49ers a study in Management 101

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49ers a study in Management 101

Andy Dolich
CSNBayArea.com

OK, time to settle down and gently lower yourself off the ceiling. The Giants are coming to town with their late-season star, Mo Mentum. Ill leave it up to my fellow CSNBayarea.com 49ers Insiders to weigh in on how team ho-hum became team transcendent on its way to a possible sixth Super Bowl.

The leading business turnaround experts are looking at the wondrous work done by Jim Harbaugh, the coaches, players and football operations staff to discover the secrets of their stunning success. These management mavens should come equipped with microscope, telescope and stethoscope to figure out how this revolutionary resurrection took place.

Even first-year MBAs learn there are a few bedrock principles that lead to business success. The 49ers coaching staff used them to perfection on their joyous journey this season:

Narrow your focus:
One of the glaring errors of failing businesses is that they try to be all things to all people. Im sure you were in the group of about five fans in the free world that thought Alex Smith would be discussed in the same sentence as Joe Montana and Steve Young at the end of the season. This reminds me of a scene from "The Patriot," starring Mel Gibson. He is with his two young sons trying to overcome a British platoon that had captured his oldest boy. The instructions to his gun-toting kids, Aim small, miss small. Of course they overcame a superior force and freed their brother by narrowing their focus -- as the coaches did with Alex at the beginning of the season.

Expect to win:
I want winners, sounds great but You are winners resonates at a higher level with players. From day one the staff assembled by general manager Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh laid out a logical, consistent, step-by-step plan on how this team was going to win. No five-year plans here, lets try five months instead.

Encourage riskPromote trust:
The 49ers had been a team more predictable than a Lindsay Lohan meltdown. The coaches gave the players a mentality that taking chances was OK. We are not going to be who they thought we were going to be. When was the last time that you saw the kicker fake a field goal and hit the lonesome Michael Crabtree for a surprise TD? If I told you that Joe Staley and Isaac Sopoaga were going to channel their inner Jerry Rice and turn into pass catchers you would have spit up. Great managers promote trust in their workforce by supporting risk even if it fails.

Define a winning culture:
Companies in need of a turnaround usually have a poorly defined culture. In failing enterprises employees will not be able to answer what their company's culture is with a unified response. Its imperative that players embrace a single culture, one that will define success. The core values taught by the 49ers' football management experts defined that the organization is about winning football games. Anything else will be minimized.
Manage people:
Entrepreneurs dont invest in companies; they invest in people. When you look at the long-term picture, it isnt so much who you fire as who you hire or keep. Harbaugh has been there and done that when it comes to knowing every part of football culture. The immediate and total support and buy-in to Alex Smith was an early sign that this wasnt going to be business as usual. This decision was met with significant derision by fans and the media but the coaching staff knew how to manage Smith and the offense coming out of the gate. There was no ready-fire-aim in their approach. Their plan gradually took shape and built system-wide confidence in the quarterback and his leadership qualities. It has paid off beyond any ones wildest expectations.

See what no one else sees:
Trent Baalke is a football lifer who has spent hours on the practice fields of colleges and universities all over the country. There were many questions about how he and Harbaugh were going to mesh. Baalke is a completely focused professional who correctly envisioned the huge upside of Aldon Smith and the fill-in puzzle pieces of Kendall Hunter, Bruce Miller and Chris Culliver. The free agent acquisitions of David Akers, Jonathan Goodwin, Carlos Rogers and Donte we speak with our shoulder pads Whitner proved that Baalke has second sight, which is critical in making successful player personnel decisions.

Get rid of status symbols:
The work shirts early in the season gave the team a new vision of its future. It helped define the mental toughness we saw against the Saints. Everyone was part of the assembly line. Alex Smith appeared at the conference championship postgame press conference with his name stitched on his mechanics shirt. Who would have blamed him if he had showed up with with a T-Shirt cannon and blitzed the media with tees that were emblazoned with How do you like me now?

Share the rewards:
Wednesday, before the Saints game, QB coach Geep Chryst drew up the Vernon Post. He had coached for the Carolina Panthers and saw New Orleans twice each season. He knew there was a soft Red Zone tendency that the Niners could take advantage of. The Vernon Post became an instant classic and Chryst was given the credit. Great leaders always take the negative hits and give the credit to their colleagues.

Everyone is a leader:
The 49ers trail 24-23 with 2:18 left and have the ball on the Saints 28, 3rd-and-8. Harbaugh is talking to offensive coordinator Greg Roman in the coaches box. Roman suggests a play in which Alex Smith takes a shotgun snap and heads to the end zone. Twenty-eight legendary yards later Smith crosses the goal line. This wasnt a case of the smartest-guy-in-the-room syndrome but leaders working together to get the job done. The coaching staff assembled by Harbaugh and Baalke were all leaders. Without the following coaches this season would not have come together the way it did:
Brad Seely
Vic Fangio
Greg Roman
Michael Christianson
Geep Chryst
Reggie Davis
Ed Doantell
Tim Drevno
Bobby Engram
Peter Hansen
Greg Jackson
Jim Leavitt
John Morton
Tom Rathman
Mike Solari
Jim Tomsula
Mark Uyeyama

Dont worry be happy:
There isnt a 49ers team in nine years that wouldnt have folded being down 20-3 at the half in Philly or anywhere else. The coaches kept it cool, calm and collected in the locker room. The team knew through its coaches' confidence that it was possible to get back in the game. In the middle of adversity calmness is the ultimate cool. This was a happy team in the manner of Bobby McFerrin.

