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The Slow End Of Things - By Bryan Hersh Dec 27 2007

THIS CONTENT IS COPYWRITED, REDISTRIBUTION OF IT (including copy/pasting it to a message board, forum or bbs) IS PROHIBITED AND COULD RESULT IN LEGAL ACTIONS - feel free to quote up to 1 paragraph providing a source link to http://www.49ersparadise.com is included

The end of “The Season That Shall Be Forgotten” is now imminent. One last meaningless game against the Cleveland Browns is all that is left of a season that began with playoff hopes and ended with nothing but despair. For every quarterback that took a snap under center this year, there was further proof that the 49ers organization is now just a shadow of its former self. As bad as I feel for the players, and the fans of this once proud and storied franchise, it is really Bryant Young I am most sorry for – and while I do not intend this article to be a complete tribute to Bryant Young (such a thing already exists on 49ers Paradise) I do believe it is important to speak a little bit more about the true warrior.

I feel for Young, or BY as he is so affectionately known because he is the ultimate 49er. He is expected to retire at the end of the season, but even if he doesn’t, the following still remains true. He stands for everything good in football, and wanted nothing more from football than to be able to be in a position to pass a torch that the 49ers greats of the past passed to him. He wanted to finish what he started when he was drafted by the 49ers. Another Super Bowl would have given him that ability. Instead, his legacy will have to live on in players who have never had the taste of true greatness. Players like rookie Patrick Willis.

BY has experienced just about all there is to experience as a 49er – shy of playing with Joe Montana. He won a Super Bowl with Steve Young and Jerry Rice, and was part of a defensive line that consistently had 40+ sacks. He played on teams coached by George Seifert, Steve Mariucci, and under the watchful eye of Bill Walsh. He watched as Jeff Garcia emerged as a potential third legendary quarterback in San Francisco. But it was all taken away from him. Seifert left. Walsh left and eventually passed on. Mariucci was fired. Debartlo was removed. Salary Cap Hell struck the 49ers. Owens tore apart a franchise. Garcia was removed. Erickson bombed. Nolan is no longer rollin’, and the team once again has no direction.

And so I sit hear, typing today, and really I just feel bad that BY had to suffer through it all. The highs of his career, the true magic he was exposed to are now just a glimmer of history. It shouldn’t be this way not for the ultimate 49er. BY has seen the likes of Young, Grbac, Drukenmiller, Rattay, Stenstrom, Garcia, Smith, Dilfer, Hill, and maybe even others, start at quarterback for the 49ers during his career. A revolving door that in itself could surmise why the 49ers today are the laughing stock of the NFL. And so, I feel for BY, because he has been through what all of us fans have experienced since the last Super Bowl victory, only BY has had to live it.

I am sure as BY looks back on his career, he will be proud. Proud of himself, his team, and happy to have endured all that he could. I know every fan of the game feels that way about BY. Unfortunately though, BY could not save the 49ers. He was never even in a position to do so. All he could do, was control what he could control, and hope that things would get better. Hope to inspire those around him, and hope that one day, while he was still playing for the team, direction, pride and greatness would return to San Francisco. That day never came, and with an imminent retirement, it seems farther away than ever.

I bid BY a very fond farewell. He has done more than everything I could have wanted for him, and I know his mark – the lone positive in so many seasons of misery, will be forever left on the organization.

If the 2007 season has shown me one thing, it’s that the team is still a very, very far distance from ever being considered great again. The Patriots set a model for how to be successful in today’s NFL when Tom Brady emerged as a star. Find the QB, fill in the free agents around him with good players. The formula was that simple. In recent years, The Patriots have had greater success in free agency because of the overall strength of the franchise. But at the barebones, that was the strategy, and it worked magically. The 49ers have played four different men under center this season alone, and could have a fourth different starter if Chris Weinke starts against the Browns this weekend. Try as they might – the 49ers have been unable to follow the simple strategy.

I cannot however blame all of the woes on the 49ers lack of a quarterback. Certainly the team tried to solidify the position with Alex Smith – who if not for his shoulder injury this season, may have emerged as “good enough” until he truly reached his potential, or the 49ers found someone truly great. The problem quite simply is the approach that the team has is critically flawed from the top down. Truth be told, Smith never stood a chance and his future success, should there be any, will be in spite of his welcoming to the NFL, not because of it.

The 49ers problems begin with its ownership, and trickles down to its football operations, and coaches. While players are certainly to blame for their share of poor execution, I do not believe that all of the talent that has traveled through the team can be blamed for this many years of losses. And in fact, there remains only one consistency year after year– the ownership. It is thus very hard to lay even 25% of the blame on the players.

The problems began for the 49ers as soon as Eddie Debartlo had to pass the team to sister Denise and her husband John. Eddie had done everything he could to assure the 49ers legacy continued. He had a structure built right with the legendary Bill Walsh and John McVay actively involved with the football operations. He had a coach in Steve Mariucci, who was bright, young, energetic and who maximized the talent of his players – even if some fans resented his style. He had the ball rolling on restoring the salary cap to health, and new talent was being infused to revive an aging team. When Eddie left, so did the magic.

