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Why putting together a solid locker room was the most important thing that John Lynch has done

The 49ers faced a lot of adversity in 2017 but the locker room was more unified than ever

NFL: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers have been through a lot in the last few years. The roller coaster ride had a few ups but many more downs until the final third of the 2017 season. Jimmy Garoppolo has a lot to do with that turn around, but it wouldn’t have been possible without a solid locker room that doesn’t point the blame. It’s the locker room that was built by John Lynch and his staff.

As news keeps seeping out from the New York Giants about it’s disgruntled locker room, remember that it wasn’t too long ago that the 49ers were in a similar predicament. Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh were in charge, one player started dating a teammate’s former girlfriend, and the locker room became very divided. While the team’s record that season of 8-8 was better than it was in 2017, the locker room was never close to being as unified as it is now. A lot of that has to do with who Lynch has picked to hang their helmets in the locker room in Santa Clara.

Building a winning culture was the theme of the offseason, but as the season began, the likelihood that Lynch and company actually had done so, was diminishing. The team did, however, show some fight. They lost five games in a row by three points or less, breaking an NFL record and the locker room never wavered. Unlike years past, players didn’t avoid the media or seem defeated, and they never lost hope. Somehow, in late October, the tide turned and the team was gifted a new quarterback in exchange for a second round pick in 2018 and everything turned around.

In his post season interview, Garoppolo mentioned that one of the most surprising things about the 49ers locker room was how, without wins, the team was so close.

When I first came in they didn’t have any wins but it was still a very tight knit group. To have that is rare. Especially [when] bad things happen, people want to start pointing fingers but there was none of that in here. Everyone had each other’s back, looking out for each other and it made for a good group.

Veteran left tackle Joe Staley, who has contemplated retirement, reiterated similar thoughts about the locker room and is reinvigorated and inspired to stay and “see this thing through.” He also expressed his surprise at the positive mood in the 49ers locker room.

Yeah 100 percent. I’ve never experienced anything like that, I don't think anybody else has really because I mean, if you look at statistics of teams that start, I didn’t learn this until the day before the game on Saturday but, teams that have started 0-9, the most wins that they have had in their whole entire season is three. Finishing with three was the record in the history of the NFL and we finished with six. I think that is a huge part of the locker room that we have here. No one was pointing.

I was sitting here and we were 0-8, 0-9 and I was telling you guys I’m still excited. My mind hasn’t changed, because of the locker room. The guys are special, and guys want to work, and no one was pointing fingers. There was no division between the offense and the defense, who was doing their job and who wasn’t.

That’s very easy to fall into because you want to protect yourself as a person, “It’s not my fault, it’s someone else’s fault.” Everybody was kind of looking at themselves and I think that especially with a young team that we had, and a lot of injuries, we had a lot of rookies step up and play significant roles. It’s pretty rare to have a lot of maturity from a lot of the young guys on this team. That’s another reason why we’re excited about what we have going on right now.

You can say that Garoppolo’s presence and play helped facilitate the 49ers new winning ways but it wouldn’t have been possible with a fractured locker room. Lynch filled the locker room with players who bought in. He acquired players who love the game. Kyle Shanahan’s coaching and play calling put them in a position to have a chance to win, and all of that together kept the mood in the locker room positive even after having the worst start in franchise history. These guys actually like each other and that goes a long ways, on and off the field.

Post script: Reuben Foster’s recent arrest does show up on the radar as an issue and the team will need to find a way to guide him. Bringing in Ken Norton Jr. may just be what the doctor ordered. What is undeniable about Foster though, is his magnetism. He exudes enthusiasm which is contagious. While he may need to be reigned in outside of the facility, his personality is appreciated inside of it.