By Devin Wright | @TheRealReno
It took eight weeks into the Niners' season for it to finally all come crumbling down. All the hard work, all the joy, all the excitement that the franchise built starting in 2011. It all just got flushed down the toilet.
On Monday, the Niners traded Vernon Davis, and somehow decided that Blaine Gabbert would be better than starting Colin Kaepernick. An unreal turn of events made real by the weak leadership of Jed York, and the poor work done by Trent Baalke (look at these draft classes starting in 2011.) Baalke is generally given credit for 2010, but that draft was laid out by Scot McCloughan... before he was released for hitting the bottle too hard.
So with that, I'd like to take a moment to unpack some of this. I'd like to take a look back to see where all this went so terribly wrong.
2014-15 Season - The Unraveling
The Niners had just come off a heartbreaking loss to Seattle in the NFC championship game. It was their third trip in three seasons under Jim Harbaugh, losing two and winning one before losing the Super Bowl to Baltimore. About a month before the season, a report came out that the the Niners actually tried to trade their head coach to Cleveland for some draft picks. That was then denied by the front office, but confirmed by Cleveland's (remember this as we go on). Then reports started coming out from Trent Dilfer, Dion Sanders, and Jay Glazer that Harbaugh has been losing the locker room. That the players were unhappy with him because he was grinding them too hard in practice.
As the season progressed, we slowly kept hearing negative things leaked about Harbaugh. That he let the players dress in different locker rooms, that he didn't care about the new stadium. That he and Baalke no longer were on speaking terms, that he pulled the players off of the Levi's field during practice to embarrass the owners. The list of stories just kept growing.
After an 8-8 season, Jed York and Trent Baalke told the media that they have had a mutual parting of ways with the winningest coach they have had under the York ownership. In the words of right guard Alex Boone, "He (Harbaugh) does a great job of giving you that spark, that initial boom," Boone said, via NBC Sports. "But after a while, you just want to kick his ass. He just keeps pushing you, and you're like, 'Dude, we got over the mountain. Stop. Let go.' He kind of wore out his welcome."
Falling short in the Super Bowl shouldn't equate to getting over the mountain. But Boone serves as a voice for the front office, so it makes sense that he would say something that reflects how the owners feel.
2015 Offseason - "A Mutual Parting"
In an interview with KNBR, York bumbled his way through questioning and stood by this "mutual parting of ways" narrative. He pounded his chest and said that the Niners needed to win Super Bowls, win with class, and that he could be held accountable for all of this.
My take on this is that Jed really thought they were a Super Bowl winning team and by saying "I should be held responsible," it meant that when the Niners eventually won the Super Bowl, he will be the one responsible for it. I don't think he realized the backlash that would come from it should the team falter. It's a perfect representation of someone who does not think ahead, or consider every scenario when thinking through a decision.
They started a coaching search that was a mess from the get-go, with endless signs that they had no apparent plan in place to hire a quality replacement. They told Fangio he was out, let Roman go to Buffalo, the told Adam Gaase that if he was hired he needed to hire Jim Tomasula as his DC, to which Gaase polity said, "I don't even get to hire my own staff, who are you guys? I'll pass."
So the Niners ended up promoting Tomasula to HC, Eric Mangini to DC, and Geep Chryst to OC. Read that again and try not to laugh. For me, this was the proof of what I mentioned above. The leadership had, and continues to have, no vision or remote idea of what their plan was and is.
The veteran players like Justin Smith, Frank Gore, and Patrick Willis all took a look around and decided they would be better off elsewhere, or even retiring. Chris Borland and Anthony Davis decided taking a break from football/not getting paid, would be better than playing for this staff. Hell, Michael Crabtree was offered more money by the Niners and he still decided to move across The Bay to play second fiddle to Amari Cooper and catch passes from a 2nd year QB instead of playing for York, Baalke, and their lap dogs.
Rumor is, at an owner's meeting, Jed York began telling people that he thought this team would go 11-5. He even made a comparison to the firing of Warriors coach Mark Jackson, and the hiring of Steve Kerr. I guess when you build a stale stadium 60 miles south of the team’s city, you really get on the high horse.
This Season - The Nosedive
It only took three games into the season for the owners to realize how wrong they had it. The offense looked terrible in losses to Pittsburgh and Arizona. The defense was being thrown on like it was a passing league tournament at DVC, and Kap's regressing was so bad that the coaches even admitted they could not trust him to throw in 3rd and long situations.
(Side note: competent coaching would be not telling the whole league that you don't trust your QB in certain situations. It kinda makes it easy to game plan for.)
Fans, and writers began asking where York and Baalke were in all this. Did they have anything to say publicly? Of course they didn't. Instead, they pulled their finger off the dam, and started again with the leaks. First by telling Jay Glazer that Kap was too isolated and losing the locker room (sound familiar?) Reports of a locker room fight between Vernon Davis and Joe Staley soon came out. And who had to answer of all these stories? Poor Jim Tomasula, a guy who could barely utter a complete sentence at his first press conference. He compared the fight to being at an Italian dinner, and that in the end, everyone kisses and makes up. You just shake your head when the coach compares his team to a family squabbling over chicken parm.
Now eight weeks into a terrible season we all could see coming, the Niners have dealt the corpse of Vernon Davis to Denver, and finally decided that Kap's career in SF is done. On Sunday against the Falcons, the Niners will roll out Blaine Gabbert, who will hand the ball to Kendall Gaskins, throw to Vance McDonald, and be protected by Erik Pears, Marcus Martin, and Jordan Devey. Oh boy.
Fans have already started looking to the future. Talk about trading Joe Staley, drafting Jared Goff, and starting the rebuild process has quietly begun. But think about that future with what is currently in place. The coaching staff is inept, meaning good young players will not develop. And how could anyone trust Baalke with making good picks in the draft anyway?
Arguably the best pick he has made has just been benched for Blaine Gabbert. The best player he has drafted that currently is a starter might be a fullback. And with Jed York believing that leadership is collecting Levi Stadium cash, hiding in the shadows, and leaking unflattering stories about players and coaching staffs, I just don't see how anyone could have faith in the future.
The Niners are waiving the white flag. But this isn't waiving a white flag for the season, this is a white flag for the franchise under Jed York and Trent Baalke.