Denise and John wanted to establish their own legacy with the club, and quickly alienated the history of the franchise. Bill Walsh was ignored as politely as the fan base could tolerate, and slowly the connections to past were eliminated. As time wore on, and 49ers icons tried to reach back to the franchise and offer assistance they were turned down – as was even seen this season with Jerry Rice, and even Eddie himself. It is this stubbornness that will prevent the Yorks from ever building a great 49ers team. They remain in denial. Thinking they know how to run a football team, thinking they know who to put in place, thinking they know how involved, or uninvolved to be, thinking they are making the right decisions. Time and time again though, history proves otherwise.

The Dennis Erickson era was a disaster. An era that was a result of a pathetic coaching search, and owners who knew nothing about football being far too involved with the franchise. Erickon’s hands were tied right from the beginning. His scouting department was flawed – even with the connection to Bill Walsh, and he was stuck with a coaching staff which he had limited authority to make changes. His NFL demise was largely predictable.

The spin on the Mike Nolan era was that the owners had learned from their mistakes. In so doing they granted a first time head coach complete authority of everything football related. Nolan did a pretty good job marketing the team. He also did a good job bringing in some key coaches and developing a reputable scouting department. With the salary cap cleared, Nolan also managed to squeeze big dollars out of what had become a notoriously cheap ownership. And yet 3 years into the Nolan era, the 49ers are as lost as ever, and their only linkage to the past, BY has one foot out the door.


The ownership should take the blame first and foremost. They simply do not have a clue how to run an organization and bounce from one extreme to another. With no true football minds in the front office, and an unwillingness to take advice from those who have experience, and have had success, the ownership has proven time and time again that success cannot occur under these circumstances.

At a time when direction of the franchise is needed, there is none. But even if there was direction, who would have faith in it? Can anyone trust the current owners to establish a structure that can lead to success? Can anyone trust them to hire the right people? Can anyone trust that their succession plan of passing the team to their son Jed is based on sound knowledge of how the team should be run? Of course not. And sadly, the ownership ego will continue to prevent the team from getting on course because they refuse to get help from those that actually can provide it. A sign of the poor decision making that begins at the top. And so, the football operations of the club are fundamentally flawed. The wrong people are making the wrong decisions at the wrong time. The focus on statistics and models and computer analysis to try and run a football team has continued to prove its uselessness. Meanwhile, the marketing team continues to sugar coat a team in complete disarray.

Beyond the ownership, and the football operations, the coaching staff under Mike Nolan was not doomed from the start the way Erickson’s teams were, and as such the coaching staff needs to be blamed. Despite all the disarray at the top of the organization, Nolan was given complete control of the football operations of the club. He wasn’t ready for that control, but that did not doom the team. What doomed the Nolan era was Nolan’s inability to recognize his own short comings. From the start Nolan should have assembled the structure he needed to succeed. Nolan should have acted not as a true head coach, but as a manager. He should have had a coaching staff that could run without his input on offense, defense and special teams, with a succession plan in place to allow for continuity. Instead, Nolan began building a team that relied on Nolan to call defensive plays because of a poor choice of defensive coordinators. He got lucky to find Norv Turner as an offensive coordinator in year 2, but had no succession plan when he needed Turner, not once Tuner was in place. What most felt to be inevitable – Turner leaving for another head coaching opportunity left the offense with no leader. Nolan set himself up for failure by not building the talent around him to handle the micro aspects of the team. As such, he was never able to focus on the macro picture. With his focus astray, Nolan was never able to make good decisions. And that has shown time and time again. And while it is easy to blame a player like Alex Smith, truth be told, he was put in a place to fail right from the get go. Knowing Smith needed time to properly learn to play in the NFL (as his college coach described) Smith should have been sitting and learning from a veteran QB with capability. But Nolan could never focus on these issues. He was too busy with tunnel vision on the micro aspects of the team. And so the coaching staff receives plenty of blame while the players have suffered the consequences.

With so much blame to go around, I wonder if I have even expressed the problems eloquently enough to explain how deep the wound is for this team. It’s impossible to recount every decision that has been made under the John and Denise era, every error in judgment from the top down. I’m not even sure I have done justice in highlighting just a few of the more critical lapses in judgment. A book could be written on the 49ers fall, unfortunately, at least for the time being, it would have no end.

It is thus not surprising that the 49ers once again are acting too slowly. A decision on the future of the franchise could have been made weeks ago. A decision on how to pursue the future could have also been made. The Dolphins are clearly on the fast track, having signed Bill Parcells to direct the franchise. The 49ers meanwhile do not appear to even have a plan in place, and by the time they do, the team will be left to choose from the cast offs – one of which is the status quo. Such is the story with the team in this ownership era. Even if the owners can make the tough decision, there is no reason to believe they will actually follow through. And even if they follow through, there is no reason to believe it will be done fast enough to have any positive consequences. Unfortunately, this means fans will have to buckle up because this could be a long downhill ride. Fortunately, a strong marketing department will try and spin hope into the faithful.

Marketing and business schools are standing by to help.

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