49ers turn back clock with playoff run

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49ers turn back clock with playoff run

Brian Jennings, the sole survivor of a different era, smiled at the memory of 2002.

In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago, the 49ers' long-snapper said Wednesday.

It was. George W. Bush was in the early part of his presidency. There was no war with Iraq. American Idol was in its first season. The Giants had recently lost to the Angels in the World Series and no one knew if theyd ever come that close again.

Jim Harbaugh was a young assistant coach in Oakland, recently removed from his playing career. Alex Smith was a few months out of high school. Jed York was at Notre Dame. Bill Walsh was still a special consultant to the 49ers. Jeff Garcia was defying expectations. Terrell Owens wasnt looking for a new home because he was still with his original team. Steve Mariucci wasnt on the NFL Network because it didnt exist. He was coaching the 49ers.

That was the last time the 49ers won their division. The last time they were in the playoffs. And the only holdover from that era is Jennings, the long snapper.

It was a fun year, he said. There were a lot of veteran guys. We worked hard in practice and goofed off after. There was a lot of laughing and good times.

And a sense of optimism.

Oh, yeah, we were back, Jennings said.

Dont forget that 2002 was the resurrection year. It wasnt just one more season in a string of 49ers playoff successes. The 49ers had come through ownership chaos, salary cap hell and a massive transition. The team took a turn for the worse in a 1998 playoff game in Atlanta when Garrison Hearst broke his ankle. Three games into the next season, Steve Youngs career ended with a concussion. A year later, Eddie DeBartolo had to cede control of the team. The 49ers endured a 4-12 season in 1999 and a 6-10 season the next year.

But by 2002, the 49ers had finally managed to make it into a new, post-Steve Young, post-Jerry Rice era. They were pointing in the right direction, thanks to direction from Bill Walsh (we will not be giving credit here to largely absentee general manager Terry Donahue). Hard choices had been made like letting Rice go. The 49ers won the wild card in 2001 with a 12-4 record but lost in the first round to Brett Favre and the Packers in Green Bay.

In 2002, the 49ers won the NFC West, but were locked into a first round game, because Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Green Bay at 12-4 were all superior teams. The 49ers, at 10-6, had a couple of rough losses on their record.

But they won a wild 39-38 game at home against the New York Giants. And then lost to eventual Super Bowl champions, Jon Grudens Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on the road.

A few days later, owner John York fired Mariucci, a move as puzzling now as it was then, considering the trajectory of the team. And the 49ers have been a tailspin ever since.

Until now. Until, on the fourth try and after eight years of wandering in the desert - the 49ers finally got it right and hired the right coach.

What Jim Harbaugh has done is amazing. Astonishing. Not only getting the team back to the playoffs but potentially getting in as the No. 2 seed in the conference. Harbaugh had the Coach of the Year award locked up in about Week Four. Now hes vying for Coach of the Century.

And the only man who can really gauge just how amazing it all is, is Jennings.

I survived the drought, he said.

Hes the only player with a tie to Walsh -- having been drafted under Walshs watch. Hes the only player who made it through the dark tunnel of Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary, only to emerge into the lightness.

This week, Harbaugh dropping uncanny Star Wars knowledge called Jennings a Jedi Knight, not a Padawan learner. Harbaugh didnt say what he meant by that, but perhaps he was alluding to Jennings patience and foresight that it would all work out.

The Force is finally back with the 49ers. Its been a long time.

Tom Rathman to be inducted into 49ers Hall of Fame

Tom Rathman to be inducted into 49ers Hall of Fame

Former 49ers fullback Tom Rathman, who was not retained this season on Kyle Shanahan’s coaching staff, will be coming back to the organization in a permanent fashion.

Rathman, 54, who spent a total of 22 seasons as a player and coach, will be inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame, CEO Jed York announced on Tuesday.

York wrote on Twitter:

“No one epitomizes being a @49ers more than Tom Rathman. So happy for him to take his place in the #49ersHoF

Rathman discussed having a role on the 49ers’ coaching staff after the hiring of Shanahan. But Shanahan had already promised the position of running backs coach to Bobby Turner.

