SANTA CLARA -- There must be something inherently charming about Jed York that he keeps hidden from the rest of us, given that he manages to fire people and still get them to finish their projects. Most bosses have to have someone from HR in the room and a security guard outside in case things get hinky.
But Trent Baalke showed up for his last official day as the team’s general manager even though he’d been fired two days before (and despite an erroneous Twitrumor that he’d been escorted from the stadium by security), and Chip Kelly coached his final game as though there was still something to prove.
Of course, Game 16 went down the same as most of Games 2-through-15. The 49ers took an early lead, couldn’t hold it and lost to the Seattle Seahawks, 25-23. They played hard, even getting into several scraps with the ever-obstreperous Hawks, but all they managed to nail down in the end was one last cruddy memory and the second pick in the April 27 NFL Draft.
A draft, most people agree, that won’t provide the new general manager and coach, the old owner or the rapidly aging fan base a nucleus around to which to build the next glorious age.
In short, everyone played their roles to the end – the players praised Kelly, Kelly praised the players, Baalke did his radio show for one last round of justifications and then faded back into the mists, and York was conspicuous by his much-voted absence.
And two hours and eight minutes after the game, Kelly got the horse’s head Baalke had been given. Once again, Jed told us something he doesn’t like without giving any indication of what he does like. And perpetual dissatisfaction is no way to run a business.
In other words, with all this change, there wasn’t much change at all.
You see, while most folks will be focusing on the identities of the next GM and coach (or coach and GM, if Jed decides to work backwards), the atmosphere is what needs the biggest workover. There is no compelling reason for excitement around either of these vacancies, no more than for the Chargers’ coaching job (Mike McCoy got canned after losing to the Chiefs), the Rams’ coaching job (Jeff Fisher was canned nine days after being extended), the Jaguars’ coaching job (Gus Bradley got it on a plane ride home), the Bills’ coaching job (Rex Ryan cleared space for Anthony Lynn to lose his first game), the Broncos’ coaching job (Gary Kubiak announced he is stepping down), or possibilities in Arizona, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and New Orleans.
And yes, it figures that the 49ers would be looking for a new coach when the market is replete with more stable offerings.
As for the general manager gig, it comes with its own set of worries – namely, what kind of general manager Jed wants. He wanted Baalke until it became untenable for him to stay. He wanted Mike Nolan until the load of two jobs caused him to fail at both. He wanted Scot McCloughan until his personal issues became too much to handle. Indeed, he has valued his general managers far more dearly than his coaches, and that was even before Jim Harbaugh ruined his opinion on coaches by being too much like Jim Harbaugh.
But York fancies himself a better judge of employees than he has the evidence to prove, so there is no compelling reason for the quiver of excitement to overtake the fan base, or the look of sullen admiration from his fellow operators that he somehow found a diamond necklace in a kiddie pool. He isn’t even good at explaining what he intends to do, why he intends to do it or even what methodology he would employ.
That is, until he seeks out the wisdom of the national media on the theory that validation and name-dropping go hand in hand.
So until someone can explain what Jed actually wants his football operation to be, the identities almost don’t matter. The order of hiring almost matters more, because if he hires the coach first, it means he still believes he has a special insight into the game that allows him the luxury of not deferring to people who should know acres more on the subject.
Jed is good at several things – making a stadium turn into an ATM machine, avoiding the public, firing people and paying coaches not to work for him. Other than the money thing, none of these are useful social skills or confidence-builders.
And that is what he needs most right now – a way to indicate not just to unhappy fans but to the hiring pool that he actually does have a grasp on this football business, even if his grasp is to let go of it and hand it to someone who can repair what he has wrought. The “it’s one of 32 jobs so anyone would be desperate to have it” logic doesn’t work when the brand has been so comprehensively devalued.
So here’s where we are. Jed has to sell himself to people who know more than him to work for him, and his record is so tatty that it won’t do it for him. After all, no new job candidate will be comforted with “Well, I have a lot of experience firing people and paying them afterward” as a selling point.