Baalke leading candidate for NFL Exec of Year

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Baalke leading candidate for NFL Exec of Year

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers are cleaning up in the win-loss column. And, when that time comes, they figure to clean up in postseason awards, too.Jim Harbaugh is the leading candidate for NFL Coach of the Year. Really, he's the only candidate.
And I'm not sure voters need to look outside the 49ers for another legitimate candidate for NFL Executive of the Year, either.Obviously, team president Jed York played a huge role in hiring Harbaugh. But York made it clear that the general manager would hire the head coach. And that general manager, Trent Baalke, has pushed all the right buttons in his first year with his new title.The 49ers already had a strong nucleus of players. But beginning with the hiring of Harbaugh to a five-year, 25 million contract, Baalke was spot-on with his moves.Harbaugh was the 49ers' most lucrative and flashy offseason acquisition. But Baalke was also the point man during the draft, which netted pass-rusher Aldon Smith, third cornerback Chris Culliver, backup running back Kendall Hunter and starting fullback Bruce Miller.And during the frenetic free-agent signing period, the 49ers made several key moves to upgrade some key positions:--The club signed cornerback Carlos Rogers to replace released veteran Nate Clements.--The 49ers signed veteran Donte Whitner and re-signed Dashon Goldson to fill the safety positions.
--Kicker David Akers was signed to replace Joe Nedney.--The 49ers did not overpay to retain center David Baas. Then, they brought in respected veteran Jonathan Goodwin to take his spot. And they wisely spent the money left over.
--The most money the 49ers spent on a player contract went to defensive end Ray McDonald, who has upgraded the pass rush as an every down player. The 49ers have not felt the loss of nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, as Isaac Sopoaga moved over to fill the position in the middle of the defense.--The 49ers also locked up running back Frank Gore to a reasonable, three-year contract that eased Gore's concerns before the start of the regular season.--The 49ers also picked up receiver Braylon Edwards from the NFL bargain bin. He has yet to make a major impact, but he is a starter who still might factor prominently in the offense.
Here are some of the other postseason awards in which 49ers are on the "watch list" with seven games remaining in the regular season:Defensive Player of the Year: The 49ers have two strong candidates with linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive lineman Justin Smith. Both players would be logical selections for the award. Defensive backs Darrelle Revis (New York Jets) and Charles Woodson (Green Bay), and sack artists Jared Allen (Minnesota) and DeMarcus Ware (Dallas) are also strong candidates.Comeback Player: Quarterback Alex Smith. Some players, such as Tony Romo (Dallas), Matthew Stafford (Detroit) and Jermichael Finley (Green Bay), are playing at high levels after returning from injuries that wiped out their 2010 seasons. Carolina receiver Steve Smith has already blown away the numbers he put up last season in 14 games. Alex Smith missed a couple games last year due to an injury. But he is merely returning from an average season, as he threw 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions a year ago. But perception is everything, so Smith has a chance.Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aldon Smith has fallen behind in the race as his sack totals have slowed. He is not an every-down player, so that does not help his case. Von Miller (Denver), Ryan Kerrigan (Washington), and Brooks Reed (Houston) probably rank ahead of Smith on most ballots right now. But Smith can win the award with a strong conclusion to the season.

Jim Harbaugh: I deserve a medal for lasting so long under 49ers ownership

Jim Harbaugh: I deserve a medal for lasting so long under 49ers ownership

In Kyle Shanahan’s first breath after being introduced as 49ers head coach on Feb. 9, he mentioned Jim Harbaugh, along with Bill Walsh, George Seifert and Steve Mariucci.

The head coach of Michigan was listening, and he appreciated the gesture.

“It was very flattering that he said nice things about us at his news conference, and I appreciated that,” Harbaugh said on "The TK Show," a podcast from Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group.

“Now, I don’t think I was there long enough to be compared with Bill Walsh or Coach Seifert, etc. But I think did – and correct me if I’m wrong – I think we did set a record for coaching there the longest under the present ownership, if I’m not wrong.”

That is correct.

Since John and Denise York took over control of the 49ers in 2000 from Denise’s brother, Eddie DeBartolo, the 49ers have employed eight head coaches. Mike Nolan was fired after seven games of his fourth season. The two coaches who followed Harbaugh -- Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly -- were fired after 5-11 and 2-14 seasons, respectively.

Harbaugh’s teams advanced to the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons, including a Super Bowl appearance. He and the 49ers “mutually parted ways,” the club announced, immediately after the team finished with an 8-8 record in 2014.

“I take pride in that,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe there should be an endurance medal, a courage medal, for that.”