“It was all positive,” said Rathman told NBC Sports Bay Area in February. “I have no hard feelings. It’s just the nature of the business. Everybody just has to understand that. In pro football, coaches get fired and new guys come in and they bring their guys. I totally understand it. I don’t have a problem with it. Being in the business for 28 years, playing and coaching, you understand what it is. You can never take anything for granted.”

Rathman played for the 49ers from 1986 to ’93. He was a starter on two Super Bowl-winning teams and seven NFC West champions. Used mostly as a lead-blocker for Roger Craig, Rathman’s best season came in 1989, when he caught 73 passes for 616 yards.

After his playing career concluded with the Los Angeles Rams in 1994, Rathman entered into a career in coaching. He coached under Steve Mariucci from 1997 to 2002. He returned to coach with the 49ers in 2009, serving on the coaching staffs of head coaches Mike Singletary, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly.

49ers draft board consists of nearly 200 prospects

49ers draft board consists of nearly 200 prospects

The 49ers new draft grading system is inspired by the New England Patriots, but their draft menu consists of a lot more options.

“We’ve got just under 200 players on our draft board, that we see as draftable players on our board,” 49ers general manager John Lynch told reporters Monday at team headquarters in Santa Clara.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time in here and it was needed this year because I had a lot of catch-up to do. I can tell you that just (Sunday) night I finally got to the point, I always knew as a player like, ‘OK. I’m ready.’ That moment was (Sunday) for me where I said, ‘OK. I’m ready. I’m ready to go on this thing.’ That’s a good feeling.”

The 49ers have 10 draft picks scheduled for the three-day draft, including the No. 2 overall selection. With 73 players under contract, the 49ers figure to add approximately 17 rookies through the draft and as free agents. The NFL's seven-round draft will result in 253 players being selected.

Lynch was hired out of the FOX broadcast booth a week before the Super Bowl. The following week, Lynch assembled all of the team’s scouts for meetings in Santa Clara.

“When we first brought scouts in right after the Super Bowl we were kind of working off the old grading system,” Lynch said. “But what helped was the grading system that they use in Denver, which kind of derived from one that was developed in New England.”

One of Lynch’s first hires was former Broncos college scouting director Adam Peters as 49ers vice president of player personnel. New coach Kyle Shanahan was also familiar with the system because, like Peters, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff worked in the Patriots’ scouting department.

“In these last three weeks of draft meetings we moved over to that grading scale,” Lynch said.

“I’ve always been someone who thinks you should listen to multiple opinions and we’ve been very collaborative. I believe in strong opinions. Someone once told me, ‘Strong opinions, weakly held.’ So are you open to different thoughts and someone makes you think? But ultimately someone’s got to make decisions.”

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio recently told Boston-area reporters that New England's draft board consists of only 50 to 75 players who fit as draft picks for their team. The Patriots have seven scheduled draft picks but none in the first two rounds.

"I would say it varies year to year, but I would say our draft board is smaller than most," Caserio said. "We are trying to find players that we feel comfortable with on all levels that we would actually draft -- not that are going to get drafted.

"It's players that we would draft, that we would actually feel comfortable with in our program in some capacity."

49ERS 2017 DRAFT PICKS
1. First round: No. 2 overall
2. Second round: No. 34 overall
3. Third round: No. 66 overall
4. Fourth round: No. 109 overall
5. Fourth round: No. 143 overall (compensatory)
6. Fifth round: No. 146 overall
7. Fifth round: No. 161 (pick acquired from Washington in 2015 trade for TE Derek Carrier)
8. Sixth round: No. 198 overall (from Baltimore in trade with C Jeremy Zuttah for No. 186)
9. Sixth round: No. 202 overall (pick acquired from Denver in 2015 trade for TE Vernon Davis)
10. Seventh round: No. 219 overall (pick acquired from Cleveland in 2015 trade for Andy Lee)