Jed York’s link to the downfall of the 49ers
There are two goals that every NFL team strives for: to obtain a franchise quarterback and to hire a great coach. The 49ers had both: Jim Harbaugh, who led the team to the Super Bowl and Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback with tremendous potential. However, animosity and ego came in between Jed York, the team owner, and Harbaugh; thus leading to the downfall of a football organization with the perfect team, coach, and fanbase.
After Harbaugh and York mutually parted ways in 2014, York mentioned in the press conference that, “I only have one goal on the field and that’s to win the Super Bowl.” However, York’s choices left many people to doubt whether that is really his ultimate goal. He recently built Levi’s Stadium, which is producing $100 million in total profit. However, almost 65% of the stadium was empty in its last home game. He also secured financial stability by assuring that the stadium will always be sold out, thanks to his PSL (Personal Seat License) sales. However, it can be argued that PSL seats are the only real estate in the Bay Area to be losing property value. York persuaded the NFL to host Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium; yet the 49ers were unprepared this year to even compete for a playoff spot. To make sense of any decision York made over the past couple of years, one only needs to follow the money trail to determine his true intentions.
Unlike other owners who had to buy their NFL teams, York inherited the team from his family at the age of 28. Growing up in an affluent family, York believed that he was entitled to win the Super Bowl regularly because he inherited a historically successful franchise. However, Harbaugh’s abrasive personality and popularity threatened his stature and his position on the team. York felt like his opinions were not being considered and he wasn’t given credit for the team’s success under Harbaugh. In fact, as team owner, he felt that it was his right to receive recognition for the team’s advancement to the Super Bowl. To gain control of the team, he decided to promote Jim Tomsula the head coach coach. With a soft personality, Tomsula was the antithesis of Harbaugh.
While Harbaugh consistently challenged Trent Baalke and York’s opinions, Tomsula consistently agreed with them. While Harbaugh’s team was prepared to face their opponents every week, Tomsula’s team were blatantly overmatched on a weekly basis. While players under Harbaugh reached their full potential, Tomsula’s players looked dejected and lacked motivation. In order to become the sole leader of his franchise, York went to great lengths to remove anyone who stood in his way, even if it meant “mutually parting ways” with an overwhelmingly successful head coach.
York’s inability to manage a front office is not a unique one; there are many NFL franchises that had frequent power struggles. However, those organizations handled the situation better. In 2015, General Manager, Ryan Grigson and the coach, Chuck Pagano had personal conflicts. They disagreed on how to manage the roster and on how players should be utilized. Rather than letting their conflicts and ego get in the middle of achieving victory, they continued to work together for the betterment of the team. In fact, Pagano received a four-year contract extension. To explain the rationale behind the contract extension, Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a press conference, “It wasn’t fan pressure, player pressure. It was that Chuck’s won 44 games in the last four years.”
Although the GM and coach disagreed on many key decisions, they understood that each of them are only doing what is best for the the team. Instead of reacting with emotion, the Colts front office emphasized continuity and resolved personal conflicts. The Colts front office illustrated what is possible when there is mutual respect amongst leaders of an organization.
York wants to be the man running the franchise. He wants the fans to hold him accountable. He wants to be an active leader of his organization, but his actions are misguided. Instead of focusing his efforts on building a winning culture, he built his ego. Every decision last season was made by York, from the firing of Harbaugh to the firing of Tomsula. While he gained $100 million in annual profits from Levi’s Stadium, he led his team to a 5-11 season. Fortunately, York claimed responsibility for his decisions in his last press conference and hired Chip Kelly, who has a dominant personality similar to Harbaugh. The next few seasons will reveal whether York learned anything from the previous seasons. In the meantime, Harbaugh’s latest tweet proves to be illustrative: “You will reap what you sow.”