Shanahan mentioned Harbaugh during his opening remarks at the introductory press conference earlier this month:

“I’ve got to start out thanking Jed and the whole York family. Giving me this opportunity is, it’s a dream come true and it’s not just an opportunity to be a head coach, but to be a head coach at a place like this where you talk about Bill Walsh, you talk about George Seifert, Steve Mariucci, Jim Harbaugh and you can go down the line with the coaches.”

Said Harbaugh, “Just appreciated it. Appreciated it, and not just for me personally, but appreciated that for all the wonderful players we had and the wonderful coaches and the effort that was put in. People poured their hearts and souls into those years. It’s just appreciated that Kyle would make that comment.”

Harbaugh said he has deep respect for Shanahan and new 49ers general manager John Lynch, whom Harbaugh asked to speak to his Stanford teams during his four-year tenure as head coach.

“Yeah, I would’ve loved to have worked for John Lynch,” Harbaugh said. “He reminds me a lot of the athletic director we have here Warde Manuel, who’s also a former player and a teammate of mine. Common sense guys who are team guys, just the way they go about their business always speaks volumes.

“I thought John took note when they were going through the process. e didn’t want his name mentioned and I think that’s . . . I don’t know if a lot of people noticed that, but I think that’s a profound thing. I think that speaks volumes for who he is as a person. He wants to do a good job and it’s for the right reasons. He’s a competitor at the highest level, so I have great respect for that.”

Kawakami also asked Harbaugh about whether he believes quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still capable of being an NFL starter.

“There’s no doubt he can be an NFL starting quarterback,” Harbaugh said.

“I’m sure Kyle, the coaching staff there and John will meet on it, they’ll think about it, they’ll watch, much like we did when we got in there in 2011. And they’ll make the best decision they can for the team and the organization and it’ll play out the way it’s going to play out.”

Lynch's hirings of Peters, Mayhew left no room for Gamble

Lynch's hirings of Peters, Mayhew left no room for Gamble

During the month the 49ers had no general manager or head coach, Tom Gamble was the next-highest-ranking football official and was charge of the personnel department on an interim basis.

But CEO Jed York made it clear from the beginning Gamble, whom Trent Baalke promoted to assistant general manager just prior to the start of training camp last summer, would not be considered for a promotion to general manager.

John Lynch, with no front-office experience, was hired over Arizona’s Terry McDonough and Minnesota’s George Paton. Before Lynch’s introductory press conference, he hired two top lieutenants in the personnel department to usurp Gamble on the organization's power structure.

On Wednesday, the 49ers announced what had become inevitable: Gamble was leaving the organization.

“I must thank Jed, the York family and the entire 49ers organization for the wonderful memories they provided me and my family, but it is time I move on,” Gamble said in a statement. “This past month, I have had the pleasure of working alongside John Lynch and the talented staff he has assembled. The team is in capable hands and I wish them nothing but the best.”

Lynch’s first move as general manager was to hire Adam Peters away from the Denver Broncos to serve as 49ers vice president of player personnel.

Lynch worked alongside Peters when Lynch took part in Broncos meetings and prospect evaluations, which included a trip to the NFL scouting combine, prior to the 2013 draft.

“That month, month-and-a-half, I actually sat next to Adam every day,” Lynch told CSNBayArea.com. “Those are long meetings. I’d listen to him and we’d talk in between about players. I just saw way back then, he’s a guy who’s highly respected in the league. I firmly believe in two, three years, he would’ve been a GM. He was on that track, at least.”

During Lynch’s introductory press conference a week later, he announced the hiring of Martin Mayhew as senior personnel executive. Lynch and Mayhew were teammates in the secondary for Lynch’s first four NFL seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Mayhew spent seven seasons as Detroit Lions general manager. Mayhew should be able to provide Lynch with valuable counsel as learns on the job after spending the past eight seasons as a TV analyst on FOX.

“Martin has sat in the seat as a general manager and his experience will play an integral role in helping us locate the type of football player we want representing this organization both on the field and in the community,” Lynch said.

Gamble recently completed his 29th NFL season and his 10th with the 49ers in two stints. After he was fired as Philadelphia Eagles vice president of personnel late in the 2014 season, and came back to the 49ers in the 2015 offseason.

While with the Eagles, Gamble was one of the few individuals in the front office who worked well with Chip Kelly. Gamble played an important role in speaking up for Kelly and bringing him to the 49ers last offseason.

Kelly and Baalke were fired after the 49ers' 2-14 season, and the 49ers promoted the ability to create a fresh start when a new coach and general manager. While the 49ers were expecting Gamble to remain with the organization through the draft, his spot with the organization was going to be tenuous with a new regime.

“He is a class act who has helped a great deal in this transition, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him,” Lynch said in a statement. “After working together over the last month, Tom and I agreed that it would be in both of our best interests for him to pursue other opportunities.”