New Year's Eve night during the National Championship playoff semi-final between Ohio State and Clemson ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news that the 49ers would be firing embattled GM Trent Baalke AND in a surprise move HC Chip Kelly. The status of Trent Baalke had been known for a weeks now so his firing was not a surprise but the firing of Chip Kelly was very much a surprise. The speculation was the new incoming GM would be the individual who decided his fate but that the organization would have preferred that he would stay on at least another year in order to get a more accurate assessment of his performance as head coach. So now that CEO Jed York has reportedly “cleaned house” what should happen next?
The 49ers have yet to play their season finale against the Seahawks and in many ways the game seems quite meaningless. The only way the final score has any impact is if the Cleveland Browns beat a Steelers team that will be resting many of their big name players. The game serves as really a setup for what is to come as it is expected that the team will make a formal announcement after the game. The Hub’s very own Rob Lowder reported during an informal chat that Jed York would speak publicly to the media and to the fans sometime next week where presumably he would lay out what the immediate and longterm plans of the team would be.
As always when news of this nature comes out there are confirmation tweets and articles from the various other insiders around the league. Jay Glazer who is considered the best in the business and has consistently reported accurate stories about the 49ers has stated that Trent Baalke was informed of the team’s decision 2 days ago but that Chip Kelly has not been fired yet and would meet with ownership following the game. Jennifer Lee Chan of Niners Nation reported yesterday that her sources believe that Chip Kelly’s agent believed that a head coaching change would happen for the past few weeks.
Jason La Canfora of CBS tweeted out a list of possible GM and HC candidates that he has heard tied to the 49ers. He also indicated this morning that the 49ers had already begun doing their “due diligence” on potential GM candidates. I believe one can infer that they received word for the group of candidates that they have assembled that none would keep Chip Kelly as HC, this along with Matt Barrow’s reporting that Kelly was reluctant to fire DC Jim O’Neil as reasons why he was let go now. If you want a through analysis of the potential GM candidates Dan Hatman of the Scouting Academy, who has worked for the Eagles, Giants and Jets complied as good as a list as can be found.
Peter Schrager of Fox Sports and NFL Network also put out a list of names that are likely to be tied to the head coaching position. Some are former HCs (Tom Cable, Doug Marrone, Mike Smith, and Josh McDaniels) while others are young coordinators that are viewed as future HCs in the making (Vance Joseph, Sean McDermott, and Sean McVay).
It is obvious that the organization has been formulating a plan for a few weeks now and once Jed York has spoken publicly the real work can begin. Unless the organization plans to structure the team like Seattle or New England has, where the real power lies with the HC, the HC hire will need to come after the 49ers hire a GM first and let that individual lead the search for the new HC. The list of GM candidates that they actually interview will give us great insight into what their true plans are. It is very likely that whoever they interview will be looking for as much if not more power than Trent Baalke had in his time in the position. They will be looking for full autonomy to make decisions without much interference from ownership and other upper tier executives (here is looking at you Paraag Marathe). The stronger the pool of candidates are the more likely we do see the organization hand over that level of control to an incoming GM.
A new GM with full autonomy is exactly what is needed to get this organization back on the right track. Matt Maiocco reported yesterday that it is expected that the team will look to hire external candidates for the GM and HC positions. With an external GM hire comes the opportunity for a sea change for the organization. For far too long the organization has operated with the mindset that everyone (sometimes even though in the organization) are the enemy. That leaks to the media are a useful tool for the organization. All of this needs to end with the new GM, he or she needs to have the ability to unify the organization under one single voice, with one single directive with the mindset that the on field product is the only thing that matters and that pettiness and childish behavior is in the past.
The GM they hire has to be a blend of the old and the new in the NFL, that subscribes to the core tenets of teams who have succeeded in the past but understands and appreciates the modern game. One that promotes a versatile roster that can win in any fashion, that can run the ball and has an NFL level passing game, that can defend the run and stop the pass when needed. Whoever they hire has to use every tool at their disposal in order to rebuild the roster, they cannot succumb to the same mistakes Trent Baalke made of only depending on the draft and forgoing the use of free agency and trades to make significant improvements to the team. They have to give the new HC everything they could possibly need to succeed.
If the new GM has the ability to set the right organizational culture and has the ability and patience to hire “their HC” the 49ers have the opportunity to get back on the right track. Many argue that no credible candidate would want to be the head coach of the 49ers as long as the York family is in control of the team, yet they fail to see that the same argument could have been made in OAK, WAS, NYJ, MIA, and CLE. There are only 32 head coaching positions in the NFL, the perception of no one wanting to work for the 49ers is a false narrative. It is far more important for head coach candidates to have a strong front office that works with them to create a winning environment.
I understand why so many are down on Jed York and his family and why so many do not have faith in them to get this right but the opportunity to change that perception is right in front of them. If they are able to seize this opportunity by hiring the right GM with full autonomy and allowing them to hire “their HC” they can change the fortunes of this organization.