Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jed York's Real Problem

Speculation about the future of the San Francisco 49ers misses an important point. The team's hopes of hiring a new GM and head coach may well be hamstrung by an impending NFL lockout of players.

While no one can say definitely that the league will lock its players out when the current collective bargaining agreement expires in March, it's looking awfully likely. If the lockout happens, the league essentially goes dark. The NFL Draft would still happen, but teams would be unable to negotiate with their draft choices (or veteran free agents, for that matter). Off-season minicamps would vanish. Training camps would be empty.

In other words, the National Football League would be football-free. And no less a sage than Pro Football Hall of Famer John Madden doubts any top-notch coach would have any interest in taking a job under those circumstances. In Madden's thinking, the Grudens, Harbaughs, and Cowhers mentioned in so many speculative reports will wait things out.

That would leave York and the 49ers scrambling to hire a second-tier coach (something they've already done twice; nobody was trying to outbid them for Mike Nolan or Mike Singletary). And it gets worse: York doesn't have much football history, so he lacks the deep list of contacts you'd want in a situation like this.

York has revealed that he'll lean on his uncle, Eddie DeBartolo, for advice and suggestions. Good idea. Eddie D has been here before. He was 31 (to York's 29) when he took control of the 49ers in 1977. He hired Joe Thomas as GM. That didn't work out so well. Thomas fired popular coach Monte Clark and traded away the team's #1 draft choice for a worn-out O. J. Simpson as the team became a laughingstock. Out of the wreckage, DeBartolo and team president Carmen Policy made the big move that made history: they hired Bill Walsh.

So if I was Jed York, I'd do more than ask Uncle Eddie for advice. I'd bring him in every day, have him sit in on every phone call and interview, and listen to everything he says. One more screwup in the front office or on the sidelines is not an option for York.

Oh, and he might also want to see what he can do with his fellow owners about getting that labor situation straightened out, too.

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