TEAM, TEAM, TEAM:
How did Harbaugh create this time warp to greatness from a decade of mediocrity?

Planning a turnaround takes an intimate understanding of a business or a team including its players, coaches, management, ownership, fans, training programs and processes. Powerful leaders define the culture and vision and communicate these directly to gain employee support. To have accomplished this turnaround in a nano-second is something that management consultants and the sports media will be deconstructing for a long time. The Management on the 101 is worthy of a Stanford Business School case study.

Over his 40-year career, sports executive Andy Dolich has held positions at the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A's, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and Philadelphia 76ers. He is the Sports Business Insider for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Until now, Kyle Shanahan’s hiring by the San Fracisco 49ers looked great because of his two-and-a-half predecessors – the last days of Jim Harbaugh, the misplaced concept of Jim Tomsula and the couldn’t-make-chicken-marsala-out-of-old-Kleenex problems surrounding Chip Kelly.

But now, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has told us all that Shanahan has a gift we in the Bay Area know all too well. Specifically, that Shanahan took too long to call plays to the Super Bowl the Falcons vomited up to the New England Patriots.

Now who does that remind you of, over and over again?

Yes, some things are evergreen, and too many options in this overly technological age seems to be one of them. Data in is helpful, but command going out is what bells the cow. Ryan said Shanahan was, well, almost Harbaugh-tastic in his timing.

“Kyle’s play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in,” Ryan told Bleacher Report. “As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you’re talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, ‘There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.’ You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

“With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You’re not being aggressive not running it there.”

And the reason this matters is because the Atlanta Shanahan had multiple good options on every play. In San Francsco, at least in the short term, he’ll be dealing with minimal options. That could speed up his choices, as in “What the hell, we don’t have Julio Jones.” But it could also mean more delays, as in, “Okay, him . . . no, maybe not . . . no, he just screwed up that play last series . . . oh, damn it, time out!”

In short, it’s growing pains season here, children. On the field, on the sidelines, and maybe even in Kyle Shanahan’s head.

49ers defense: Top training camp competitions

49ers defense: Top training camp competitions

Before starting six games as a rookie, Rashard Robinson had not played football since the 2014 season at LSU.

Yet, Robinson is the closest thing to a sure bet to win a starting job among 49ers cornerbacks.

Tramaine Brock was projected as the starting cornerback on the other side until his arrest on suspicion of a troubling domestic incident prompted the 49ers to release him more than three months ago.

The 49ers open training camp next week, and here are the top competitions for starting jobs on defense:

LEFT CORNERBACK
Keith Reaser has yet to make an NFL start while appearing in 28 games the past two seasons. The 49ers rotated cornerbacks with the first-team defense during the offseason program, and Reaser put himself in position to enter camp as the slight favorite to replace Brock.

Veterans Dontae Johnson and Will Davis will try to work their way into the picture. And the 49ers are hopeful talented rookie Ahkello Witherspoon will develop a willingness to play with more physicality. The 49ers selected Witherspoon in the third round. He has the size and all the tools to win the starting job, but there were times in college he showed an alarming lack of aggression as a tackler.

NICKELBACK
K'Waun Williams is healthy after missing last season due to an ankle injury and falling out of favor with the Cleveland Browns. Defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley, one of the few holdovers from Chip Kelly’s staff, thinks highly of Williams after coaching him with the Browns. Hafley said he believes Williams can become one of the top covermen in the slot in the entire league.

Williams lined up with the first-team defense throughout the offseason program. His biggest competition could come from Will Redmond, whom the 49ers selected in the third round of the 2016 draft but did not play as a rookie due to a knee injury. Redmond has some rust to knock off, but he did not appear to show signs of the injury during the offseason program.

RIGHT DEFENSIVE END
Arik Armstead is not the prototypical player at the “Leo” position. At 6 foot 7, Armstead does not have the low center of gravity that is typically associated with that position. But Armstead is certainly not lacking for athleticism.

The 49ers need a more consistent pass rush to assist their unproven cornerbacks, and this spot will be counted upon to provide more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Veteran Elvis Dumervil, who believes he has regained his explosion off the edge after being hampered with Achilles injury, was added last month to do what he does best. Dumervil, 33, enters the season with 99 career sacks.

Aaron Lynch is on notice as he enters his fourth NFL season. He moves from outside linebacker to defensive end in the 49ers’ new 4-3 scheme. Multiple competitions will be ongoing at this position, as the 49ers will look to determine the best fits for base downs, as well as passing situations.

WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER
The signing of free-agent Malcolm Smith raised a few eyebrows. It was just the offseason program, but Smith was as impressive as any player on the team during the non-padded practices. He is clearly comfortable in Robert Saleh’s scheme, which is based on the Seattle Seahawks’ defense.

The 49ers had Reuben Foster rated as their No. 3 prospect in the entire draft. They traded with the Seahawks to move up to select him at No. 31 overall. The 49ers seem thoroughly unconcerned with Foster’s shoulder. The club believes he will be medically cleared for the opening of training camp.

The 49ers might want to bring Foster along slowly, but it is clear they do not expect him to be a backup for very long.