for someone like Gamble, Marathe and he are on the same page when it comes to picking up talent to fit what they are trying to do.
Inasmuch as the football guys have to embrace the analytical guys, the analytical guys must be willing to learn from the football guys. All the talent is worthless if you don't have the right people in charge. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they have not yet been able to bridge this gap outside of the Harbaugh era. If they do figure out a way to bridge this gap moving forward, fans could very well be singing a new tune about Jed York and Paraag Marathe. But with this fluid situation and questions surrounding the process, we are left to wait and see what it all brings.