Former San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith occasionally chats with the folks on KNBR, and always has some thoughts on his former team. On Friday, he chatted about the team’s recent turnover (audio). He had some great comments about the decision to hire John Lynch. He admitted the name surprised him, but he likes that he has not necessarily become indoctrinated with some of the height, weight, intangibles BS that often comes with front office folks.
The hosts asked him about the work Jed York has done, and he was complimentary. Smith said York is putting his money where his mouth is considering how many coaching contracts the organization has had to eat the last three years. I agree with him that York wants to win, but I think the issue the past few years has been whether or not York has been willing to win on anything other than strictly his terms. The latest turnover hopefully means he willing to take a bigger step back and see where things go.
It’s a great interview. I’ve posted a transcript, but I think it’s worth a listen as his voice adds a little something extra.
His thoughts on learning 49ers hired John Lynch:
I thought there was another John Lynch they were talking about, honestly. Not the broadcaster. But, huh, why not? Players are the guys that turn the wheels. I don’t think it is hard as people make it out to pick the guys. Hell, Mike Mayock and all those guys pretty much nailed the draft the whole way through, so, what’s the problem?
On having GM who played on defensive side and was a big hitter:
I think more importantly, him sitting in there at the Combine and talking to these guys, you can kinda sift through the BS a little bit. I think too many times these GM guys, personnel guys, they get so involved with numbers and height and weight, and all these intangibles they think they see or don’t see, that they forget it’s just football, you know what I mean? So I think a guy like lynch coming in who played football, hasn’t been indoctrinated with all that upstairs BS yet, I think can just pick out good football players, and guys who like football and enjoy football. I think the main thing we had and all the good teams have is, you gotta have good chemistry in the locker room. Sometimes just bringing in the tallest, strongest whatever doesn’t always make for the strongest chemistry in the locker room. I think he’s been around that, knows that, and kinda knows what he wants.
On getting chemistry back on track:
Well, as you know, it’s all about winning and losing. And when you’re losing, the problems in the locker room are gonna magnify themselves. Every team I would imagine, I know in football for sure, 80 percent of your guys are sitting on the fence. They’ll go either way. And it’s that 20 percent that really push which way you’re gonna go.
I don’t know what happened the last couple years in there, but honestly, it wasn’t getting pushed in the right direction, and guys were probably doing their own deal. Going in, doing their job, not really trying to bring the other guys along, and the other 80 percent of your team will probably fall into that, and just, approach it as a job. They’ll go in there, they’ll get their ass kicked, they really don’t care. They’re just worried about if they got their tackles, their sacks, their couple catches, and they go about their business.
You gotta make it more than that, you gotta make it more than just a job at the pro level. Make it a passion. You watch it in the Super Bowl, Tom Brady and those guys running around, having a great time. Just passionate about football, and that’s what the Niners need.
On Shanahan’s final play-calling of Super Bowl:
I mean, everybody can second guess every call the guy makes. It’s players executing the calls. You coulda maybe gone safer, but that’s not how they got to where they got. They got to where they got by running and gunning and scoring on people. So I wouldn’t fault them with that at all.
On Grady Jarrett’s big game (ends with 49ers comment):
Oh yea, real impressed. I mean to get the pressure they were getting, and all those things, that’s part of it. That’s how you get to that game, and that’s how you win or lose those games. They obviously have some great players. MVP of the league, Matt Ryan, and all those type deals.
Now they’re going to have to restart and get their type of guys in here in San Fran, and whatever those type of guys are. I don’t even know, do they even have a quarterback right now? I don’t even think they do.
On how Jed York did in hiring process:
Well, one thing I know about Jed is he wants to win and he wants to win consistently. If that is possible without those top four or five tier quarterbacks, I don’t know, but he’s obviously putting his money where his mouth is. I mean, how many millions of dollars worth of contracts on coaching staffs has he torn up over the past two years. I think he’s there, he’s putting the money where it’s supposed to be, getting coaches in and out.
I kinda like what he did with these new guys. Sign them to two six year deals. So now the team knows, we got a new slate in, these guys are gonna be here for at least five years, six years. Let’s see what we can build. Him doing what he’s doing with the other two coaching staffs, they’ve got a lot of money on the books that they’re eating. So it shows it’s not about just the money for him. It’s about winning. That’s what I like.
On if they should try and bring back Vic Fangio:
Yes. I think that was one of their biggest mistakes was not keeping Vic there. I don’t know how you let people like that go. But, they went in another direction and it didn’t work out and it cost them money, so I guess that’s what mistakes do.
On with HC not as defensive-minded:
I think it works good as long as you have that defensive coordinator. I mean basically, how we were in San Fran was Vic ran the defense, Harbaugh and them ran the offense. It was like we had two separate head coaches. And Vic carried all the weight over there, and Harbaugh and them all carried the weight on the offensive side, and it worked great.
So if [Kyle Shanahan’s] calling the plays out there and he’s going to be in that room non-stop, he’ll be the offensive coordinator, he’s got to have that guy that can carry that, that’s like a head coach for that defensive side of the ball. So basically you have two different teams kinda going on.
On importance of potentially drafting another defensive lineman:
I mean it’s huge, but at the same time, they’ve used their last what, two top picks on the d-line? You can’t just keep going back to that same well, you gotta spread that talent throughout your whole defense and offensive side of the bal. So, if you just have three, four top picks on the front, your secondary is gonna get torched. I mean, a quarterback can negate that by getting the ball out in two seconds.
I wouldn’t go d-line in this draft. I mean you’ve got those guys, I’d go someone else just to kinda spread that talent around. They wanna run the ball, Shanahan likes to run the ball, maybe get a big strong running back to complement Hyde.
On late hire and potential turnaround on 49ers next couple years:
Well I mean the way they’ve done it, I’ve been on teams in Cincinnati where they did it. We were terrible, and they just put basically a bomb in the whole building, got everybody out of there. That’s basically what they did out there so, I would imagine they would do the same with the players. I would say in two years they’ll be 80 to 90 percent different roster.
On how to judge 2017 season:
I just think that steady improvement, team discipline, now they’re not jumping offsides all the time. They’re not getting delay of game penalties all the time, roughing the passer penalties. The dumb mistakes, you gotta get that stuff out first. And that comes from coaching. And then just player development. Your younger guys just constantly getting better throughout the year. And you see those little things, and then, it’s the NFL, you never know. When Harbaugh came, we were 6-10 the year before then we went 13-3. So, they have talent, it’s just a matter of utilizing it and getting the most out of them.
On if Shanahan/Lynch can put them in the best situation to win:
Yea, I mean he’s gonna be the offensive coordinator, so offensively, he’s got his system down. And it’s proven it can work when he’s got a great quarterback. Defensively, I don’t know who the guy is, so hard to tell.