sym·bi·o·sis /simbīˈōsəs,ˌsimbēˈōsəs/ noun
- interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.
- a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups.
After too many incidents of issues between the San Francisco 49ers executives, front office and coaching staff, Jed York seems to have done a much better job of playing match maker this round than anyone could have ever imagined. In the early going, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan are the epitome of a successful work marriage and it is exemplified in how they worked together during their inaugural NFL draft.
The drafting of Utah running back Joe Williams is a perfect example of how the two are willing to work together and respect each other’s opinions. Lynch had removed Williams from the draft board because he had “quit football,” which to him, does not exemplify the passion that he is looking for. Shanahan revived interest in the running back, research by the team ensued, and the rest is history. John Lynch recounts the process:
Well, just to be perfectly honest, you start having these meetings and you start to watch the kid. The talent was undeniable, but when you hear quit the team, it was like no, not interested. We started, Kyle in fact, kind of resurrected him and said, ‘John, have you seen his talent? Let’s watch it late in the year.’ We started watching it and so then we start doing some research, because the talent was, as I said earlier, undeniable. We got more comfortable in a number of ways. [Running backs coach Robert] Bobby Turner, our running backs coach, who spends more time on the phone with these kids than anybody in the history of this league, I can promise you. I think it was daily he was talking to Joe and Bobby started to get comfortable. I talked to his [University of Utah] head coach Kyle Whittingham and Kyle said, ‘Let’s be very clear, he did not quit the team.’ He physically and mentally got tired and broke down and he asked for advice on what they should do. He stepped away. They had some injuries. Kyle went back to him and said, ‘Hey, we’d love for you to come back but I first have to ask your teammates.’ They welcomed him back with open arms and then this morning I felt like the last steps, we had a lot of guys like Bobby and [vice president of player personnel] Adam Peters had talked to him, before I drafted a young man like that, I wanted to talk to the kid and it was the first thing I did this morning. I came in and I got on the phone with Joe. He just, I think there’s some things that I think need to stay private, but just mentioned to me that throughout that process he kind of addressed some things that had been bothering him for a long time and felt he came out a different person. I think it’s a wonderful story and it turned in from one, I have no interest, because my perception was anyone who quits a team I don’t want. And then I learned about the kid and I got a great deal of respect for how far he’s come and you mix that with the talent and it became someone we actually moved up to go secure.
Shanahan and Lynch also complement each other well in press conferences. Often Lynch, who is accustomed to speaking in front of a crowd, gives an introductory statement and Shanahan, who isn’t fond of public speaking, agrees with what he says and they move on to questions. One is the yin to the other’s yang, the black to the other's white, creating a balance that is thus far working out successfully. Both being hired at the same time was one of the reasons that both men found the job attractive, and seemingly why it is working so well.
In a business overrun with alpha males it’s very difficult to get the HC/GM match up correct. Case and point, former 49ers GM Trent Baalke and HC Jim Harbaugh. Each had “their guys” and did whatever they could to keep them on the roster/field. At the end of their run together this sometimes occurred to the detriment of the team.
When Jim Tomsula took his turn as head coach, Baalke was the clear alpha male and had control over the draft board and roster. Chip Kelly likely had say in who he liked on the board and how they would work in his system, but coming into an organization where the GM had a long tenure let Baalke remain in the driver’s seat. Kelly also had an unsuccessful run with his former team when he had total control over the roster.
The final element in this successful union is the longtime veteran within the organization, Paraag Marathe. In Peter King’s MMQB article documenting an insider’s perspective of the 49ers draft room you see how his involvement in procuring the trades that made 2017 one of the most dynamic drafts for the 49ers in recent history. He is the facilitator who helped make what Lynch and Shanahan wanted a draft reality.
It may be that Lynch’s experience as a player and analyst makes him more adept to understanding what Shanahan is looking for in a player. It may be that both see how a player will fit into their system. It may be that their personalities simply mesh well together as a result of mutual respect for what the other has been capable of. This is still the honeymoon phase of the marriage but all signs point to a lengthy and harmonious union in Santa Clara.