Desperate times require desperate solutions. Gene Washington once pointed out to me that Joe Thomas was so destructive in the late ’70s that Eddie DeBartolo was forced to turn control over to Bill Walsh.
The 49ers are not quite so desperate now, but the outlook is not rosy, either. They haven’t had a winning season since John York impulsively and foolishly fired Steve Mariucci in 2002. The three coaches since — Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary — have all been disasters in different ways.
Jed York has finally realized that the first goal has to be to get a strong general manager who knows the league.
Trent Baalke, who did a good job on the draft this year, is a candidate, but the Niners would be better off letting him work on his specialty — evaluating college players — and hiring somebody from outside the organization who really knows the league.
Then, the new GM could hire a coach. My choice would be Jon Gruden. He has said he intends to finish his broadcasting contract, which runs through the 2011 season, but who’s he kidding? He’s a football coach who will never be happy just talking about the games. He wants the hands-on experience, and he was successful with the Raiders and in Tampa Bay, until the talent ran out at the end.
Most important, he knows quarterbacks, which was Singletary’s biggest failing. He didn’t have a clue, as he proved when he went back to the one-hit wonder, Troy Smith, for Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams. Troy had his one big game against the Rams earlier, but they’d figured him out after watching the videos.
Singletary sealed his doom on his first day as head coach when he fired offensive coordinator Mike Martz. I’d like to have seen Alex Smith get a full year with Martz. Instead, Martz worked this year with Jay Cutler, who had a career year as the Chicago Bears won the NFC North Division.
Alex Smith will almost certainly be gone as soon as his contract expires Sunday. The 49ers should let Troy Smith go, too; he’s never going to be an NFL quarterback.
So, they’ll have to get another quarterback, either in the draft, free agency or through a trade. I’d also like to see the new coach and offensive coordinator work with Nate Davis, who has shown considerable ability.
Reduced to its simplest form, a team must have an owner who will hire good front office people who will then get good players and hire a coach who can make them into a winning team.
Walsh didn’t do the job alone. He had John McVay by his side and Tony Razzano as the head of scouting. He also hired assistants such as George Seifert, Paul Hackett and Mike Holmgren, who all became head coaches later.
The current model is the New England Patriots. Former assistants Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis and personnel man Scott Pioli are with Kansas City, but the Patriots have enough good people left to remain winners.
The Patriots should be the model for the 49ers. Jed York is just taking the first step, but at least he realizes, finally, what he has to do.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.