If you look back a couple of years, or even just less than 14 months ago, the San Francisco 49ers had one of the most promising franchises in all of sports. They had just lost a nail biter NFC Championship game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, but were coming off three straight NFC Championship game appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl the year prior.
It’s hard to believe what’s happened to the 49ers since that 27-23 loss at CenturyLink Field in Seattle 14 months ago. It’s hard to even describe. The 49ers are quickly collapsing in on themselves and it’s likely only going to get worse. So who’s to blame for the sudden demise of the franchise? All fingers should be squarely pointed at one man – 49ers owner Jed York.
Even after that devastating defeat in the NFC Championship, the 49ers still had one of the elite coaches in all of football in Jim Harbaugh, and one of the truly great promising young quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick. Levi’s Stadium, the new crown jewel venue of the NFL, was set to open later in the year, Super Bowl 50 was awarded to York and his new stadium, and the 49ers were loaded with draft picks and still had an elite roster. Things were still looking up for the franchise, up until York got power hungry and ruined everything the 49ers had worked so hard to build.
Early in the 2015 season, reports began leaking that 49ers players weren’t happy with Harbaugh. These leaks were somewhat hard to believe considering the immediate turnaround Harbaugh engineered with the team and the way players gushed about how they loved playing for their head coach. It’s now clear that York was the source of the leaks in an effort to ease the backlash he knew he would receive when he would ultimately fire one of the most immediately successful head coaches in NFL history at the end of the season.
The consistent leaks undermining Harbaugh, and the constant talk of the rumored animosity between the coach and the front office and management, killed the 49ers 2014 season. After 41 wins in Harbaugh’s first three seasons, San Francisco struggled to an 8-8 record. Almost immediately following the 49ers last game of the season, it was confirmed that Harbaugh would not return to the franchise. York phrased the departure as a “mutual parting of ways,” but Harbaugh has since confirmed what was already obvious – he was fired.
After a long and intensive coaching search, the 49ers filled their head coaching vacancy with the team’s long-time defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula. The hire has rightfully been widely criticized, mostly because the 49ers passed over player-favorite and highly-regarded defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in the process.
York wanted a coach who would be his puppet and never question his authority. That’s exactly he got in Tomsula — a coach who has never been a coordinator at any level. By this point, after the Harbaugh debacle and the questionable promotion of Tomsula over several more qualified candidates, York had tarnished the team’s reputation and it became abundantly clear other coaches were hesitant to join Tomsula’s staff.
After attempting to distance himself from anything that reminded him of the Harbaugh era, and being turned down repeatedly by coaching candidates, York had no choice but to hire Eric Mangini and Geep Chryst to be the team’s new coordinators — two men from Harbaugh’s coaching staff. It’s safe to say both these hires deserve less than passing grades, and Tomsula’s coaching staff looks like the weakest in the league.
Since the Tomsula hire, the 49ers winter has steadily dropped to even lower lows. Frank Gore, the best running back in the franchise’s storied history, is reportedly set to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. Then, out of nowhere, Patrick Willis has decided to retire from football, when he clearly has several years of All-Pro caliber play left. Tomsula’s own No. 1 supporter, and another team leader, Justin Smith, is prepared to join Willis in retirement. So much for Tomsula being a player’s coach.
Just to make matters worse, rumors were circulating Sunday night that the 49ers are shopping Colin Kaepernick on the trade market. Whether the reports are accurate or not, it’s never a good sign when your franchise quarterback, a player you signed to a six-year, $126 million extension less than a year ago is mentioned in trade talks. No matter the case, it’s become abundantly clear the 49ers leak rumors of any and all kinds like a sieve.
When it comes down to it, the 49ers have become the laughingstock of the NFL under York’s lack of sufficient leadership. His thirst for power and complete control of the team resulted in him forcing out the man who had the biggest hand in turning the franchise around. Harbaugh’s firing has caused a chain reaction that has sent the 49ers spiraling into utter chaos.
York will have no one to blame but himself when the 49ers miss the playoffs for the next five years. The boos and heckling he receives, and will continue to receive, are absolutely warranted. If you want to see just how 49ers fans feel about York, check out his Twitter mentions — it’s uglier than you could imagine.
After being near the very top of the football world for a few years and being a beloved figure of “Niner’s Nation,” York has lost all respect and support from his team’s fans. York hangs his hat on and is so proud of Levi’s stadium – the stadium “he” built. Now, in front of a half-filled crowd, York is going have to watch his mediocre team struggle each and every week. The team he tore down.