Accountability for 49ers future is in York’s hands

For Jed York, saying the right thing has never been a problem. It’s been following through on those statements that’s been the issue.

The oft-criticized CEO of the 49ers has given us soundbite-worthy quotes over the past few years, ranging from “win with class,” “hold me accountable,”we expect to win the Super Bowl every year,” and my new favorite one “Chip’s [Kelly] going to be here for a long time. Period.”

The issue with these statements is that the 49ers organization may have cleaned up their arrest-record, but their leak-factory front office is no classier than before. York clearing house of Trent Baalke and Chip is holding them accountable, not himself. The 49ers have the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, not a Lombardi Trophy, and Chip? I’ve had colds that lasted longer.

This morning, just a few hours after announcing yet another drastic shakeup of the 49ers organization, Jed sat in front of the media and said some of those right things. This years buzz word? “Championship culture.”

On his appearing in front of the media for the third time in as many years,

“I apologize for being back here again and making a change, but I think it’s very important that we reestablish a championship culture. We need to make sure that we move forward and find the right head coach and general manager, two guys that can work together and reestablish the level that we all expect and want for the San Francisco 49ers.”

On his search for a new coach/general manager tandem,

“We need to make sure that when we’re working with a coach, when we’re working with a general manager, if they’re on the same page and they’re fighting for each other and they’re fighting together…I think our candidates know that I care about this team and that I’m going to do everything that we can to win. We’re going to spend the money to win, we’re going to do the right things culturally to win and we’re going to make sure that they have every piece necessary in their arsenal to win.”

On whether he’s embarrassed at what’s unfolded regarding the team under his watch,

“Absolutely. I am. I mean, this isn’t acceptable to me. It’s not. Our fans deserve better than this…I’m embarrassed where we are now and I’m going to do everything that we can to get us back.”

That last one didn’t have the word championship or culture in it, but you get the point. Jed stood there and said the right things like he’s done in the past.

He also said something highly concerning as well. When asked what his response was to those saying he should remove himself from making football decisions and hire someone else to handle it, York said this

“We have a president. His name is Al Guido, and I don’t make football decisions.”

For someone who is quite literally holding the future of his football franchise in his sole possession, the ability to make football decisions is exactly what York needs right now.

There were the usual mentions of his uncle, Eddie DeBartolo, of Bill Walsh, even a Jim Harbaugh sighting. But as York himself recognized, living off the actions of past greats is no longer enough to cut it.

York needs to deliver to the team a quality front office staff as competently as he delivers Coldplay and Taylor Swift concerts to Levi’s Stadium. And he’s promised to do so, saying

“I’m not doing this so we can get to 8-8, to get to 9-7 and say, ‘See, we turned it around. We’re good.’ My ultimate goal is to win a championship, win multiple championships, and that’s the foundation that we need to lay and that’s what we need to build for.”

The problem now is whether he will do what he hasn’t been able to do in the past- deliver on his promises.

As I stated before, I think that Jed’s willingness to move on from his long-time confidant and ally in Baalke, and his willingness to pay two head coaches to not coach his team while actively looking for a third, shows that he is truly about rebuilding the 49ers brand of football at this moment in time.

But want and able are two different things, and York is going to have to actually be able to hold himself to the highest standards of competency while approaching the next, crucial steps for the 49ers organization.

No cutting corners, no hiring the nice defensive line coach who makes us laugh and is cheap, no power/ego trips that push out one of the most winning head coaches in NFL history.

Actual competency from York is more important to the 49ers now than perhaps it has been in decades. Save for when Jed botched the decision to keep Harbaugh over Baalke.

The good news for 49ers fans is that one head of the hydra has been cut off already with the firing of Baalke. No, York retaining all his power doesn’t necessarily indicate that he’s willing to take absolute accountability yet.

But it does give us something else to look forward to. With Baalke gone, York is all alone in the responsibility for what happens to the team next. Even if he did already preliminarily throw out Guido’s name, there is no more denying who is in charge of the show from here on out.

We can say that Baalke was at least half the reason that the 49ers let Harbaugh walk. We can say Baalke was the reason the 49ers roster collapsed. He was the reason that the 49ers apparently passed on Adam Gase as head coach. He was the reason the 49ers reportedly passed on Dak Prescott.

Baalke was a lot of things. But one thing he’s not anymore is a member of the 49ers organization. York remains as the lone survivor of the crumbling regime in Santa Clara. Guido and Paraag Marathe will be involved in some capacity most certainly, but their involvement in this debacle will be minuscule compared to York’s.

The hiring of the new general manager will begin and end with Jed. The hiring of that new general manager will determine who the 49ers can entice to become their head coach. And the hiring of that new head coach will lay the groundwork of a new tandem of football minds that face the unenviable task of trying to pull the 49ers out of the cellar of the NFL.

If York hires himself a pair of people incapable of doing so it will be solely on him. No one left to fire. No more buzzwords or quotes to hide behind a thinly layered veil of responsibility.

York can, and should, be let go of his position by his family if the 49ers don’t get this right again.

With Baalke and Kelly gone, York has given himself a clean slate for the future of the 49ers. He’s also placed himself solely in front of the spotlight for that future as well. If he gets this process right, then we can rejoice that the 49ers have found a way to turn their franchise around.

And if he doesn’t, then we can likely rejoice that York has exposed himself as a failure in the NFL. And failures don’t often stick around this league very long, even if your parents are the ones calling the shots.


Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.